Color for Every Season

This week in North Philly Notes, we feature a post by Linda Eirhart, author of The Winterthur Garden Guideabout the March Bank, which flowers in the winter. 

The calendar just now says March, but the March Bank at Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library near Wilmington, Delaware, has had flowers in bloom since January. Henry Francis du Pont began planting bulbs in the woodland to the north of the family home in 1902. The area is called the March Bank due to its historic flowering time in March.  The display features the minor bulbs, snowdrops, winter aconites, snowflakes, squills and glory-of-the-snow.

March_Bank_by_Lois_Mauro resizeDu Pont planted thousands of these bulbs in large drifts in the style of the “wild garden.” The planting style was promoted by nineteenth-century British gardener and writer William Robinson.  In his words, the term “is applied essentially to the placing of perfectly hardy exotic plants in places and under conditions where they will become established and take care of themselves.”  With a little care over the past hundred years, the bulbs at Winterthur have multiplied to create a spectacular display.

March_Bank_3_by_Lois_Mauro resizeOn the March Bank, giant snowdrop, Galanthus elwesii, is the first to flower, with its lovely white petals with green markings. A close look at this simple flower reveals a variety of thin, wide, long, puckered or possibly even doubled petals. The common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, begins to flower slightly later and extends the white display. It also deserves a closer look for the detailed differences in the flower forms.  The different species and cultivars can provide color from fall through March.WS02 Calanthus nivalis

Color, to du Pont, was a “vast field in itself” and, in the garden, “the thing that really counts more than any other.” By 1962 du Pont had been gardening for sixty years, and the Garden Club of America had recently named him “perhaps the best gardener this country has ever produced.” At Winterthur, he created a garden of surpassing beauty that in its complexity and coherence is a marvel of ingenuity. Plants bloom almost continuously throughout the year, with outstanding areas of color coming into focus in a well-planned sequence. In turn, each area melds seamlessly with its neighbors to form a unified whole. Such sequencing and continuity did not come about without a great deal of work and planning.

WS06The spring snowdrop display is brightened with the yellow of Amur Adonis, Adonis amurensis, and winter aconite, Eranthis hyemalis, both with round, multi-petal flowers that resemble large buttercups.  Adonis will spread slowly in the garden, but winter aconites are vigorous growers that readily self-sow once established. Avoid planting them by smaller more delicate spring plants that they might smother.

To heighten and extend the yellow display, du Pont chose Japanese cornel dogwood, Cornus officinalis, an understory tree whose yellow flowers begin to shine while the giant snowdrops and winter aconites are still flowering.  As the snowdrops and aconites fade, this dogwood’s flowers will continue to bloom while the March Bank transitions to a brilliant carpet of blue.

Chionodoxa forbesii

Chionodoxa forbesii

Primarily responsible for the blue phase is the glory-of-the-snow, Chionodoxa forbesii, which covers acres on the March Bank and throughout the garden. This small bulb grows well in both the woodlands and in the lawn.  In some areas, Siberian squills, Scilla siberica are planted with it and overlap somewhat in flowering time. Early daffodils, Narcissus, add a soft yellow sprinkling among the waves of blue.

Winterthur GardenAs spring progress, Virginia bluebells, poeticus daffodils, ostrich ferns and hosta will cover the dying foliage of these early bulbs and create wonderful displays for late spring and summer. Though these displays cover acres at Winterthur, you can apply the concepts of the “wild garden,” successional bloom and layering plants to gardens of all sizes. Consider a small drift of snowdrops to brighten the winter entrance to your home or planting glory-of-the-snow in your lawn to create a sea of blue.

Du Pont experimented in the Winterthur garden for more than sixty years. The Winterthur Garden Guide shares the plant combinations and design principles that have stood the test of time.

 

 

%d bloggers like this: