In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
April, 2001
Regional Report

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Virginia bluebells are a delight in early spring.

Growing Virginia Bluebells

A patch of Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) is growing on the hillside beneath the oaks, tulip poplars, and redbud trees. Nearby are sweeps of wild mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), and dogtooth violets (Erythronium americanum). It's a regular wildflower heaven.

Fleeting Spring Beauties

Each spring, the wildflowers pop through the leaf litter, spread their foliage, and bloom. They grow briefly until the summer heat and dry weather become too harsh. By midsummer, many of them retreat into dormancy to await the following spring. My favorite, the Virginia bluebells, disappears completely in a matter of weeks.

My Favorite Bluebells

The Virginia bluebells may be my favorite right now because they're blooming and the flowers are blue. The flowers are enchanting as their color changes between true blue, pink, and soft lavender.

Each spring, the bluebell patch expands slightly, but only in one direction. I think it's due to the drainage pattern on the slope where they're growing. They seem to avoid the driest areas. This year, when the bluebell seeds ripen after flowering is complete, I'll sprinkle some nearby to help the patch expand a little faster.

Best Bluebell Growing

Woodland wildflowers need an undisturbed layer of leaf litter to serve as a mulch and seed bed. It will also decay and break down into humus to help them thrive. Woodland wildflowers usually have special sun and shade requirements, too. For example, some need spring sun followed by summer shade, while others need dappled light. Many require soil that is moist and humus rich. A few even grow in drier spots.

These special needs explain why the plants grow in distinct colonies rather than all jumbled together. They also explain why it can be so difficult to grow some of them in flower beds at home.


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