America is enamored with big: pansies the size of old silver dollars, huge strawberries, pumped up roses. But the dainty of the species add a layer of delicacy to a mixed bed, may favor taste in a fruit, or introduce unexpected form. In the wild, they’re often the most beloved arrival. Nothing delights as early harbinger of spring like the profusion of tiny white violets no bigger than your baby fingernail that anoint moist meadows.
Linaria, diminutive members of the snapdragon family, cast subtle, multi-stalked pools of color here and there in the foreground of a classic perennial mix of stately delphinium, lilies, flocks, campanula, platycodon, etc. Their 6 inch clusters of verticals resonate with the tall ones, and deepen visual texture. Direct seed early spring the old Fantasy variety that comes in lovely clear blue, magenta, yellow, and pink with a yellow eye (available at stokeseeds.com and veseys.com.)
Eschew the Swiss Giant pansies ubiquitous in every window box and garden edge, and go for little violas. Their dark velvety purple, magenta, white or yellow blossoms self seed, spread, and inject a fresh natural tenor toe high. Common types may be had at any nursery already in bloom. Seed Savers (seedsavers.org) offers the classiest choice, though: an historic collection chosen to approximate the exquisite faces and tones favored in mid 19th century. If you’re not game to start them very early from seed, have someone raise them for you (it’s worth it.) Scatter some into a little side border of white gaura, Campanula persicifolia alba, blue speedwell, linaria, Anemone sylvestris, Dianthus plumarius ‘Spring Beauty,’ and Fritillaria meleagris. Or let a broad clump bloom on in a lightly shaded (cool) spot beside the hammock. Nip off spent blossoms to keep plants productive.
Everyone loves large showy clematis Nelly Moser, Mrs. N. Thompson, Jackmanii, and Niobe. But you’ll cherish too the delicate grace and abundance of the petite flowered species. Of Italian clematis, C. viticella, my favorites are Étoile Violette, blanketed with dark purple blossoms repeatedly during the summer, '' and 'Madame Julia Correvon' in deep claret. The wild Texas native Clematis texensis 'Gravetye Beauty,’ intriguing with its narrow sepals tulip-arched in scarlet, does just fine in my northern garden.
As to azaleas, you’re in for a treat with the delightful, summer blooming, FRAGRANT, American natives Rhododendron viscosum and R. arborescens. Happiest in moist areas, they flower by my Maine ponds and creeks mid July, long after the familiar types have ebbed, and spill their spicy perfume into the night air from petite pink or white blooms.
Of nifty, unusual, small-flowered roses, try the species Rosa rubrifolia and R. moyesii. The former, as its Latin name proclaims, displays gorgeous, vase shaped, red-purple foliage 7 to 8 feet x 6 feet, tempting to swipe for flower arrangements. Flowers emerge only once, but as startlingly beautiful, dainty pink stars that cede to lasting purple hips. R. moyesii, an 8 foot free-standing vase introduced from West China in 1894, bears geranium-red blossoms followed by bold bottle-shaped hips. Both plants are tough as nails, hardy, and require little care. Just spread their roots, plant them deep in richly manured and phosphate sprinkled soil, and remember to heap a spade of old manure at the base of their canes when they go dormant each autumn to discourage moles and voles and be in place to jump start the plants come spring. (northcreekfarm.org)
Strawberries? Earliglow, modest in size but enormous in taste, starts the season. Tristar’s little everbearing fruits approximate the intense strawberry thrill of tiny wild strawberries, and continue through the summer. (noursefarms.com)