Native or not, first spring flowers are a welcome sight

Our garden looks pretty bleak at the moment — a mess of dried sticks and drifts of decaying leaves. But there are blossoms here and there on plants I spend most of the year struggling to eradicate. In the coming weeks, their blooms will carpet the garden, and the local pollinators will welcome them — and so will I while they’re in flower.

The most prolific is squill (Scilia). This is a minor bulb native to the woodlands and meadows of western Europe. When the circle in front of our house was a grassy lawn, it was confined to the shrub border. But as the garden has grown, the squill has spread, colonizing the garden beds and paths and now spreading into the front and back lawns. We don’t use weed killer on our lawn, so the bulbs have nothing to fear. And even if we did, unlike broad-leafed weeds, the squill is going dormant about the time chemicals are applied. They suffer less from treatment and have nutrient stores in their bulbs to help survive herbicides.

We’ll have a sea of blue squill flowers flowing over the garden and paths sometime in the next couple of weeks. They’ll buzz with bumblebees and wasps and sometimes visiting honey bees. The little bulbs are in no hurry to die back after they flower. As the summer progresses, I’ll weed out the largest of them, but since squill spreads by seed as well as bulb offset, it’s impossible to dig out all of the plants. The tiniest are little larger than hair follicles and hard to see, much less remove. As fast as I remove the bulbs, they’re replaced with new offspring.

I added to the blue sea in the early days when I purposely planted grape hyacinths (Muscari), a favorite from my childhood. I’d grown them without a problem in Kansas City, but here they’ve taken over, colonizing the flower beds and nearby paths as efficiently as the squill. I ruthlessly root out every one I find. But the mass of flowers I see developing right now shows how futile my efforts are. These bulbs also spread from offset as well as seed.

The last of the unexpected tide of flowers will come from the spring tulips (Tulip sylvestris) that have naturalized everywhere in our yard. Most of these plants never get the proper conditions to blossom, but they send up foliage even under less than ideal circumstances. The resulting floppy foliage hangs around forever, too. In sunny spots, swaths of 2-inch-wide yellow flowers bob on weak stems. 

After the cold winter, especially this one that seems so reluctant to make way for spring, I admit these bright little flowers are a welcome sight. I’ll forget about my objections to their presence until their persistent foliage buries the perennials struggling to emerge and turns our gravel paths into a green mess. I’d love to lecture whoever planted the squill and tulips about the dangers of invasive non-natives, but I planted the darned grape hyacinths that are just as rampant, so I can’t complain. Someday another gardener will curse me as well when she pulls them out of her garden.

I have planted better spring selections. There are bluebells and trillium under the trees as well as mayapples, marsh marigolds and bloodroot. But their flowers aren’t the first and don’t herald spring in the same way as squill and other bullies. Native or not, the blue flowers announce spring is here, and insect, animal and gardener are all ready to hear the news.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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