The picture below shows Pulsatilla pratensis in a better light--the backlight making the shining hairs glow, and the tulip cheers things up a tad...
But the second picture doesn't show the nearly black flowers...why write about P. pratensis near the end of February? When the first crocuses are open at my house, and hellebores and Adonis amurensis blooming, not to mention the first gaggle of snowdrops (in their multifarious sizes and splotch shapes). I gotta tell you, this interminable winter has taught me we need to do a lot more to liven up our winter landscapes.
But spring is around the corner: most years at least a few pasqueflowers bloom in March. I remember one year one bloomed in February in the Rock Alpine Garden. There are dozens of species names out there for Pasquies, and there are actually some really different kinds: I can't grow the alpine giants at all thus far (alpina, apiifolia or occidentalis) though I would love to. And it's hard to beat plain old vulgaris for color and panache. And who doesn't have dozens of pictures of our native patens, which I supposedly saw in Mongolia last July (not listed for that flora), although I gotta tell you, Central Asian patens--the type species--is not the same beast as ours...I have grown a dozen or more distinct Pasqueflowers, and yet this one haunts me.
It is likely that of the whole magnificent rabble of pasqueflowers, Pulsatilla pratensis may be the most homely: nodding, black, dusky, shy. And I love it. Many pasqueflowers are hairy, but this one combines black color and ermine hair in such a subtle way. I have grown dozens of plants of this at Denver Botanic Gardens when I was curator of the Rock Alpine Garden. They were clustered here, and clustered there and probably not more than a few dozen visitors ever even noticed them. They grew for two, four...maybe five or six years and passed away. I grew this robust specimen for five or six years at Quince (my current garden) until it too pooped out last summer: one day I noticed the whole clump was limp. Probably five or six years of high living did it in (my xeriscape has deep soil, and lots of compost mixed in: it grew robustly: in a harsher spot it might have lasted longer). Then all that wetness last spring and early summer: poof! That was it.
One of the bittersweet pleasures of being a lifetime gardener (over 50 years this year!) is having plants drift in and out of your life: aside from peonies, epimediums and a few other Methuselahs, most perennials only really live for a half dozen, a dozen years at most. A few regenerate from seed readily, and others spread by roots (like anemones or lily of the valley), but most will disappear eventually (just like us: think about it!).
The only way you're going to keep Pulsatilla pratensis around is to sow seed every five years or so and get young plants, or hope you have found a perfect spot where it will do the regeneration for you. Pulsatilla vulgaris spread so vigorously at the Rock Alpine Garden I was ordered to remove most of them once (one of the few mandates I've ever been given at work!). And so it is I am always trying to find a place where a plant might be so happy it will regenerate itself from seed...or where it is a trifle stressed so it doesn't bloom itself to death.
What about us, though: do we just bloom a few years and die? I'd like to think we strew a bit of fun and beauty along our way too, and maybe if we scatter enough ideas and good thoughts around, our spiritual seed will spread and prosper....if the conditions are just right!
I have failed thus far to find that perfect spot for the dusky, nodding pasqueflower. Thank heavens I take pictures (however mediocre) to remind me of these fleeting friends. Make a mental note to order seed once again and see if I can't find a better spot for this one!