7 perennials to consider for adding color to gardens in late spring
Question: I’m interested in adding a few early-blooming perennials to my garden. I have a lot of color in the summer and fall, but there isn’t much in bloom during April, May and June. Can you recommend a few of your favorite spring-blooming perennials? Both of my perennial beds get decent sun, especially in the spring before the leaves come out on the trees.
Answer: Creating a perennial garden with nonstop color is a challenge, especially if you tend to visit your local nursery only once or twice a year and buy whatever’s in bloom. Instead, you should make a trip to the nursery many times throughout the gardening season. This will give you a better idea of what’s in bloom at different times of the year.
Early spring in many gardens is filled with colorful, blooming bulbs, but when the daffodils and tulips fade, there isn’t much color left until summer’s arrival. Thankfully, there are plenty of perennials that fill this gap. The following seven perennials are in flower during April and May, and some keep going even into early June.
Basket of gold (Aurinia saxatilis) is a beautiful, bright-yellow perennial. The gray-green foliage hugs the ground and looks great at the front of a border. Preferring full sun, basket of gold does not like heavy clay soil, so be sure to plant it somewhere with good drainage. After the flowers fade, the foliage forms a nice, tight mound that’s a mere 6 to 8 inches tall. A late spring haircut keeps basket of gold’s growth dense and compact.
Columbines (Aquilegia spp.) provide a splash of color to the late spring garden, and the hummingbirds adore them. The long, spurred flowers of columbine come in a wide range of colors, from red and pink to purple and yellow. There are even a handful of double-petaled varieties. Columbine readily reseeds and makes a great cut flower. Plus, as an added bonus, the deer don’t seem to be very fond of it.
Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla) has heart-shaped, fuzzy leaves and bears scores of tiny blue flowers every spring. The deer resistance of this plant makes it a good choice for many gardeners. Though it’s in bloom for just a week or two, the plant’s foliage adds lots of interest beyond the flowers. Bugloss reseeds easily but prefers to have partial shade during the summer months. There are several varieties with variegated foliage, including ‘Looking Glass’ and ‘Jack Frost.’
Chameleon spurge (Euphorbia dulcis ‘Chameleon’) is most noteworthy for its multihued foliage, but tiny flowers surrounded by greenish-yellow bracts appear every spring. Growing in a compact mound, the burgundy-purple foliage is gorgeous even when the plant isn’t in flower. It looks terrific with chartreuse-foliaged hostas, heucheras, and many other plants. Like other euphorbias, ‘Chameleon’ does terrific in dry sites and handles hot weather like a champ.
Siberian iris (Iris sibirica) is the less-popular cousin of the German bearded iris. Though its flowers are smaller than bearded iris, they are equally as beautiful. Clumps of 18-inch-tall, swordlike foliage are topped with bright blue, purple or white flowers late every spring. These iris shrug off our heavy clay soils and don’t mind poorly drained sites. The foliage is more resistant to iris borer than bearded iris, and it’s deer-resistant. Siberian iris do well in full to partial sun, and they require very little care.
Lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.) is a great spring bloomer for shade to partial shade. Though there are many different cultivars, my favorites have variegated foliage that adds interest to the garden even after the blooms have faded. The fuzzy texture of the leaves makes it resistant to deer and other pests. The tiny, trumpet-shaped flowers stand about 10 to 12 inches above the foliage and come in a wide range of colors, including pink, blue, purple, coral, white, and fuchsia. This plant makes a great groundcover for shady to semi-shady sites and is a real favorite of hummingbirds.
Blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii) is a native of North America that produces clusters of small, pale blue, star-shaped flowers every spring. The fine-textured foliage grows two to three feet tall and turns a beautiful yellow-bronze in the autumn. This low-maintenance plant thrives in full to partial shade and poor to average soil. Its soft, billowy appearance is breath-taking even when the plant isn’t in flower, and the deer-resistance is a definite plus.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com.
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