In the Garden:
New England
March, 2001
Regional Report

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I'm dreaming of the first magnolias that will be blooming in a month or so.

More Spring Color

March around my house gets a little boring. The snow and cold have been great this year for skiing, but with the lengthening days, I want more than the white, brown, and grays of winter. I want color! Indoor flowers are fine, but I want landscape color. So this year I'm going to plant more trees, shrubs, and flowers that bloom early in the season. I've got my list in hand and am ready to shop for some beauties.

Spring Trees

One of my favorite trees is the shadblow (Amelanchier canadensis or A. arborea). This early spring bloomer has white flowers that open before leaves emerge in April. It's the first tree in the forest to bloom, and blossoms are followed by blueberry-like berries in summer that the birds and I adore. Shadblow grows best in part shade on the edge of your garden and often is sold as a small tree or a multistemmed bush.

Magnolias are thought of as southern flowers, but some thrive in the North and flower as early as the shadblow. The star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) is a 10-20- foot-tall tree that produces fragrant white flowers in early spring. It's a more reliable bloomer in the North than the saucer magnolia (M. solangiana), which is also hardy to USDA Zone 4. Magnolias grow best in well-drained soil and full sun. They flower best in a location protected from late spring frosts, since cold temperatures can easily kill the delicate flower buds and flowers.



Two Types of Forsythia

I've resisted planting forsythia (Forsythia intermedia) for years, thinking it was overused. Also, in my microclimate, the flower buds often are killed in winter by the cold temperatures, leaving only a few buds protected by winter's snow to bloom in spring. However, varieties such as 'Meadowlark' amd 'Vermont Sun' feature hardier buds that ensure a spring bloom.

A variation is the white forsythia (Abelliophyllum distichum). Like the yellow-flowering forsythia, it grows to a medium-sized bush (5 feet high and wide). Its flower buds are also sensitive to winter's cold, so it should be protected or planted in a sheltered spot. I've watched a white forsythia at the University of Vermont's Horticultural Research Farm bloom beautifully in spring for years with little protection. Both shrubs should be pruned severely every 3-4 years after blooming to keep them in bounds.

Early Flowers

Some heaths, such as the spring heath Erica carnea, are hardy in my zone 4 garden and start blooming as early as January and continue into May, depending on the microclimate. Different varieties of this low-growing, ground cover-like heath produce white, pink, or ruby-colored flowers. Plus, its evergreen foliage provides a great backdrop color for the flowers of summer.

Now that I have my list, I just have to find room to plant these early bloomers in my garden. It might mean taking out some of the summer or fall flowers, but an early fix of color is more important to me now than another burning bush.


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