A stark white blanket covers the once lush fields and my snowshoes await their first use of the season. The view outside my office window is a far cry from the lacy green leaves of spring, but something about the icy parking lot has me thinking about spring anyway. I think I’ll sit back and remember fondly, the blooms of early spring and some of my favorite plants – and maybe inspire you to add them to your spring gardens!
Spring in many native gardens starts with the emergence of the ephemerals. In my gardens Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum) is greening up almost immediately after the last snows have melted. Drifts of pink puffy blooms and lacy foliage make this our first color to appear in the garden.
Fast on the heels of Prairie Smoke come the first leaves of Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) breaking through the soil. In my backyard the they arrive in April, and we often cover the plants to protect them from late April frosts! Happiest in rich soils and extremely long lived, Bluebells spread to form a profusion of bright blue groundcover, 2-3 feet tall. The spring blooms fade and the plant goes dormant, making room for spring’s abundance.
The arrival of Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox pilosa) is our first chance to find a sweet scent in the garden. Preferring well drained sandy-loam it attracts the first butterflies of the season. Skippers and long tongued bees enjoy the nectar of Wild Blue Phlox.
In my garden, Wild Blue Phlox is mixed with another spring favorite, Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis). This striking red and yellow native grows in any soil in sun or shade. Spreading by seed, it will naturalize. Pair Columbine with Phlox and you’ll have two flowers that provide valuable nectar for early arriving hummingbirds.
A spring woodland garden is not complete without a show of Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum). Moving slowly by rhizomes, Wild Geranium makes a great groundcover and the foliage stays green all summer long, turning a rusty red in fall. It’s a favorite of many insects inlcuding mason bees, and numerous moth species, and the Eastern Chipmunk eat the seed.
Another familiar sight in a native shade garden, drifts of Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) arrive a later in May. Also known as the ‘umbrella plant,” Mayapple produces a fragrant white flower with a scent reminiscent of Jasmine and is a great early source of pollen for bumblebees.
At our Westfield display gardens, customers eagerly await the arrival of Shootingstar (Dodecatheon meadia) that grows near the Retail Store. Our 1/10th acre plot announces spring with a shout with a profusion pink to lavender blooms.
Beneath the Shagbark Hickory and pines we find the heart shaped leaves of Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense). Wild Ginger is the best choice in a landscape once dominated by invasive plants such as Buckthorn and Garlic Mustard. The large leaves of Wild Ginger spread to form a dense groundcover that blocks sunlight and prevents the seed of invasive plants from germinating. You have to work at finding the tiny white flower hidden under the leaves. This low maintenance groundcover can be paired with later blooming natives including Woodland Sunflower, Anise Scented Goldenrod and Calico Aster adding color and hide the fading spring foliage of earlier blooming flowers.
We hope you are inspired by the show of spring flowers. Winter is here to stay for awhile, so we might as well enjoy the crisp cold days, and the beautiful snows of December. Settling-in with good books, fuzzy slippers and hot cocoa I’ll plan ahead, looking forward to the first blooms and the promise of the coming spring.