What’s Blooming Now: April Showers Bring May Flowers
After the spring rains, who doesn’t love some May flowers? There are plenty of them out there heralding the growing season, and here we’ll highlight some of our favorites: Magnolia, Sweet Olive, and Fairy Wings. Learn not only to recognize them, but what they like, and if they’d be a good fit for your yard.
April 30, 2019
Spring has sprung!
What better way to celebrate longer days and the return of warm weather than to get outside and look at the beautiful blossoms that kick-off our growing season. It feels like everything is blooming right now, but just wait — as the adage goes, “April showers bring May flowers,” so stay tuned for your monthly dose of Seattle blooms through spring and summer!
An ancient genus of trees, Magnolia (Magnolia ssp.) species have been around at least 20 million years, with fossils from the Magnolia family (Magnoliaceae) dating back as far as 95 million years. Predating the evolution of bees, Magnolia flowers are thought to have evolved to encourage pollination by beetles. Today, Magnolias are pollinated by bees as well as beetles, and we love their luscious flowers and the unique form created by millions of years of adaptation.
Shown Above: Star Magnolia – Magnolia stellata
This month, you may have noticed several Magnolias blooming around town; we wanted to focus on two of our favorites that have proven hardy and reliable in our climate. Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata) is renowned for its showy, white blooms that completely cover the tree in early spring before leaves emerge. We love Star Magnolia for its profusion of sweet-smelling blossoms, its small stature and its resistance to diseases and pests. Growing 10-15’ tall and wide, Star Magnolia can be grown as a small, multi-stem tree or large rounded shrub in full sun to part shade. The delicate white blossoms are lightly lemon scented and cover the rounded canopy throughout April.
Another favorite in our region, Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana) is named for its immense flowers that look like tea cups sitting on saucers along the branches. Growing much larger than Star Magnolia, Saucer Magnolia can reach 30’ tall and 20’ wide at maturity if grown in full sun with well-draining, loamy soils. We love Saucer Magnolia for its dramatic spring blooms, with big flowers that emerge white-pink and flush darker shades of pink and purple as they age. Have you ever looked inside a Magnolia flower? Take a peek! The hardy carpel (also known as a pistil, which contains the reproductive components) is truly remarkable and recalls the Magnolia’s ancient ancestry and evolution.
Despite its common name, you won’t see any olives growing on this evergreen shrub! Although it belongs to the olive family (Oleaceae) unlike traditional olives, sweet olive (Osmanthus ssp.) is hardy in our climate and one of our favorite evergreen shrubs. Native to Asia, Osmanthus was first introduced in Europe in the 1890s and has since become a wildly popular garden shrub and spread across the United States.
Shown Above: Sweet Olive – Osmanthus delavayi
One of the most popular in our region, we love Delavay Osmanthus (Osmanthus delavayi) for its versatility and sweet-smelling flowers. The glossy, deep green leaves have finely toothed edges and look fresh year-round, making this shrub an excellent backdrop for perennial beds or as a border along walls and walkways. The clusters of brilliant white flowers bloom throughout April and their sweet smell is reminiscent of vanilla. Best grown in part sun to light shade, Delavay Osmanthus grows between 3-5’ tall and wide and can be clipped to create a tidy hedge or left to grow naturally to create a rambling screen.
For taller screening in shady areas with difficult soils, we love Burkwood Osmanthus (Osmanthus x burkwoodii). A hardy hybrid, Burkwood Osmanthus grows 5-10’ tall and wide and does well in most soil and exposure conditions. The long, lance-shaped leaves are a brighter, more matte green than the Delavay Osmanthus and the flowers are less prominent. While the flowers of the Burkwood Osmanthus are not as showy or sweet-smelling as the Delavay Osmanthus, it has larger leaves, grows larger and makes an unbeatable tall screen.
Commonly known as Fairy Wings, Barrenwort, and Bishop’s Hat, Epimedium is a genus of over 60 species of flowering groundcovers primarily native to China. With several species, hybrids and cultivars hardy in our region, you can find an Epimedium for almost any garden application. We love the evergreen cultivars that have proven hardy in our wet climate despite the delicate appearance of their leaves and flowers.
Shown Above: Fairy Wings – Epimedium x perralchium ‘Frohnleiten’
A hardy powerhouse and one of our favorite groundcovers for shade, Frohnleiten Epimedium (Epimedium x perralchicum ‘Frohnleiten’) was originally cultivated in Germany for its hardiness and unique seasonal color variation. Intricate clusters of butter-yellow flowers emerge above delicate, new leaves in April and appear to hover over the ground, suspended on wiry stems. Heart-shaped leaves with red interveinal coloring begin to emerge with the flowers in April and mature to a dense green carpet covering the ground through the summer. By September, the leaves begin to change color and turn burgundy, often holding their color through winter. Although Frohnleiten Epimedium is considered evergreen in our climate, old leaves may be trimmed back in January if they become tattered or brown.
Another favorite Epimedium adapted to our region is the hybrid Red Epimedium (Epimedium x rubrum). While slightly more delicate and less reliably evergreen than the Frohnleiten hybrid, Red Epimedium does well in protected, shady areas under trees and in planters. With the same heart-shaped leaves and delicate flowers, the persistent red margin around each leaf and the deep pink flowers set this hybrid apart.