Monday, April 20, 2009

Spring Surprises in the Courtyard Garden

Suddenly the temperatures appear to have decided they're tired of dropping below freezing. Not to be outdone, the soaking spring rains have put in a couple appearances in the last week or so. To top it all off, the sun has come out in between the rains and provided enough warmth to jumpstart the plants...and, wow, spring finally appears to have arrived for good.

I had written off quite a few shade plants in my courtyard garden late last summer, when they seemed to dry up and disappear much earlier than normal seasonal deciduousness would warrant. With the final arrival of warmer weather this spring, though, I'm realizing that I was too hasty. Almost all of my hostas are boldly pushing up, the heucheras are magically adding leaves by the dozens, the hellebores are finally putting on enough new growth they don't look terminally freezer-burned, and...(Ta-dah!) a few fern fiddleheads are unrolling through the leaf litter.

I really didn't think there was any way that ANY of the ferns would make it. Having re-whetted my desire for ferns after 6 years in Mobile, I'd consulted books and local fern folks and put in 3 each of 4 different species that I thought had a reasonable chance of making it here in south-central Kansas: autumn fern, log fern, Japanese painted fern, and Japanese holly fern. I'd put them in late, though, then accidentally let the entire garden get too dry during a sudden weather change in late summer from "relatively cool & amazingly wet" to "dry & windy & rather hot." Predictably, the ferns pretty much folded up shop...and I chalked their demise up to my tendency to be just a little too laissez-faire sometimes.

So I could hardly believe my eyes yesterday when I spotted a fiddlehead emerging from the leaf litter, back in the corner where I'd planted the log ferns. Looking more carefully, I spotted a couple more fiddleheads that weren't up quite as high yet. Two of the 3 log ferns have definitely survived the winter!

Then I checked out the other ferns: 2 out of 3 of the Japanese painted ferns AND 2 out of 3 of the autumn ferns are definitely putting up new growth. So far it's only the Japanese holly ferns that appear to have taken the late summer assault personally.

While I'm celebrating the survival of some of my ferns, I also have to share a new favorite plant of mine that lives in the courtyard garden: liverleaf. It's a horrible name for a plant that I think is extremely cute and lovable. I bought the plants, which were labeled as Hepatica americana, at the Dyck Arboretum sale last spring, but after doing some web research, I suspect they are actually Hepatica acutiloba. Either way, the common name liverleaf will do. They're native to the woodlands of Missouri, but I'm not sure they naturally occur this far west.

Each plant is about the size of a violet this year. They looked like gray, hairy fungi as they were coming up, then they unfurled into these classy-looking sweethearts. My only disappointment is that they didn't bloom for me this year. Maybe next year.

I'm having so much fun going around and watching plants emerge that it's hard for me to settle down and concentrate on my spring gardening chores! A few newbies from last year are getting ready to bloom soon, so this proud new Mama will probably be sharing pictures of her new babies' first blooms in the near future. Be forewarned!

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