In the Garden:
New England
April, 2012
Regional Report

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Siberian squills naturalize readily in the garden.

Siberian Squills -- A Sure Sign of Spring

Okay. This spring has my vote as one of the strangest on record (that's so far -- who knows what else is in store). The third week in March saw temperatures in the low eighties here in Vermont, and the Lake Champlain beaches were overrun by winter-weary sun worshipers who'd quickly unearthed their bikinis and swim trunks. (Never mind that the lake itself was still a chilly 37 degrees!) A week later we were back down to frigid temperatures with a fierce wind that dropped the wind chill into the teens. The magnolia blossoms that opened almost overnight in the heat hung like wet rags in the biting breeze. Even my indoor Christmas cactus seems confused. For reasons only it knows, it came into full bloom for a second time in mid-March. I'm thinking of rechristening it a rare St. Patrick's Day cactus and hawking it on ebay.

Now we're back to more usual weather for this time of year -- cool, but not frigid. Most plants seem to be taking all these temperature swings in stride. Forsythia looks lovely this year, thanks to the relatively benign winter we had; in colder years the flower blossoms often winter-kill. One thing you may notice is that, in spite of the relatively mild winter we had, some perennials that generally come through the winters in good shape may have suffered damage this year. Blame it on the lack of snow cover. Snow is a good insulator and a consistent blanket keeps many perennials sheltered from winter's worst cold. So even though we didn't have any real Arctic spells this past winter, my lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina), which usually stays semi-evergreen under the snow, looks much the worse for wear this spring. It will come back, but I had to rake and clip off a lot of dead leaves and stems as I was cleaning up in the garden last weekend.

One plant that looks glorious right now is Siberian squill (Scilla sibirica), one of my favorite early spring bloomers. Although short in stature, squills often make up in sheer numbers what they lack in height. These 6-inch tall bulbous plants spread readily, forming large drifts of such pure blue that it looks like a reflection of the cloudless April sky. Mixed in with the yellows of early daffodils and the bright hues of species tulips, or spreading like a pool below a forsythia bush in all its golden glory, the intense sapphire blue of the racemes of small, bell-shaped flowers is breathtaking. (There are white and pink cultivars available, but why anyone would choose them over the blue is beyond me!)

Native to chilly regions of Europe and Asia, squills are hardy at least to Zone 3. They are a great choice for naturalizing in a lawn, since they are up and blooming just as the grass is beginning to green up. The sparse foliage then dies back early enough that it doesn't present much interference with mowing.

Squills are easy to grow. Plant the small bulbs in the fall, setting them 3-4 inches deep in well-drained soil in full sun or under the canopies of deciduous trees and shrubs. Although plants spread eagerly but not too aggressively on their own, it's easy to offer assistance. As the foliage begins to fade in late spring, divide clumps or transplant self-sown seedlings.

So make a note to yourself now to plant some squills this fall. When you see their electric blue blossoms decorating your early spring landscape, you'll be glad you did!

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