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Growing on the High Plains Episode
Wed May 1, 2013
A Winter's Gift
The lines drawn this year between winter and spring have been hazy at best. Days of warm weather in March and April are typical, usually followed by some frosty days and occasional hard freezes. But, this year took the cake and a few records, as the swing between winter and spring began to resemble a yo-yo championship. Warm days invited gardeners outdoors just in time to get slapped in the face by cold rains that quickly turned to sleet, ice, and snowfall that was record breaking in many areas, and this weather pattern repeated itself not once but several times. Some High plains communities were snowbound while others saw blowing dust and hard freezes that wiped out future fruit harvests and wheat crops. But, into this made mix a little hope must fall, and it did this year, in my yard with the arrival of the Eastern pasque flower, also known by its old-timey name of Anemone Patens.
A few years ago, there was a Broadway musical on the boards called Spring Awakening and if ever there was a name fit hand in glove with a flower, it would be this wonderful breath of color that arrives earlier even than the crocus and stays late enough to flower, seed, and then sleep through the heat waves of summer. It waits throughout the fall and early winter, then rouses itself to make an appearance, often during the final snows of winter. This year, the large blooms of purple with yellow centers pushed forth at the first hint of warm weather, and then stood solid against the repeated freeze and snow warnings that were announced with regularity on the even weather forecasts.
There are several features of the Eastern pasque that allow it to thrive in less than pleasant weather. a coating of frosty looking fuzz on the leaves and stems of the plant serve as a fur coat to help this delicate looking plant stand up to winter weather. And, though the large blossoms only last a few days, an established clump usually has enough buds to keep the floral show going for weeks. The flowers open in sunlight, and stay closed on cloudy days. They also form a seed head that is itself a work of art, with wispy thread that break from the mother plant and travel on our western winds to find homes of their own.
This is the best part of this marvelous plant- it thrives in our harsh, alkaline, dry prairie soils! They want a salty seedbed that stays fairly dry. If placed in a low growing, moisture laden soil, the crown will rot. I didn't do my homework well enough when I planted mine a couple years ago, and now I'm going to need to take it from the base of a birdbath to a drier place. And, since the plant has a sizeable taproot which allows it to survive with little water, I think I have a task ahead in transplanting. I'll wait until fall to make the move, after it has gone dormant, and I'll let it sleep through the cold winter, in order to get well established to hopefully make an appearance next spring. During the hot summer, the eastern pasque will disappear altogether, so be sure you mark its place so it doesn't get disturbed by forgetful or unaware gardeners. If you plant by seeds, plant plenty since germination is not one of the plant's strong suits. Be patient and hopeful, when your Eastern pasque blooms it will be worth the wait, both for you and the early-waking bees who find in these early blooms their first good feast of pollen after a long winter of fasting.