Get our newsletters

Tips for the Compleat Gardener: Awash in yellow


It seemed 10 days ago that everything was still mostly gray punctuated with just the early buds of Lindera benzoin [LIN-der-a BEN-zoyn] (spice bush), yellow dots on the forest edge reminiscent of the French post-Impressionist artist Georges Seurat and his technique “pointillism,” the use of tiny dots to create the picture.

Much of emerging spring seems that way when you are out in it but right now I feel that we are swimming in yellow.

One of my favorite deer-resistant natives is Mahonia aquifolium [ma-HO-nia ak-kwi-FO-lium] Oregon grape-holly. It is not an ilex (holly) but rather from the Berberis and the leaves strongly resemble those of the American holly. Mahonia grows about 6 feet tall and 5 feet wide, has evergreen shiny blue-tinted leaves with sharp points that deter deer, and usually starts blooming about two weeks before now with bursts of amazing smelling yellow flowers in firework clumps (picture).

Early honeybees are all over it here in my yard and the flowers are followed by edible blue berries (jellies and the like). This bush is utterly carefree, it can be used as a living fence or planted as a specimen.

Last year the blossoms got frozen by April frost so maybe the plant remembered and decided to have a delayed opening. Flora in general are much more aware and tuned in than most of us think but that is another discussion.

One cannot ignore the ocean of forsythia all around and this year it went from just beginning to full on yellow display, some so large as to house children’s forts, hidden away, or to protect the flock from the raptors seeking chicken take-out. This is a particularly vibrant year for forsythia.

All three of these shrubs were named for the botanists who made them known; the first two are natives and the last hails from Scotland.

Daffodils everywhere are adding yellow, the paler hues tend to bloom a little later, and I am really enjoying the clumps of tete-a-tete in their tiny perfection. After they bloom mark any large clumps for division in autumn, maybe take pictures for location.

Many years ago I divided some old clumps of a variety called “Mrs. Backhouse,” with a pale-cream circle of petals and an apricot middle and planted some as small as peas and today they are resplendent, rewarding my effort of years past. As you probably know most bulbs reabsorb their foliage to feed the bulb so do not cut.

In the woodland spaces the native celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) [sty-off-or-um dip-FILL-um] is getting ready, unfurling lacy foliage to dance with mertensia (Virginia Bluebells) [mer-Ten-sia] named for another botanist Francis Carl Mertens. This plant will bring some blue to the picture briefly, being an ephemeral that disappears completely after bloom.

In my environment of shale and walnut trees both of these natives have proliferated and neither are attractive to herbivores.

Carpeting the land with yellow is the invasive lesser celandine and there is no way to get rid of it, each plant has a million little tubers that fall freely into surrounding soil when the gardener tries to weed it out. It too is an ephemeral and will be gone by mid-June. I just weed it out from around perennials. Enjoy the changes.

Join our readers whose generous donations are making it possible for you to read our news coverage. Help keep local journalism alive and our community strong. Donate today.