Bucks County Herald

Elizabeth Ludlow Bowman: Tips for the Compleat Gardener

A carpet of blue for Mothers Day



A patch of ajuga on a lawn.

The air is so sweetly scented that it is a pleasure to work in gardens in blossoming May. In every moment attention is snatched by yet another opening flower, almost an overload of visual stimulation not to mention the olfactory nerves awash in fragrances.

For some, all the pollen-laden display is the worst time of the year and this particular season every stationary thing is dusted yellow, this too will pass as fertilization is realized and the next generation is beginning to grow.

All the bees and butterflies are harvesting the offensive dust and laying their own seed in protected places lined with pollen, food for the future hatchling, left on its own to grow from larva to winged being, emerge and seek pollen, if you haven’t chosen to spread poisons around your yard.

A primary pollen source for the pearl-bordered fritillary and its smaller kin is the groundcover ajuga, which is just beginning to bloom in blue, purple and pink in shade or part-shade garden spaces. This is not a native to North America having European descent but it is the secondary nectar source for a long list of butterflies.

Ajuga is known as ‘bugle weed’ because its calyx is undivided and must have looked like a bugle, an ajuga, to the name giver. I think the name aj-OO-ga sounds like some kind of horn blowing.

Ajuga is a great groundcover though it can be invasive. It will happily take up lawn space like the pictured patch on my lawn but it mows well and looks tidy in a natural lawn. It does well on rough soil and tolerates a variety of moisture conditions. You will get the best looking colony in well-drained fertile soil and it will be a colony because this plant spreads by sending out new plants on runners. It is great for light erosion situations.

Several varieties are available; “Chocolate Chip” has narrow, brownish leaves, grows in tight clusters and looks great in a rock garden, “Jungle Beauty” has mahogany-purple leaves and 10-inch- tall blue blooms, “Linda Applegate” has glossy, bright green foliage and white blossoms, “Purple-Brocade,” with purple-bronze foliage, is one of the toughest varieties, and “Purple Torch” a lavender-pink choice has green leaves. I am sure there are more cultivars all the time.
I like the way the darker leaves make patterns in the grass or other groundcovers creating plant mosaics. These are a really great way to cover bare spots and decrease weeding and you can always control its range if needed.

In the garden daffodils and early tulips are beginning to fade and it is good to remember that bulbs ingest the foliage after the bloom is done, especially if the gardener cuts off the spent flower before it tries to become a seed. Tulip foliage usually browns out fairly quickly compared to the daffodils, which can hang around for six weeks or more. It is not a good thing to bend the clumps over and tie them up for neatness’ sake, it interferes with the circulation to do so.

Note which clumps of daffodils were light in blooms and mark with a stick with plans to dig up and divide when the bulbs have eaten all they want and leaves become floppy and dull.

You may find several hundred bulbs in one clump, some pea-sized. If you take the time to plant them even the smallest will eventually be a flowering clump.

You do not have to achieve that right away because the bulblets can be stored in the shed or even in a pot with drainage just sitting in the shade among your gardening projects until you have time to plant. Enjoy the spring.

compleatgardener@comcast.net

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