I have found it well to devote one space at a time, sometimes mainly, sometimes entirely, to the flowers of one season of the year.
There is therefore one portion that is a complete little garden of spring flowers.
-Gertrude Jekyll, Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden
I have scattered spring throughout my garden spaces, but have to agree with the venerable opinions of Miss Jekyll: spring flowers look best included in a block of profusion to give a seasonal show. Perhaps because they are surrounded by the expanse of green, or because so many of them have smaller sized blooms, or bloom on single stalks? They gain in groupings.
Some spring blooming plants fade away after their flowers are over, such as the Bluebells, Mertensias, and all the bulbs. Some fade back into green backgrounds, such as the creeping mountain phlox, phlox subulata, but when they all bloom together they seem to enhance and magnify each others effects.
The Spring flowers are so welcome, and so fleeting, that they deserve some careful thought and placement in the garden, I think.
What are some of my thoughts on available choices? So glad you asked! When I started my garden here in the country I was so full of enthusiasm to plant many of the garden book suggestions. One of those was the Doronicum, Leopard’s Bane. This is a very pretty flower, with a name (bane) that indicates poisonousness, but I faulted it for its very close appearance to the Dandelion. My spring garden is full of dandelion flowers at the same time of the Doronicum bloom. A plant for shade, in woodland, the golden daisy would be a bright spot of cheer, but surrounded here with sunshine areas bursting with bright orbs of dandelions meant that the effect was lost. When it faded into oblivion during a drought I did not replace it.
A very choice plant in my opinion is the Iberis, or Candytuft. There are two types that go by these names, the annual and the perennial.. for this post I am talking about the perennial one, Iberis sempervirens. see how useful Latin nomenclature is?. Many of the famous old writers describe the blooms as “dead white” in color. While true, that description is sort of distasteful. What they are depicting is the opaqueness and flat reflection of the white. It is a very strong presence in the garden display.
I like the deep green of the shiny leaves and the low profile that is good looking most of the year, besides the cool white of the blooms. Bulbs can be overplanted, or it can be planted in drifts with other plants such as the alyssums or phlox subulata. Helen Van Pelt Wilson recommended it highly for the front of the border. Traditionally it was also used in knot gardens.
The alyssum compactum and phlox subulata are well-known and widely available in garden centers. I like both these plants, they are well behaved and not difficult to grow.
I do prefer certain colors, the paler version of the alyssum which tends to a powerful yellow, and the periwinkle blue of the phlox. The pink varieties of phlox are pretty too, but I am not as attracted to the white. The foliage of these two plants are quite different from one another- the alyssum is a floppy gray green sprawler, it is nicer looking than I make it sound. The phlox is a needle leaved stiff and spreading plant that can look very good lolling over rocks, but sometimes dies off a bit in winters and droughts. It is very easy to start new plants, though. You use little bits with or without roots to start a new plant. Or, since nurseries sell large baskets of it, divide up a larger plant into a number of small ones when you plant.
Something subtle, but very charming is a stand of ferns. To see them sprout their fiddleheads, so delicate and graceful, is to enjoy one of the artistic triumphs of the plant world. Like the Nautilus shell, there is something fascinating in the whirled head that later unfolds to a lush fern leaf.
Violets are always seemly companions for ferns – and violets will grow in either shade or sun. I have a number of different ones here, but the one that was on the property when I came is rather a rampant one, not at all well behaved like the white and soft yellow ones I transplanted from my grandmother’s old house. I have to rip out loads of the purple variety every year. It is precariously close to being a weed. But so pretty in spring!
I somehow lost them, but I love forget-me-nots. I will have to buy new stock this year. There is nothing like their sweet blue flowers on ground covering plants. Their blue is intense enough to be difficult to companion, unlike the soft melting blues of the Mertensia. I know it fades into invisibility, but the springtime appearance of their juicy green leaves and plush blue flowers is worth the space given them. They are the perfect woodland flower, and look so at home next to a garden pond.
Perhaps more observations another time, hope you enjoyed hearing my views on these common spring garden choices today.
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