When the garden centers start to receive the first shipments of perennials for the spring season there are consistently a few star perennials that get overlooked by gardeners. I think that the sea of intensely colored Primroses, Pansies and Violas that await you immediately on the front tables makes the lust for spring color too hard to pass up!
The hardiness of the Primroses and occasional reseeding of the Pansies and Violas are a fantastic bonus too. But, if you do choose to take those extra couple of steps and venture out into the Perennials section of the nursery, you WILL be very well rewarded indeed with plants that you may COMBINE with your inexpensive “color” and have the benefit of a fantastic seasonal bonus as well. Let’s take a look at some early season perennials that you might not have considered before.
First up is the elegant Hellebore. The endless options for these alone could have me going on here FOREVER. An absolute must for any garden, period. If you would like to see more of these on my favorite post on Hellebore’s, click here.
You may remember the Columbine or Aquilegia from your Grandmother’s garden, it’s been around forever. But, in the last few years a breeding resurgence has brought so many new varieties to the market and you can’t ignore the impact they can have in your spring garden any longer. Even the foliage that once played second fiddle on the plant is now becoming more and more attractive and long-lasting into the warm season, before going dormant.
These are an example of some of the new small flowering varieties from the Clementine series, ‘Dark Purple’ and ‘Salmon Rose’.
Another under used early perennial that I adore is Mossy Saxifraga. This vibrant and abundant flowering rock garden or ground cover plant is so easy to grow in part shade and the little matte of foliage that’s left after blooming is so charming for the rest of the growing season. The Saxifraga is partnered in this photo with Spreading Phlox. This one is called ‘Candy Stripe’. It also has the mossy matte of foliage leftover after the initial bloom. This plant will frequently re-bloom if cut back after the first flush, if it’s not in too hot of a location during the early months of summer.
Armeria or commonly called Sea Thrift or Sea Pink, is a tufted little grassy plant that is captivating. The little flower heads stand up so erect and happy as if to be the first to greet me in spring! There is one in particular that I WILL be buying this year called ‘Rubrifolia’. I get so swept up in the madness of spring that I keep forgetting that I really want this bronze, grassy texture for year round interest. NOT this year!
When you pair Armeria with ANY variety of Erysimum or Wallflower, you have a DYN-O-MITE combination of fresh spring flowers and foliage! Add some Sedum ‘Angelina’ for vibrant splashes of foliage color too!
Two more perennials that garner tons of attention in spring for the electric colors they sport are Lewisia and Lithodora. Both are excellent for the hot sunny Rock Garden or edge of the border where they can be seen up close. The Lewisia is seen in this picture paired with the foliage of Sedum ‘Autumn Glory’.
Veronica ‘Georgia Blue’ is one of THE most versatile. long blooming and hardy perennials I have ever owned. The foliage turns a bronze in winter. It flowers for months on end and makes wonderful ground cover. I like to use it under early flowering shrubs like Azaleas.
The ‘Labrador Violet’ is a happy sower so if you love it, you will be happy with it all over. It doesn’t seem to me to be overly aggressive at all. In fact, I have loved it where ever it has decided to seed itself. A lovely colony of this sweet little violet has made its home under a Japanese Maple in my garden combined with Alchemilla Mollis or Lady’s Mantle. The winter burnished russet foliage color leftover from winter is striking with the intense apple green of the Lady’s Mantle.
The Pasque Flower or Anemone pulsatilla is a flowering plant that is very close to our hearts here in the Northwest as it’s a native plant that grows in the meadows of our mountains. In the spring near Mt. Rainier, hikers will make their way up while there is still snow in the fields to get pictures of these star attractions of the meadows in bloom.
With the fuzzy soft and ferny foliage emerging AFTER the 2-3 inch wide flowers in color ranges of red, violet, mauve and pink. It’s a fun, must have for an early season blooming essential.
If you’re a fan of foliage that’s delicate like fine lace-work, then you will be mad for the filigree leaves of Corydalis. A part shade beauty that is also refined, this will bloom in a mound of tube-shaped flowers dangling above the foliage like little chandeliers. This one happens to be one of the blue forms, but there are yellow and white as well. The cooler it’s location, the longer it will bloom! Pair it with Hardy Fuchsia, Bleeding Hearts, Hardy Geraniums or Astilbe for a stunning foliage combination after the lovely blooms have faded.
This overview of early blooming perennials is simply the tip of the iceberg for your plant choices. But, these are some of my favorites and some that I think should get a little more attention during the opening volleys of the spring nursery season. There are MANY MANY more that I can add to this list, and I’m sure I will as the season will soon be upon us. Be ready to go and explore new types of plants to add to your early spring garden beyond the conventional.
Do you have any perennials that you think should get more attention in spring? Drop me a note in the comments and I will be happy to go exploring for them. Who knows maybe we can start a new trend.