Do yourself a favor: download the amazing rock ballad Patience by Guns N’ Roses and give it a good listen (and for the soft at heart, try not to cry). While Axl Rose may not have been singing about native spring ephemerals (or was he?), his gritty voice certainly echoed a familiar phrase used by gardeners worldwide: all we need is a little PATIENCE. We live in an impatient world where speed and promptness is a necessity and leisureliness and patience are annoyances. This state of mind affects many areas of our lives and even carries over to our gardening habits. We would rather select fast-growing, non-native plants that overtake our forests than invest our time into slower-growing, native plants. Yet, if we tweaked this philosophy, we would slow down and notice the brilliance and delicateness of our native species.
The genus Trillium is a good example of a plant to be patient with, as it takes almost a decade to bloom from seed! We are fortunate to have already planted over 450 blooming specimens of three species of Trillium here on Crystal Bridges’ grounds: Trillium grandiflorum (White Trillium), Trillium luteum (Yellow Trillium) and Trillium cuneatum (Whippoorwill Flower). In the spring of 2014, we will be planting five more species: T. pusillum (Dwarf Wakerobin), T. underwoodii (Underwood’s Wakerobin), T. flexipes (Nodding Wakerobin), T. vaseyi (Sweet Wakerobin) and T. lancifolium ‘Lancelot’ (Laneleaf Wakerobin). When it’s all said and done, we will have installed over 670 specimens!
The blooms range from the large flowers of White Trillium to the citrus-scented, yellow flowers of Yellow Trillium. They give us color in mid-March through early May. The mottled leaves of Trillium are as attractive as the flowers, so the season of interest is really extended into early summer. Trilliums, or “Wakerobin,” are ephemerals which emerge in early spring while the canopy trees are leafless so they are able to take advantage of the sun. As the weather warms and the tree leaves emerge and provide shade, the Trillium are done flowering and go summer dormant.
Wakerobins provide nectar for the early pollinators and early color for the woodland garden. They are a great choice for a shady area with dappled sun and moist, but well-drained soil. We have concentrated these planting at the Tulip Tree Shelter as well as the Tulip Tree Trail, just south of Crystal Pond. I encourage everyone to come out when the weather warms up and enjoy our trail system to encounter these magnificent spring ephemerals. Remember… “All we need is a little patience…yeah, yeah.”
If you are interested in learning more about different species of spring ephemerals, join me on Saturday, April 12 from 9:00 to 10:30 a.m. at the Tulip Tree Shelter for the first session of Discover the Grounds! I will discuss several species of ephemerals and where to plant them in your garden. The program is free with online registration. Click here to register.