Usually, March is a month for noses pressed to windows, impatiently waiting until it’s warm enough, dry enough, late enough to get out there with a shovel and start the frenzied rush of spring chores.

Spring’s early arrival in the Pacific Northwest changed the pace of my spring gardening. Cutting back and raking up remnants of fall happened at a leisurely pace in short sleeves. Last possible frost dates be damned, the tender plants have been hauled out into the garden for weeks now.

No need to wait for the soil to warm up before ordering a fresh load of compost. No need to rush to spread the compost before rain showers weighed it down and carried a compost-y river down the gutter.

Soil is workable and it was easy enough to get planting early. Maybe too easy. Early digging does pose some extra risk of cutting into something that’s still sleeping. Fortunately, those incidents were few and far between.

This is a new spring experience for us here. Where are the drippy days with soil too muddy to work? Is this what it feels like to live in California?

This month’s favorite plant was Akebia trifoliata. Flowers aren’t usually the star attraction for me, but I love these blackish chocolatey blooms wholeheartedly.

akebia trifoliata

akebia trifoliata

akebia trifoliata

The leaves of A. trifoliata, held in sets of three, logically, have an entirely different shape than the more commonly seen A. quinata. A. Trifoliata is the more polite sister. I haven’t had it suddenly scamper up and smother half a tree.

akebia trifoliata foliage

Akebia quinata ‘Alba’ is a bit more assertive, but it does a damn fine job quickly covering a homely fence. Gotta watch the sneaky bugger or it will grab onto neighboring plants. It can grow and twine at a blinding rate.

akebia quinata

akebia quinata

The leaves of A. quinata, logically held in groups of 5. I love those latin names that make perfect sense.

akebia quinata foliage

My other favorite, because two simultaneous favorites are allowed in gardening, is Syneilesis, this one purchased as an unknown hybrid. It should be planted so much more than it is. It looks delicate and a bit tropical, but has surprisingly sturdy leaves. It always commands attention, from its first appearance as fuzzy rockets, until its final golden fade into fall.

syneilesis hybrid close up

syneilesis hybrid mid range

syneilesis hybrid landscape

Disporum cantoniense ‘Night Heron’ is another swooner. Because the flowers and leaves so delicately dangle from its graceful stems, I find this to be a difficult plant to photograph to really capture how beautiful when it spreads its arms. It tends to get lost if it has other stems and small leaves to compete with. This is one of those plants that pairs up really great next to something with big bold leaves, so you can appreciate the contrast.

disporum night heron

Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’ was scraggly and sad last year, and got cut back to the ground during a tree removal project. Most of the time, I like to let plants do their thing, but I prefer Elderberries hard pruned each January so you get an annual flush of new straight stems and extra large leaves. Plus you can stick the trimmed stems in the ground and grow new plants, which is about the most complicated propagation I’m capable of. Sutherland Gold has been one of my favorite plants since I first started gardening. It looses the maroon tint and heads for golden chartreuse as soon as the leaves put on a little size.

This plant is:
Dramatic
Big-leaved
Feathery-textured
Bright gold
So good

sambucus sutherland gold

The Erythronium revolutum, an early ephemeral, funny enough, didn’t arrive any earlier than normal. It stuck with the calendar. This plant has been slowly spreading since 2008 when it put up a single pair of leaves.

Erythronium revolutum

A couple lonely Fritillaria meleagris faithfully appear each spring in a neglected corner of the garden. They’re easy to miss, and I forget they’re there every year, but I’m always happy to spot them.

fritillaria meleagris

I have a particular knack for losing the plant tags of epimediums. I just sit back and enjoy the show. Foliage, flowers, I like it all.

epimedium NOID foliage

epimedium NOID pink

epimedium NOID orange

Thank goodness for Euphorbia, the first plants to show up looking bright eyed, bushy tailed, fully dressed for the spring garden party. Their promiscuous hybridizing and seeding about is currently saving the day where things are otherwise looking a bit barren in the back yard where I’m starting over from scratch in several areas. This particular euphorbia is where I once planted ‘Blackbird’ but the deep purple foliage has faded, perhaps due to the overly shady situation, or because a new plant seeded where blackbird once was. It’s hard to keep track of the euphorbias’ family trees.

euphorbia blackbird?

I find the whitish, nearly green fragrant flowers of Illicium anisatum quite beautiful. This plant gives me a bit of anxiety, because its seedpods resemble the edible star anise, but they are poisonous. These are the kinds of things that do not help me get over my fear of growing edibles. Do other people worry about this stuff?

illiicum anisatum

One more favorite, and I’ll stop at three: Datisca cannabina (false hemp), which I have raved about before. This will definitely shoot to the top of my list when it reaches 12 feet tall and dangles several feet of chartreuse flowers from its branch tips. But the first signs of healthy, glossy, textural leaves bursting out make me very happy indeed.

Datisca cannabina

Datisca cannabina

So what were your favorites from March? Could you pick just one?

Featured Plants