Gardening with Galligan: Color me pink

CAROL GALLIGAN PHOTO Garden's are alive with spring around the Island.

Garden’s are alive with spring around the Island.

Apple blossoms, magnolias, weeping cherries, camelias are all with us now. It must be spring at last!

And what else does spring bring? Some lovely smaller bulbs besides the daffodils, many of which are pink (and blue). My favorite, and I grow a large number of them, is scilla hispanica, now renamed hyacinthoides hispanica, a sort of loose form of  hyacinth. Its common name is Spanish bluebell, because it’s native to the Iberian Peninsula.

Scilla, it seems, is now listed as an invasive species in Britain, since its seed is highly fertile, and it has apparently supplanted the common bluebell in many areas, causing the latter to be designated a threatened species. The plants will be quite happy in light, partial or full shade unlike so many of their spring cousins. The flowers come in pink, blue, a sort of blue-violet and white. They do best in mildly acidic soil.

The only negative thing one can say about scillas, apart from the fact that they are considered invasive (and they can “invade” my garden any time they want to), is that, according to various websites, all parts of the plant are poisonous if eaten.

It’s unclear why anyone would want to eat them, but it probably indicates that this is true for animals as well. Hmmm. Wonder if the deer might like some … In addition, “handling” the plant can cause an allergic reaction.

Another interesting spring bulb is the allium, which is not seen that often. This may be because the most common ones, allium hollandicum and allium giganteum, both of which produce huge spherical blooms on single, leafless stalks, are basically strange-looking. How to use them effectively in your everyday bed is difficult to figure out. Clearly they need some underplanting.

But one of the alliums, A. cowanii, is a really terrific plant. The cut flowers last a long time, actually several weeks, and they are very pretty and bright white. I have never noticed, since all of the allium are part of the onion genus, that they have an unpleasant or garlic-y odor. They do require full sun, which is a problem for me in my very shady place, but they are absolutely deer proof. Even on Shelter Island. So look them up online, and if you agree with me that they are indeed attractive, indulge yourself this coming fall.

Pretty soon it will be Memorial Day, otherwise known to gardeners as “Color Weekend,” when we will have azaleas and tulips and so much more.

Tip of the week: “Cold tolerant” flowers include pansies, which now come in almost every shade of the rainbow; ranunculus, which you can see in the very nice bed outside the Center post office, courtesy of the Garden Club of Shelter Island; and osteospermum, a favorite of mine, easily identified by the black centers.

Second Tip of the Week: The average date of the last frost in our garden zone is May 15. Bear in mind, however, that this is simply an average, not a guarantee. So if you are thinking of putting your seedlings in the ground or your potted plants outside, keep your eye carefully on the five-day forecast. Second-home owners, unless they have helpful friends who are year-rounders, need to be especially careful.