Look in any hardware store or garden center this time of year and you’ll inevitably be greeted by a rainbow of pansies and violas screaming “It’s spring!”. Why are pansies a beloved staple of this transitional season? They’re tough little plants, able to withstand cold nighttime temperatures and recover like champs. They’re inexpensive to grow, most being produced by seed and without the expectation that every single plant will be perfectly uniform in color. They’re bright. The early days of spring tend to be gray and damp. Our brains crave those elusive jewel tones that we haven’t seen outside in months. At Newfields we plant plenty of pansies and violas (3,600 for Spring Blooms 2022), but our horticulturists are constantly trying to add new or interesting plants to their annual combinations for a little extra panache. Look for some of these stand-outs while you are in The Garden enjoying Spring Blooms presented by Wild Birds Unlimited this season.
Poppies are a great example of bright spring plants that you don’t see in every municipal space. Though many might be familiar with the bread-seed poppy (Papaver somniferum) or red poppy (Papaver rhoeas) our creative gardeners have been utilizing the Icelandic poppy (Papaver nudicaule) in spring displays. Pops of papery, colorful flowers adorn thin stems floating gently above the plantings. This year you’ll be able to see these in front of the Welcome Center along with a riot of other pink and orange blooms.
Speaking of that pink and orange planting, I would be remiss to skip over ranunculus. These little plants with a big name looked unassuming coming off the truck a couple of weeks ago—just little tufts of green barely sticking out of their pots. They’re getting ready to show something big, blousy, and beautiful though. Ranunculus produces a bright flower with gobs of petals that look like a ruffled abstraction of a rose. Small, alien-looking tubers were planted by one of our local growers and pushed along for a quicker, earlier show than they would normally produce.
Do you want even more color? Nemesia is an excellent way to go. They cover a rainbow spectrum of colors. We’ve used warm oranges and reds in the past. This year blue seems to be the popular choice among three of our horticulturists, and Horticulturist Katie Booth is trying a yellow and white blend in the Horticulture Society Overlook this season. The small, colorful blooms cover thick little plants and keep cranking well into the early summer as we start changing things over.
Let’s talk about greens. Cabbages, kales, mustard greens, and lettuces all have something to offer in the spring garden. Not only are they healthy and tasty (if you like leafy foods), but they offer a huge range of colors and textures that act as a desperately needed supporting cast of characters to the bulbs. We’re growing some kale (Brassica oleracea ‘Toscano’) that have thin, strappy, blue-hued leaves. There’s a Chinese-cabbage (Brassica ‘Tokyo Bekana’) that’s nearly safety-green, adding a chartreuse pop and a huge cloud of yellow flowers once it bolts. Want to find some wild texture? There are some mustard greens like ‘Frizzle Sizzle’ and ‘Scarlet Frills’ that fit that bill with their curly cut-leaf foliage.
While you are at Newfields this spring, there are plenty of opportunities to learn more. On the last Thursday of the month April 28 through September 29, join Chad Franer the Tom and Nora Hiatt Director of Horticulture in The Garden for a Director’s Tour. He will share his expertise on unique and interesting plants, give the inside scoop on ongoing changes, and give you a deeper dive into the history and magic of the historic garden at Newfields. Garden Guides will be roaming The Garden this spring and are happy to answer any and all questions you have. Just look for a t-shirt marked “Garden Guide”, attend one of their regularly scheduled weekend tours, or check out the self-guided mobile tour for more information on all the lovely plantings throughout campus.
When playing in your own garden dare to be bold, try something new, and blend traditional with unique. You’ll always get a chance to change things up next season.
Spring Blooms is presented by Wild Birds Unlimited. Lead support for the River of Bulbs is provided by Catherine M. Turner.
Viola × wittrockiana 'Frizzle Sizzle Orange,' garden pansy, The Double, 2017.