Early spring charmers: Chionodoxa

This year, I’m enjoying Chionodoxas for the first time.


These are charming and relatively-unknown “minor” garden bulbs, closely related to Scillas (squills). They flower in shades of pink, blue, and white, at the same time as late crocus and early daffodils. Native to Turkey and the eastern Mediterranean, they cope well with cold as long as the soil is well-drained, and they sleep well through dry summer conditions. They don’t care for areas that remain damp; if that word describes your garden well, choose Fritillarias instead.

The foliage will yellow in early summer, at which point it can be removed. Never remove (or braid!) bulb foliage before it has yellowed completely: If it is still green, the plant is still photosynthesizing and gathering strength for next year. If you don’t like the look of yellowing foliage, plant the bulbs near something that will leaf out and hide the dying foliage: hostas and ferns are good candidates in shady locations, and most summer- or fall-blooming perennials will do the job in sunny locations. If you have time to braid foliage, you should be pulling weeds instead.

There are several species of Chionodoxa, and I have no idea which one mine is. Last fall I was late in getting my bulb orders organized and I found these instead at the garden center in one of those lazily-labeled and poorly documented packages. But this fall, now that I’m better acquainted with these plants’ dispositions, I’ll add to my collection from sources that offer better information.

Chionodoxas are said to naturalize well from bulb offsets. I certainly hope so.

Chionodoxa blossom


Dreaming and scheming

The house addition progresses despite frequent rain. Thanks to an unusual dry week last week, the framing is up, and sheathing is on.

house addition framed and sheathed

And with the sheathing, I can finally get a fair sense of how light will fall in the emerging garden space. It gets good morning sun, but the space 6 feet out from the wall is deeply shaded from about 11:30 or so in the morning until about 3:30 in the afternoon. Then it gets harsh sun again. And of course, the light will be very different in the winter.

shade 6 feet deep against north wall

The new garden space measures 25 feet deep and 22 feet wide, almost precisely (that is to say, give or take 5/8 of an inch or so). I do love when that happens.

And so I am beginning to explore what I can do with this area. I would like it to give some sense of enclosure (still dreaming of my cloister), so some kind of screening towards the back is called for, though it does not have to be a solid evergreen wall, necessarily. I have five roses that are calling to be transplanted here (2 ‘Abraham Darby,’ 1 ‘Gertrude Jekyll,’ 1 ‘Sophy’s Rose,‘ and 1 ‘Generous Gardener’ climber). I also have a Viburnum x burkwoodii ‘Mohawk’ that wants re-siting.

Although the left side of this space, opposite the large window, has a staggered planting of  three Lonicera fragrantissima which are mostly evergreen here, I am going to need additional evergreens. And I am craving more homegrown fruit. I’ve had my mitts on Lee Reich’s Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden, and am now trying to decide how to cram all these fascinating foodstuffs into 550 square feet.

I do want a bit of grass in this spot, although nothing I have to mow frequently. I am thinking of putting in a small Carex lawn, and planting it with crocuses and colchicums to give it a little kick. And I need to reserve space for lots of spring ephemerals, minor bulbs, and maybe a Melianthus or a Rodgersia. Gunnera, alas, can’t take the humidity here. Who can blame it?

What fun to plan! If you have any thoughts on how to gracefully cram in a medlar orchard, do let me know.