Pankau: Discover a blue woodland this week | Home & Garden

We all have our favorite spring wildflowers for one reason or another. Perhaps they are part of a native plant community that we visit often, such as B. a nearby nature area or a popular park trail. Perhaps our fondness comes from the plants we can grow at home in our own gardens.

It’s certainly hard for me to pick a favourite. I probably have a mile-long list of my “favorites”. In recent years, the Virginia bellflower (Mertensia virginica) has moved up my list, both for its presence in my favorite local natural areas and for its ability to thrive in cultivation.

Virginia bluebells are widespread throughout Illinois and can be found in nearly every county in the state. They thrive in the partial shade of forests with rich clay soil, typically along flood plains, but will also extend to higher elevations if both the soil and habitat are of adequate quality. In the right habitat they often form large patches that create a beautiful display at this time of year.

If the spring soils are warm, this plant will develop relatively quickly from its first appearance of beautiful, purple early leaves to mature, light green foliage over the course of several weeks. It blooms around the frost free date every year and with its natural abundance around our property has become a plant that I see as symbolic of the beginning of the growing season.

Like many other spring wildflowers, bluebells do much to support the native fauna. Many pollinating insects, such as bees and some flies, visit bluebells for pollen or nectar at this time of year. Hummingbirds have also been noted to use bluebells in some areas.

In early season, patches of bluebells provide important cover for many native insects when they emerge. Even white-tailed deer have been observed browsing leaves on these plants before disappearing for the season in midsummer.

As a landscape plant, bluebells provide a great pop of bluish-purple color in early spring to shade gardens. I also really enjoy the bright green foliage that persists after flowering. Those beautiful and delicate elongated leaves finally fade in July, so think about what can fill the gap for the rest of the season.

Wild geraniums (Geranium maculatum) are a great companion plant to extend blooms as they bloom right after bluebells and keep the purple-blue wave going for almost another month with their more delicate, lighter blooms. To fill in, bluebells look wonderful surrounded by native ferns. If you don’t already have a home shade garden, bluebells work great in an existing hosta garden.

If you’re interested in adding native wildflowers to your landscape, keep an eye out for local native plant sales and native plant nurseries in your area. Avoid collecting from the wild as this will affect natural populations and is usually prohibited in natural areas. The Illinois Native Plant Society has a list of sales and nurseries at: illinoisplants.org.

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