Lake Geneva-It’s Always Been the Place

April 12, 2011

Naturalizing is when plants multiply with abandon, forming larger and larger colonies year after year.   Lake Geneva, which was first popular in the 1920s as a  summer retreat for barons of wealth escaping the heat of the Chicago summer, is an wonderful place to view hundred year old stands of naturalized bulbs, like these Siberian Squill.

Unbelievably, we get calls every spring from people who report that portions of the lawns at their hundred year old houses are covered with blue flowers.  “How can we get rid of them?”  It breaks my heart every time.

Few other plants rival the intense shade of blue.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

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Craig Mattson April 20, 2011 at 11:21 pm

Hey, I love the contrast of mostly green with purple undergrowth, then below the great, bright purple flowers with small wiffs of green behind. They are great quality photos. Did you get the new camera?

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SJ April 20, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Danniel,

I agree with you Muscari has to be watched too and it is not my first choice for bulbs! It can stop blooming as you suggested as the colony produces more and more bulbs and they get overcrowded. The difference is they don’t form quite as dense a mat as the Scilla. I plant that one definitely with caution and usually only if a client requests it. I like the better suggestion you mentioned of Virginia Bluebells – even though we have to be a bit more patient for that one to bloom. I use that one quite a bit and in the last couple of seasons it has become much easier to source. As for the Claytonia I will have to call around and find out why this is not more available. It spreads once established almost as quickly as Scillla.

I think the lure with Scilla is that it blooms so early and so intense a blue at a time at a time when everyone is so sick of winter and starved for something with color. And it is hard to be patient that extra month for the other ephemerals to appear and do their show.

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Danniel April 20, 2011 at 5:43 pm

My favorite thing to do with both scilla and muscari is to draw a little “river” through a shrub bed, or near the back of a wide garden bed or border, and not too dense of a planting. It is very visible before the shrubs leaf out, disappears under the shrubs later, and is more exciting every year for many years. It brings spring, as you say, along with the crocus. Crocus I tend to use near walkways, companioning with perennials that will cover the foliage, which is never as terrible, anyway.

I agree, the main appeal of squill IS the earliness and the intense color.

Mertensia is a lovely plant, too, but the death throes of the foliage can make it harder to place in a bed or border. Gorgeous, gorgeous in a woodland. I hope to get some good pictures at a nearby site this spring.

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SJ April 20, 2011 at 12:15 am

Danniel,

I feel bad for saying this as I love your pictures (even the one with scilla – lol) and website but beautiful as Scilla is I work really hard at eradicating it whenever I can in client gardens. Here’s the problem – whether you have native, non-native plants or a combination of the two, Scilla siberica, when it’s finished blooming, has a tendency to lay over by the thousands in a wet sticky mass and it’s hard for other plants to push through after it’s done blooming. It’s hardy in our climate but the region it originates (Europe/Asia) from means it pushes up earlier then our native plants (which can be almost a month later) and even other non-natives and smothering occurs in anything but the most robust plants. And it seeds everywhere. I don’t see it as much of a problem when it is in with lawn grass but I really am against having scilla in the beds or in the woods. To achieve the same look without the same aggressive tendencies I look toward using Claytonia virginica (when I can find it which it really should be more available in the trade as a good substitute!), Chinodoxa, Puschkinia, Crocus and Muscari species. They tend to be much better behaved. Even then, I approach some of them with caution as well, really depends on the site.

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Danniel April 20, 2011 at 9:19 am

Hi SJ,
Yes. Every plant selection is site dependent! Please don’t feel bad! Discourse is good and I appreciate your point of view. I agree with you completely that plants need to be in the right place, and scilla does not belong in a high quality woodland, and must be used with care in beds. It is best in a lawn or shrub bed. Claytonia IS a much better plant for a woodland, and I too wish it was more available in the trade. I wonder why it is not? We have some stunning native stands of that locally, too, but I have not been able to get good photos… Woodlands are so hard to photograph well…. but I digress.

Thanks for your comments.

Do you find that muscari, over time, is kind of a pain, too? I have seen it stop blooming as the stands mature, then you have foliage with few blooms.

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Danniel April 13, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Hi Joan Scarlett-sure, you can do it. We plant Squill all over the county! They are very affordable, but slow going to plant by the thousands unless you use an augur, which we do.

Most flowers are not quite this true blue, but another blue bulb is grape hyacinth. Some blue perennials for our area include Myosotis (Forget Me Not) Brunnera, Flax, quite a few veronicas (Speedwells) including my favorite, Veronica trehani, Sea Holly, some Delphiniums, Aconitum x Stainless Steel, some Iris, Bellflowers and Bugleweeds, gentians, Jacob’s Ladder, Mertensia…and that is off the top of my head! So, yeah, we can do blue in the Midwest! I even have some Agapanthus (Lily of the Nile) which is not supposed to be hardy here, naturalized in a protected area.
Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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Joan Scarlett April 13, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Oh, how lovely! Does it really take a hundred years, or can I do this in my yard? I love blue! What other blue plant are there?

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