It is officially spring when you see the Virginia bluebells peeping through the soil. It is not the earliest but one of the earliest plants to blossom. Toward the middle to end of April they will produce their bright green leaves. The flowers are dark pink in bud and open up to bright blue tubular shaped flowers. The plants grow from root stocks that lie about 1 to 2 inches beneath the soil. The stems are about 10 inches to 12 inches tall. They prefer a moist soil but go dormant mid-June and then the soil moisture doesn't matter. They slowly spread to form a nice colony. It makes a very lovely showing and can be quite breath taking.

Some people call it by the name cowslip, but this common name can also be applied to a number of spring plants. Their botanical name of Mertensia sound more regal and it is easy to pronounce so I generally call it by that name.

The plants are quite easy to propagate and it can be done by seed if you are patient. You need to watch the plant and catch the seed before it hits the ground. It takes about 3 to 5 years to mature to a flowering plant. Division is easier. When the plant is dormant you can dig up the rhizomes and divide them making sure each piece has an eye. You will need to mark the plants before they go dormant because they are difficult to find once the leaves have died down.

Good garden companions are ferns, merrybells (Uvularia), Jack-in-the-pulpit, wild ginger, red cardinal flower, great blue lobelia , The later two flower in the summer when the foliage has died down.

Mertensia virginica - Virginia bluebells

  • -Provides early spring nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies

    -Grows in very moist or wet soil

    -Cheers up the early spring garden

    -Height: 12 to 24 inches

    -Zone: 3 to 9