Home gardens and public landscapes in Washington DC come to life with colourful flowers, writes Stephanie Choo
AT heart, Washington, DC, may seem only of interest to history buffs. Still, my visit to the capital was such a satisfying one. While exploring the numerous top class museums and memorials, I also had the opportunity to personally see winter garden plants flowering along the street.
I arrived in the middle of February last year, at the tail end of winter. It was snowing, cold and the sun was setting when I stepped out of the airport. On the way to my destination, snow-covered houses made the most picturesque sceneries. The snow, however, melted fast; by next morning, there was not much snow left on the roofs.
Throughout my short stay, the temperatures hovered between 0 and 10 C. At times it was windy, sometimes wet. As the weather warmed up, home gardens and public landscapes began to come to life with colourful flowers.
Winter bloomers like the Helleborus x ballardiae Pink Frost and Helleborus x Silver Moon were most precious while the rest of the landscape offered little. Their bowl-shaped blooms gleamed in the sunlight as I was checking out the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden.
Hellebores have delicate nodding and flat-faced blooms atop their foliage. The colourful parts of the flowers are actually bracts, I learnt later. The flowers come in various hues and open around the period of lent, hence they are commonly called lenten rose.
Also hellebores are not roses. They belong to the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae. Members of this family usually have showy flowers and occasionally numerous stamens.
The other winter-hardy perennial that caught my attention was camellia. While I was on foot to the White House Visitor Center, I noticed a row of double-flowered pink camellias that was in bloom. The opened flowers seemed glowing even under the partly cloudy skies.
Camellia spp. are members of the tea family, Theaceae. Their blooms resemble peonies or roses and they have glossy green leaves. They can also be single-flowered and their petals, other than pink, can be red, white or bi-coloured.
Violas burst into bloom everywhere in raised and ground beds. They have the most cheerful flowers in my opinion. Although petite in stature, they liven up the dull winter ground like no other.
The widely cultivated viola colours are purple, yellow and white. They have heart-shaped leaves with scallop edges. The tips are either pointed or rounded.
Not all violas are annuals. Some viola species are perennials and several kinds are small shrubs. They all belong to the violet family, Violaceae, cultivars which bear large and multi-coloured flowers are pansies.
EARLY SPRING BULBS
Peeking out between the violas was Tulipa spp., members of the lily family, Liliaceae. Although they had broken dormancy and sprouted, they were only budding. When they bloom, they would have been a beauty to behold, I imagined.
Anyway, nothing beats chancing upon some beautiful bright spring bloomers like the crocuses! The cup-shaped flowers were pale purple, with another type being yellow. Grown from corms and with grass-like leaves, the low growing and clump forming perennials (Crocus spp.) are members of the iris family, Iridaceae.
Spring flowering crocuses are often hybrids of C. vernus and C. chrysanthus. The latter has smaller corm and flower (but more blooms per bulb) than the former which produces huge single flowers.
Other small bulbous plants that had sent up their leaves and flowers were grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum) of the family, Asparagaceae and snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) of Amaryllidaceae. Their smallish bell-shaped blooms which are cobalt-blue and milk-white respectively, offered the landscape some colours between winter and spring.