Jill Severn's Gardening Column

Flowers of the Week


As I write this, it’s still chilly. There was frost this morning, the sun has been in and out between showers, and seeds I’ve planted are dawdling in the damp earth. I hope that by the time you read this, it’s finally warm again.

Still, even in this chilly spring, the world has become gloriously green again. Trees along streets, in yards and on hillsides have leafed out, and the ground is alive with bright new fronds and flowers. The great spring surge of growth is gathering momentum, as it always does in May, rain or shine, chill or warmth. The one advantage of the chill is that it prolongs the flowering of every brave bloom.

So here, rain or shine, are plants to watch for and admire this week:

Dogwood trees, both white and pink

Native plant lovers favor the white, native dogwood, which was in full bloom this past week. The native white one grows taller and is most likely to be found along rural roads and woodland edges. It is eye-catching in bloom, but once the flowers are gone, it blends in with neighboring alders and other deciduous trees. A friend wishes someone would go around marking these native dogwoods so people wouldn’t inadvertently cut them for firewood later in the year. They are truly a northwest treasure.

The non-native pink dogwoods, also now in bloom, were in past years a classic Mother’s Day present, many now grown into 25-foot trees, found in nearly every neighborhood. There are also non-native white dogwoods.

Older varieties of pink dogwoods and the native white ones are sometimes afflicted with diseases; for this reason, the most popular now are the Japanese kousa dogwoods, which are more disease resistant. They come in both pink and white.


 Peonies have leapt out of the ground over the last two months, and most are now budding. The buds are small and tight, but watch them swell in the next few weeks, and burst into bloom by the end of the month. This anticipation is half the pleasure of peonies. Softly fragrant and generously big and full, peonies enchant even the least inclined to flower-love. When the buds become big and fat, they’re fun to cut and bring indoors where you can watch them open close up.


Columbines are beautiful from the time they come up in early spring, when each emerging columbine leaf holds a single glistening drop of water in its center. Now the plants have sent up multiple stems with emerging buds and cunningly designed flowers. Each bloom has pointed outer petals that enclose five spurred chambers. This is a flower only fully appreciated with a close inspection. But even the casual observer will enjoy its many colors – from yellow to deep purple to white, with many shades of pink in between.

When they’ve finished blooming, columbine can be cut back to the ground. Then they’ll grow a second flush of foliage. If it gets powdery mildew in late summer, it can be cut to the ground again. Once established, nothing seems to stop columbine, and given the slightest chance, they will reseed themselves and multiply – sometimes more than you wish. They have deep taproots that are not always easy to pull.

Maidenhair fern

It took three tries to find a spot in the backyard where maidenhair fern would thrive. This native plant is said to want shade, moisture and fairly rich soil. But it surely has other secret desires; my now-thriving clump gets a brief blast of afternoon sun, and was puny and suffering in total shade. My conclusion is that if you want maidenhair ferns, don’t be afraid to move them around until they find their happy place. Growing them in a pot might make this easier.

Most gardeners consider this the queen of all ferns, and for good reason. Its delicacy makes sword ferns look coarse in comparison.

Narcissus poeticus

 Daffodils have come and gone, but the first narcissus poeticus has just opened. Its strong sweet scent and tiny corona set it apart from its earlier relatives. It’s a shame this flower is named for Narcissus, the mythical ancient Greek who fell in love with his reflection in a pool of water. His excess of self-admiration gave us the term narcissist – a word associated more often with certain politicians than with flowers. The flower has no such character flaw.


I don’t have a lilac bush, but my neighbor does, and he’s invited me to come cut bouquets of them. I’m glad about that, because it saves me the effort of skulking up alleys at dusk looking for lilacs hanging over a fence.

But if you are in the market for a lilac, now’s the time to go look and smell at the nursery. And here’s advice from Ciscoe Morris about his favorite varieties and how to care for them.

Jill Severn writes from her home in Olympia, where she grows vegetables, flowers and a small flock of chickens. She loves conversation among gardeners. Start one by emailing her at  jill@theJOLTnews.com


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  • Drutty

    I heard that ants are what open peony bulbs. True or false? How do I bring in those lovely fat bulbs and leave the ants behind?

    Friday, May 13 Report this