Marianne Binetti

Celebrate the season with splashes of color

The English primrose is one variety that does well in Northwest gardens. (WIKICOMMONS)
The English primrose is one variety that does well in Northwest gardens. (WIKICOMMONS)

The last week of February and first week of March call for a celebratory visit to the nursery. Color is in and waiting to be taken home. Primroses are the traditional early bloomers that can be used to fill a window box or dress up your front porch planters, but you’ll also find early blooming pansies, hellebores, hardy cyclamen and flowering shrubs ready to wake up the landscape.

Buying tip: When you bring home cheerful pansies, remember that the smaller the flower, the more weather-resistant it will be. Viola-type pansies with more numerous but smaller blooms will handle our rainy and still frosty weather without the pouting and attitude that is displayed by pansies with super-size blooms.

When it comes to buying primroses, I pass up the crayon-colored primroses in front of all the grocery stores as they become slug fodder in my garden. The more slug-resistant primroses, such as the Wanda series, En glish primroses and the long-blooming Green Lace primrose, are much longer-living and cold and slug resistant.

Incredible edibles: Swiss chard is a nutritious, colorful and easy-to-grow vegetable that can be planted into the ground when the weather is still cool. The most beautiful Swiss chard is called Bright Lights and the stems emerge in shades of pink, red, orange and purple. Plant lots of Swiss chard now and you can thin out the plants as they sprout using the tender young seedlings in stir fries or lightly steamed. As a bonus, most Swiss chard plants will return without replanting for a second year of harvest. Edible and incredible.

I am working on adding more year-round color to my front landscape. I already have added winter-blooming hellebores and winter heather plus some early flowering shrubs such as forsythia. Please recommend a few groundcovers or perennials for early color. T.T., Tacoma

Wake up your landscape with an early shot of color by using plants in the petticoat zone.

This means adding low-growing perennials that can be grown under the skirts of your taller trees and shrubs. You didn’t mention whether you have sun or shade, but for the darker areas under the skirts or petticoat zone of your rhododendrons you’ll find blue and pink blooming pulmonarias or lungwarts.

These woodland plants bloom early, attract hummingbirds and sport fancy spotted leaves that follow the spring flower display. For large areas, light up the garden with a golden glow.

Vinca minor now comes in a bright yellow-and-green version called Illumination, and it really does beam sunlight to a dark spot. Vinca minor Illumination also can be used to spill over the edge of hanging baskets and container gardens.

I have a flower bed that always seems to be riddled with what I thought were mole holes. Now, I find out it is probably voles or field mice that make the shallow tunnels under my plants. They started to appear more often once our cat died. Other than getting another cat, how does one control voles? H.L., Maple Valley

Congratulations on blaming the voles, not the moles. These small field mice are easy to catch with traps, and any home center store can offer you a selection of pet-safe outdoor mouse traps. There are some plants that seem to deter voles and moles from building runways in your flower beds.

Members of the Euphorbia family (once called gopher spurge because they kept gophers away) seem to discourage rodents because of the milky white sap in their roots.

There also is good news about the beautiful hellebore varieties blooming at local nurseries. Hellebores have nasty-tasting root systems, and when you add a few hellebores to a bed the voles and moles turn up their nose and dig someplace else.

Both the euphorbias and hellebores taste so bitter that even the deer turn on their hooves.

Marianne Binetti is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and eight other gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture from WSU and will answer questions from her Web site at www.binettigarden.com.

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