I have been enjoying the first spring at my new home. The previous owner is a master gardener, so lots of nice things were planted and I get to appreciate them this spring.
I also am enjoying the 100 narcissus that I planted last autumn, as well as the ones that were here. Narcissus are such a joy to behold and one of the first harbingers of spring, and there are early- to late-season varieties to spread the enjoyment out.
Tulips also are a colorful spring favorite and Spanish bluebells (hyacinthoides hispanica) or English bluebells (hyacinthoides non-scripta) provide a nice blue contrast to yellow narcissus. I also love the Chinese ground orchid (bletilla striata), which has gorgeous pink purple flowers on 18 inch scapes with good looking foliage. They do well with afternoon shade.
Several containers of freesias on my deck have vibrant yellow, cream and red blooms shouting out that spring has arrived. Freesias grow from fall-planted corms and do really well in containers in full sun or light shade and well-drained soil. They thrive in rich soil, so I use compost for potting soil; you also can add some sand to enhance drainage. They also make good cut flowers with good longevity in the vase.
Freesias are native to South Africa and bloom in shades of white, pink, red, blue, lavender, yellow and cream and are very fragrant. They require about an inch of water when growing and blooming, and after the foliage dies, you can then remove it and stop watering until the next season of growth. I have had mine for several years, and each year they return with little care.
One of the early blooming shrubs is loropetalum chinensis, also known as Chinese fringe flower or Chinese witch hazel. It grows as wide as it is tall, is evergreen with burgundy wine foliage and has lots of deep pink flowers this time of year. It is a low-maintenance plant unless you plant it in a space too small and pruning is frequently required. If so, prune it right after it blooms. Fall pruning will reduce flowering the following spring. It is a plant that can handle pruning well as it is very vigorous.
My new garden also features several white flowering spirea and a late-flowering white camellia. There are more than 80 species in the genus spirea, which is a widely adapted North American native. They like full sun but tolerate part shade and grow in a variety of well-drained soils. They come is a variety of colors and sizes. Some species have several varieties. I have no knowledge about which one I have, but is most likely spiraea vanhouttei “Bridal Wreath.” It is a spectacular shrub when in bloom. Any pruning should be done after bloom for spring bloomers and some thinning is recommended for older plants.
One of my favorite spring harbingers is the eastern redbud (cercis canadensis). My previous farm was named Redbud Farm, because there were about 12 redbud growing and they bloom in late March and early April, and the large old trees were spectacular in bloom. My farm was at one time the base for a 1,000-acre ranch owned by the Grupe family. When Carson Grupe passed away in the 1890s, one of his sons, Henry, inherited 1,000 acres of the original 4,000-acre 1860s Charles Weber land grant to his father and built a large Victorian home, tank house and barn. He was a horticulture lover and planted several eastern redbuds, a species that can grow to 30 feet tall. I became the third owner when I bought this home and six acres from Henry’s daughter in 1976 and was fortunate to live in this beautiful horticulturally rich place for more than 41 years.
Today, there are more choices in redbuds. Mexican redbud (cercis canadensis mexicana) is a 15-foot single-trunked tree with pinkish purple flowers. Most Californians should be familiar with our native western redbud (cercis occidentalis), which is a small tree to 18 feet with magenta blooms and frequently is planted in this area. It is native to the Sierra foothills and coastal mountains. To learn more about species and many varieties of redbuds see https://bit.ly/2H6ldTt.
Unfortunately, there is only room here to describe of few of the many spring bloomers that make us happy, joyous gardeners when spring arrives.
If you have a gardening related question you can contact the UC Master Gardeners at (209) 953-6112. More information can be found on our website: sjmastergardeners.ucanr.edu/CONTACT_US.