Visit Sandhill Gardens

In the Garden
Ralph Purkhiser, Purdue University Master Gardener

      I am often asked when is the best time to visit Sandhill Gardens.  While I have always tried to plan for interest at all times, I would have to admit that this week has been breathtaking.  Perhaps it is just that the early blooms are such a great contrast to the winter, but it seems that the daffodils and hellebores have been especially vibrant.  Of course, in addition to these stars, there have been some supporting players, including crocus, winter aconite and pulmonaria.  This week, another supporting bloom added to the show.  A deep blue Grecian Windflower poked through the leaf litter beneath a large maple tree.
     Grecian windflowers are beautiful early spring groundcovers, and I think they deserve more use.  Botanically known as Anemone blanda, they certainly are not bland.  They grow from corms, usually planted in the fall, and will spread into mats of fern-like foliage in early spring.  The flowers are borne on stiff stems about six inches above the ground-hugging foliage.  They come in a variety of colors, including deep blue, purple, white, pale pink, red, magenta, lavender and mauve.  There are some which are bi-colored, and some will produce double flowers.  Like their late-summer blooming cousins, Japanese anemones, they earn the windflower name because of the way the blooms sway on the wiry stems in the spring breezes.
     Once planted, Grecian windflowers require almost no care.  Plant the corms about three inches deep and two to three inches apart.  Planting in drifts will give you the best impact.  The foliage is ephemeral and will disappear fairly quickly after the weeks of blooms in the spring.  They may be planted in sun to partial shade.  I like to plant them in areas where hostas will be coming up about the time the anemone foliage dies.  Like other bulbous plants, they do not do well in wet areas, but will grow about anywhere the soil has good drainage.  A light leaf mulch in winter will provide some protection, but is not usually necessary in Indiana.  However, the decomposition of the leaves will provide nutrition to keep the anemone returning for many years.  I should mention that all parts of the Grecian windflower are toxic, so that should be considered if you have small children on animals that tend to chew on plants.  That toxicity also means that they are not eaten by deer or other wildlife.
     Grecian windflowers are native to the mountains of Europe, giving them good winter hardiness.  They have not shown any invasive nature, but if you prefer to keep to native plants, our native wood anemone might be an option.  Wood anemones are native to the north-east area of the United States.  Anemone nemorosa bears flowers with five petals atop tufts of five-lobed leaves.  The color pallet is more limited.  Most wood anemones are white, but some will have a pale pink or lavender cast, thanks to some color on the under-side of the sepals.  They grow in shaded areas.  The wood anemones may be a little harder to find.  Usually, they are planted from potted plants available in garden centers in early spring.  Many people miss the wild plants, as they flower much earlier than most of the other spring wildflowers, and few people are out looking for wildflowers so early in the season.
     Over the next few weeks, we should see a lot more of those ephemeral spring flowers making their appearance.  Many of those flowers grow here at Sandhill Gardens.  Stop by and enjoy the show.



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