By Glenn DiNella
One of my favorite perennial flowers that herald spring is the lowly spiderwort. How can you not love a plant with a name that sounds as if it came straight out of a Harry Potter book?
The botanical name (Tradescantia virginiana) indicates it has been around much longer than J. K. Rowling. English botanist/explorer John Tradescant discovered this hardy native plant in Virginia around 1648. It is native to the entire east coast of the United States and as far west as Missouri. Numerous hybrids exist—some plants and blooms are larger, some smaller. Colors too can vary, from bluish purple to pink. Spiderworts are not particular about sun or shade, clay or loamy soils. The common name seems to come from the way broken stems emit sap that can be stringy, like a spiderweb.
I first discovered spiderwort during my grad school days, when I rented an old house and served as gardener in exchange for cheaper rent. The garden had been a showplace in the 1940s and 1950s, but had fallen on hard times after the owner/gardener died. Among the many weeds and overgrown paths, spiderwort thrived.
Foxgloves are another favorite flower. Again I think it started because I like the common name. Some people theorize it was originally “folks’ gloves,” as rich folks wore fancy gloves. Other theories say foxes must have used the petals to create soft gloves so they could sneak into chicken coops.
The botanical name of foxglove is Digitalis purpurea, indicating the tubular blooms fit neatly over the fingers or toes (digits), and that they come in hues of purple, as well as other colors such as pink and white. Technically they are biennials, requiring two years to bloom before dying. But I have grown them in my garden for at least two years, and they have bloomed in late April both years. They can reseed themselves, so maybe that’s why mine keep returning.
They can take more sun in the north, but I provide foxgloves with partial shade to help them tolerate the heat of my Zone 8 garden. Try to plant them in a spot protected from wind. Even so, you might need to stake their tall flower spikes because they get top-heavy with blooms. Unlike spiderwort, which seems to grow anywhere, foxgloves prefer well-drained, humus-rich soil. Keep in mind: all parts of the plant are poisonous to humans and pets.
See more by this author.