The Plants of Our Past – Spring

“Is there any garden that doesn’t cast a backward glance, gather meaning to itself by allusion to the places in our past” Michael Pollan

January is a time for a glance back. Colder weather, the end of holiday busyness and a lull in home and work activities offer time for reflection. It can be useful both for closing down the previous year and planning toward the year ahead.
While holiday lists are over, for gardeners the plant lists are just beginning. Sustainability is a primary goal for most gardeners—using plants that endure. A drive through the countryside in different seasons of the year, focusing on long-abandoned homesteads or church or cemetery landscapes, can offer a window into plants for the long haul.
What are the plants you remember from your past? And what plants are most likely to survive even after the buildings around them crumble to the ground? This column focuses on spring bulbs and shrubs that can survive with neglect. In following columns, we’ll focus on old-fashioned perennials and self-seeding annuals. In the meantime, add your own memories to this mix and think about some old-fashioned plants to “plant forward.”

Spring Bulbs
        Spring and early summer beauty were important to early settlers. After a harsh winter, any glimpse of green or color was a welcome sight, and they planned for it. Listed below in order of bloom are some of the spring bulbs they relied on:
Snowdrops (Galanthus), February to March
Crocus, April
Spring snowflake (Leucojum), April
Daffodil, April
Hyacinth, April
Grape hyacinth, April
Squill, April
Tulip, April to May

Spring-flowering shrubs
        Some of the old-fashioned shrubs important for spring beauty, in order from earliest- to latest-blooming, include:
Forsythia, March to April
Beautybush (Kolkwitzia amabilis), April to May
Kerria, April to May
Lilac, April to May
Weigela, April to June
Spirea, May to June
Hydrangea, June to September
Mockorange (Philadelphus), June
Rose, Harison’s Yellow, is a fragrant cultivar from the early 19th century with abundant, semi-double yellow flowers in June.

Bob Henrickson and Karma Larsen, Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, plantnebraska.org

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