Corydalis and then Some

Warmer weather has finally reached NE Pennsylvania and within days buds are swelling, sprouts are showing, and the earliest spring bloomers are putting large swathes of color into beds which have spent the last few months exploring black and white themes.  Finally I can take those nice leisurely garden tours and not have to harass the same old snowdrop shoots every few hours, looking to see if they’ve changed at all.  New things are coming on faster than I can keep up with and all I can say is it’s great 🙂

corydalis solida

Sitting on the front porch step is my favorite way to take in the front garden.  Right next to the step is where I plant many of my smaller treasures, but in the past couple years the pinks and mauves of Corydalis solida seedlings have started to crowd out just about everything else.

Depending on what the thermometer does we’re just a few days away from bunches of hyacinths and the earliest masses of daffodils, but for the moment Corydalis solida dominates the front garden.

Corydalis solida ‘Beth Evans’ spreading out along the street border.  It’s a lot more pink than I prefer but after months of brown and snow who cares.

I’d have to look, but it’s only been a few years since I planted about 15 tubers each of pink ‘Beth Evans’ and redder ‘George Baker’, and from there on they’ve exploded across the garden.  They seem to enjoy the better-drained garden beds, in particular spots where other perennials will come up and cover them after they go dormant in a few weeks.  Restraint is not something I think of when these come up, and if you’re of the type who prefer a more ordered garden I would highly recommend avoiding them.  Corydalis solida does its own thing and if they’re happy in your soil you’ll have them showing up everywhere.

corydalis solida

A weak attempt at adding named varieties has left me with just one survivor… and possibly a bunch of just-as-good seedlings.  Keeping named plantings “pure” requires much more diligence than I chose to pursue so of course I just let them go.

In a few days all this color will fade away and the plants will quickly ripen seed and shrivel away to disappear underground for another 11 months.  If I’m on top of things (which has NOT been the case so far this year) I’ll dig a few of the more crowded clumps and tuck them in to all kinds of new territory… or just do it accidentally in August when I dig up a shovel full of the little round yellowish tubers.  In the meantime here are two other surprises from the earliest of spring garden.

primula denticulata drumstick

Drumstick primrose (Primula denticulata) were a steal off the late fall clearance rack.  I have no idea if they’ll last more than a year, but right now I’m thrilled by how early they are and lucky I was to find such well-grown plants. -Thanks Perennial Point!

Near the shelter of the house the hyacinth have started.  This wimpy, washed out pink is my most exciting hyacinth ever since it’s the first to flower of a bunch of seedlings off the clump to the left.  Six or seven years is all it took which sounds terrible but since I never did a thing for them other than leave them alone it hasn’t been bad at all.

hyacinth seedling

Pink.  My favorite color.  Still it’s my firstborn hyacinth and I love it, and look forward to seeing how it develops over the next few years.

So that’s it.  Spring is exploding so that’s really not even close to what’s going on, but like you I’d also rather be in the garden versus on the computer so off I go!  Hopefully after missing most of yesterday for all kinds of events, and today for more events (and plenty of rain in the afternoon), something valid gets done in the garden before the work week returns, but you never know.  I’m fine with just sitting around taking it all in.  Plus, as I discovered yesterday, parts of the compost pile are still frozen so I guess we’re still just starting.

I love the start.  Have a great week!

Corydalis… The next big thing

How does such an awesome little spring blooming bulb (tuber if you want to get technical) fly under the radar for so long?  Apparently a couple in-the-know gardeners have been growing these cool little spring bloomers for years, but I for one didn’t even know they existed until a few years ago.  I believe I came across pictures via Ian Young’s bulb log (if you’ve never been, click here immediately to visit -it’s practically required reading for any bulb lovers out there) , and the impression was one which ate away at me until one fall I was finally able to get my dirty fingers on a few.  Of course as my luck would have it these were promptly killed, but the following year a more determined try proved successful, and the next spring I was just as pleased as I thought I’d be when they bloomed.

corydalis George baker

One of the boldest reds, Corydalis “George Baker” blooms right alongside the blues of chiondoxa and Scilla siberica.

The Corydalis family is a large one with many highly collectible family members, but for me it’s the variations on Corydalis solida which excite me the most right now.  This species ranges across Northern Europe into Asia and for the most part greyish mauves and blues dominate the color spectrum, but starting in the 1970’s and 80’s rich reds and purples began to find their way out of the woods and into the hands of collectors and growers.  The Penza strain from Russia and the Prasil strain from Romania are the some of the best known groups for bold colors and many of the newest named varieties come from these collections.

corydalis solida

A more common color of Corydalis solida, a smaller and slightly later flowering plant than the other Corydalis I grow.

As it is with many plants, once you get excited about one you get greedy and need more, so in addition to the “George Baker” and “Beth Evans” which were purchased from Brent and Becky’s bulbs, and the straight Corydalis solida from Van Engelen, I needed to add more.  The blame for this shouldn’t lie entirely on my own shoulders though, since by now I had seen even more Corydalis glamour shots including the most enticing group shot which I found at Carolyn’s Shade Garden.  Her tapestry of rich purple with pinks and reds would have to be imitated in my own garden and to that end I found Russell Stafford’s Odyssey bulbs.

corydalis rosula

The warm wine red of Corydalis ‘Rosula’, complemented by a nice underplanting of random weeds 😉

The new plantings from Odyssey were a mix of successes and failures and based on the excellent condition of the tubers, I’m going to guess the fault again lies with me.  Even as recently as this spring one of the clumps failed to even show, and I suppose there’s something else going on which I don’t entirely understand… but ignorance is bliss, and I enjoy the remaining two cultivars more than ever now…  even though the addition of a pure white or pink would have made the planting even more perfect!

IMG_0376

A more common color but on a sturdier plant, Corydalis ‘Harkov’ scared me by nearly dying last spring after I optimistically dug it up for dividing. It wasn’t ready and it wasn’t pleased, and promptly dried up and went dormant.

I suppose I should try and make this a more useful post by mentioning something other than the many ways in which I’ve killed these plants.  They’re actually fairly carefree in the right woodland conditions, and although I should suggest a fertile, moist shaded site, mine grow quite happily in sites I would consider downright dry, and in locations shaded only by the overhanging perennials and annuals of the front street border.  I guess they don’t know any better.

Another thing I should mention is they bloom early and fade away quickly.  Plant them in a spot where other goodies such as hostas and hellebores or rudbeckias and buddleia fill in for the summer.  My best patch disappears under a carpet of aquilegia (columbine) and ‘Blue Cadet’ hosta two weeks after blooming, and you wouldn’t even know it was there in June, which is good, but you should definitely try to avoid forgetting they’re there and running a shovel through while digging.

corydalis and hellebores

Corydalis, hyacinths and hellebores filling in now that the snowdrops and eranthis have gone over.  In another month columbine, delphinium, hostas and hellebore foliage will take over for the summer.    

A final note is that for the first year or two in my garden I was convinced they couldn’t possibly be making seeds since they yellowed and died down so quickly after blooming.  I’ve since found out I’m wrong.  Seedlings are spreading quickly and this year I have a few of the first starting to put out their own blooms.  I’m thrilled that they are as red as the parents, and even happier there’s some variety to them as well.

corydalis solida seedlings

Some of the first Corydalis solida seedlings to make it to blooming size. One’s nearly as red as the mother clump of ‘George Baker’, the other’s a completely different dusky mauve.

So now the question is should I just enjoy what I have or should I keep trying to expand the flock?  If I could only remember where I planted them (I think I may have finally spotted one or two this afternoon) I would be able to enjoy a few new ‘Purple Bird’ flowers this spring, but is that enough?  It should be, but history shows little attention to common sense in this garden and I’m already well on my way to picking out just a few more indispensables.  You really shouldn’t show too much restraint in spring, it goes completely against the spirit of the season and even when ordering bulbs for fall planting it’s still a celebration of the end of winter!