I have been growing Pulsatilla, or pasque flowers for 15 years. I found them quite accidentally when preparing for the Kitsap Home & Garden Show for which I was creating a garden venue. The show falls yearly on St Patrick’s Day weekend, so my plant palette was seasonally limited. “Do you have anything that looks great now or that might even be coaxed into bloom?” was the query I put to my favorite nurserymen in mid-February.
One local nursery owner, sadly no longer in business, told me she had 1 gallon pasque flower that if brought inside, could be blooming for the show. I had gathered lovely budded Osmanthus delavayi and Sarcococca and I was hoping not to go the English primrose and tulip route. “I’ll take all 18”, I said, having only seen pasque flower in books to that point. They “sunned” themselves in my laundry room for a week leading to the show and turned out to be a hit with the public and with me. Into the garden they went following the show and every single one of those plants is still with me. And that’s saying something: I have planted out hundreds (you think I exaggerate?) of plants that were garden show darlings and maybe half are still alive.
Pasque flower provides reliable, bright flowers in early spring. It is drought tolerant, long-blooming, long-lived and the seed heads are absolutely darling—fuzzy, fluffy and sweet in arrangements. And while it’s a perennial, I’ve never had to divide one. The clumps just get denser and more floriferous in time, but not necessarily any bigger. I have no experience with them re-seeding. They thrive in my garden in rich, compost amended soil as well as in a leaner, rockier hot spot. Performing well in both, they do grow faster in the better ground. I wonder, too, if they might be shorter lived in the richer soil. Time will tell. Full sun is best.
I have been watching my pasque flowers for weeks in anticipation; their nodding, silky flower buds slowly lifting from the leafy clumps. There have been hints of petal color under the fur—purple, blue, and a strange red hue. The finely pinnate leaves add to the overall fluffy appearance. Just yesterday the first blooms opened, as they do–during the day, shutting again at sunset. What a heavenly sight and as a result, despite the fact that I have had them for years, I photograph the same plants every year, always enchanted as if discovering them for the first time.
When I planted a new garden area 3 or so years back, I added 2 flats of 4” pulsatilla vulgaris, 36 in all. These are the ones in amended soil. The blossoms are a rich purple blue that stands out in the still bare spring garden. If you appreciate blue anemones but can’t grow them in your climate—try pulsatilla vulgaris. My original plants are hybrid mixes whose shades range from an odd mauve-red to deep purple, with shorter flower stalks than the straight species. When I ordered the latest batch, I specifically asked for the blue color. ‘Rode Klokke’ is a deep red flowered cultivar that is popular and Pulsatilla vulgaris var. rubra has that unusual mauvy-red. There is a Pulsatilla vulgaris ‘Alba’, but I’ve not seen it offered near me, but the photos I’ve seen are dreamy.
© Colleen Miko, 2011