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Green Dawns
In celebration of spring, revel in its color
Chartreuse foliage warms the spring garden. Dicentra spectabilis 'Gold Heart' has leaves of shocking chartreuse.
IS THERE a sweeter moment in the gardening year than looking outside and realizing the garden has transformed itself from winter to spring? After months of dreary winter wear, branches and ground are suddenly cloaked in a haze of fresh green. The folded new leaves, as precisely puckered and pleated as a scrap of origami, seem to raise the temperature of the atmosphere overnight, filtering the cool light toward a warmer spectrum of rays. Gardeners are nature worshipers, and we feel like falling down on our knees in awe as we see it all happening again.

At the vernal equinox, when the days and nights hit that brief equilibrium, the universe reminds us that green is the color of the garden. Glowing, lively chartreuse comes into its own. Shades of blue-green and shadowy yew green have their moments as the season progresses. By June, green hits a subtle note, but right now it's outright glorious. I've tried to take a clue from this brief time of predominant green, cultivating chartreuse foliage and green flowers throughout the gardening season.
Illustration Now In Bloom
Iris reticulata are short, sturdy flowers for the tail end of winter. Due to their petite stature and elaborate patterning, they're best planted along walkways or, better yet, raised up in pots or window boxes away from the slugs intent on beheading them. I. reticulata are frost-resistant and dependably perennial if planted in the full sun and well-drained soil they prefer. Iris 'Katharine Hodgkin' is one of the loveliest of the reticulatas; its luminous lavender-blue and buttery-yellow petals look as if dabbed and speckled fresh from the brush of Cezanne or Monet.
Hellebores offer the earliest green flowers. Especially showy are the burgundy-edged blossoms on H. foetidus, held aloft above darker green, toothed leaves. This year the nurseries were full of H. 'Ivory Prince,' with blue-green leaves setting off pale, cupped flowers streaked in green.

Most of us probably didn't notice green flowers much until euphorbias burst onto the scene. Their otherworldly shapes and textures make the most of green, with varying tones on a single stalk so perfectly combined it appears orchestrated by a master colorist. Late winter is blessed with the near-basketball-sized heads of chartreuse bracts atop Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii 'John Thomlinson,' the boldest of them all.

Also early-blooming are the lime-colored flowers of dangly donkey tail spurge (E. myrsinites) and the electric-yellow-green bracts of the ground-hugging E. polychroma. Plant them with the yellow-flushed-with-green Tulipa 'Spring Green' and you get a double hit of sunshine to warm the garden on even the chilliest days. Or combine these euphorbias with the daffodil 'St. Patrick's Day' to celebrate the season of green.

The foliage of Dicentra spectabilis 'Gold Heart' is a slap of chartreuse intensified by hot-pink valentine flowers. Less startling are the pretty little green flowers of rue anemone (Anemonella thalictroides 'Green Hurricane'). Lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis) is a classic choice for lacing the garden with chartreuse; its soft, dewy leaves support masses of tiny lime-colored flowers (which you'll want to cut off before they go to seed).

Also spring-blooming are the green-toned columbines Aquilegia viridiflora and A. vulgaris 'Irish Elegance,' followed by perennials like Iris 'Limelighter,' the surprisingly subtle red-hot pokers Kniphofia 'Green Jade' and 'Percy's Pride,' plus the daisy-like Rudbeckia 'Green Wizard,' a flower you expect to see only in autumn colors.

Chartreuse foliage and flowers keep the summer garden lively, so it's worth tracking down annuals in these shades. As true-green as the skin of the Wicked Witch of the West are the flowering tobacco Nicotiana alata 'Lime Green' and bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis). Other green annuals include coleus and Zinnia elegans 'Green Envy,' a flower perfect for cutting. To move that lime color higher in the garden, grow the twining golden hop vine Humulus lupulus 'Aurea' up an arbor or tree. Its handsome, splayed leaves come on a bright yellow-green-gold and stay that color until they drop at first frost.

Plenty of hostas will provide a summer-long puddle of chartreuse, from H. 'Gold Standard' to the mammoth H. 'Sum and Substance.' And can you think of anything more striking than a silky swirl of green calla lily (Zantedeschia 'Green Goddess')? Perhaps that image of Georgia O'Keeffe elegance can be topped only by green roses. Yes, they exist, in both Rosa chinensis 'Viridiflora' and R. 'Greensleeves.' Both are worth underplanting with the intensely scented little green annual mignonette (Reseda odorata), for a garden that blooms both green and fragrant all summer long.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle free-lance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine. Her e-mail address is

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