Looking for something besides tulips to inspire you? In her woodland and rock gardens, this Wisconsin expert grows flowers that you may not recognize, but will want to try.
Springtime would last all year, if Jean Stevens could control the weather. She doesn't have anything against the other seasons. But Jean barely can wait to see fresh, young buds unfurling from her magnolia and redbud trees. Every day, green shoots of trilliums, epimediums and other unusual blooms nose up from the floors of the woodland and rock gardens that she tends in a rural neighborhood about 3 miles south of the western Wisconsin city of Eau Claire.
"It's just the best time of year there is," Jean says. "Every spring is a fresh beginning, when you can try something different."
Patches of the dark soil Jean enriched with compost and mulch still show between the many perennials in her gardens. The spare, controlled look of her spring garden delights Jean. She'd rather see the tidy, individual shape of each plant's leaves and flowers than the blowsy, full-grown look of the gardens later on.
But, like children, the plants don't stay young very long. A wine-colored stem of a sprouting peony soon turns thick and green, topped with full, pink blooms. You can see the ruby threads that stripe stems of Jean's astilbes. Those, too, soon disappear beneath the foliage and the frothy flower heads of the plants.
Jean, who's an Extension Service master gardener, works April through October designing and planting the flower beds at the Eau Claire Country Club. "In the summer, I garden at work all day. Then, I come home and do it until I go to bed," she says. "It's heaven!"
At home, Jean devotes most of her time to two parts of the yard. When walking through her woodland garden, you feel like you're in a forest, even though it's just steps from the two-story contemporary house Jean shares with her husband, Shad.