How can you not love Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)? They are coming into their own in our garden right now. The clusters of soft blue tubular flowers are fantastic, especially combined with the pink and purple buds.
But Virginia Bluebells could sometimes use a little help. For starters, they are ephemerals. Once they go to seed they pretty much collapse, starting with the tender blue-green foliage. They need companions who will fill in through the summer. Plus, in my opinion all plants could use a little help with color contrast now and then.
Though I can’t emphasize strongly enough that I am crazy about blue flowers.
Celandine Poppy or Wood Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum), are a good choice for color contrast. Their bright yellow flowers are more or less synchronized with the Bluebells. The foliage lasts longer then the Bluebells’ but it can get a bit ratty over summer, especially in drier spots.
Also, a warning: Celandine Poppies self-sow like mad. However, in my experience they do not overwhelm other sturdy woodland plants like Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum). Virginia Bluebells and Celandine Poppies are both native to the American Midwest.
Brunnera macrophyllum (also known as False-Forget-Me-Not or Siberian Bugloss) is another useful companion for Bluebells. As the common name suggests, its clusters of tiny sky-blue flowers look much like Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis sylvatica) However, this plant makes an effective summer groundcover in moist, shady conditions and spreads steadily through seeding and clumping. It is not a North American native. Variegated cultivars are very popular, but I stick with the straight species.
Ferns are another useful companion for Virginia Bluebells. We have several North American ferns that emerge just as the Bluebells are in flower, then stay green through the summer.
If you like a pink and blue combination, you can always combine Bluebells with Bleeding Hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis), though the two species don’t always get their timing just right.
So we’ve talked about friends, but what about foes? My Virginia Bluebells were happily seeding themselves around our garden when suddenly the rabbits started chomping on them, just at the point when the flowers were opening. For some reason the Bluebells were around for at leas three years before this started happening.
For a while I was distraught, until this spring someone suggested using Irish Spring soap to protect my Tulips, and I started using it to deter rabbits from my Virginia Bluebells as well. I understand that correlation is not causation, but to date there have been no rabbit attacks on the Bluebells. Though this weekend a couple of Tulips were decapitated by bunnies – my first losses of the season, and still a casualty rate much improved from other years, at least so far.
So I’m going to stick with what seems to be working until someone shows me a better alternative. The stuff smells pretty awful, and I wouldn’t want to be eating with that scent in my nose.