by Morrisons on April 22, 2013
While native New Englanders may cringe in anticipation of that inevitable last snowfall, Mother Nature waits for no one and is moving forward.
Look outside and see the first buds of the season rapidly emerging on trees and shoots coming up in your garden. It’s spring and an explosion
of color is closer than you think.
When talking about which plants make the earliest spring debut almost everyone is familiar with those yellow-flowering shrubs (forsythia) and those purple things that are everywhere (PJM rhododendron) that bloom first in the spring. They are tried-and-true, and really reliable, but if you are looking for something a little different, consider these perennial winners.
ABELIOPHYLLUM distichum: (the so-called “White Forsythia”)
This fast-growing shrub is subtler than its yellow cousin. It blooms very early, with white fragrant flowers, and needs room to fill-out, so perfect along a hedge or border where it can mix with other shrubs. It blooms in March (hooray) before it leafs out, and often re-blooms in the fall, for added interest. Prune this back yearly (in early summer) to maintain a dense habit. And if you prefer PINK, choose the form ‘Rosea’ that blooms light pink. Both of these grow to about 5 ft. wide and 5 ft. high.
Hardiness: USDA zone 5
FOTHERGILLA gardenia: (sometimes called simply “Bottlebrush”)
This relative of the witch-hazel has fragrant white flowers which bloom on the tips of the branches like candelabras. This deciduous shrub blooms in April, before its leaves emerge, and is a good choice for near entrances so passersby can enjoy the sweet fragrance. The oval leaves emerge and the habit remains compact; an extra bonus is the fantastic yellow and orange fall color in sunny locations. This shrub will get about 5 ft. wide and 5 ft. high without pruning.
Hardiness: USDA zone 5
MAGNOLIA species and cultivars: (sometimes called “Tulip Trees”, although there exists another “tulip tree’, Liriodendron tulipifera)
There are many types of Magnolias. All of them are fantastic. Interestingly, they are quite prehistoric and have a place in every garden. Typically the flowers are large, and bloom before the leaves emerge. Blossoms can be white or pink or lavender or even yellow. The smallest types get to be small trees approximately 15 ft. by 15 ft. at maturity. Some types get quite large, reaching 30 ft. tall. Magnificent early spring color. Flowers bloom before leaves emerge. Buds form in the fall, and look like pussy-willows all winter long.
Hardiness varies: USDA zone 5 & 6.
DICENTRA spectabilis, formosa or exima: (many types known as “Bleeding Hearts”)
A typical plant in the garden of your grandmother, Bleeding Hearts never go out of style. They are delicate and adorable. Some new hybrids even have acid-green-chartreuse leaves to off-set the gold leaves. These are easy to grow. All they need is decent soil and be left alone. The flowers are shaped like hearts, all lined up in a row, dangling on the stem. Most forms bloom in late April and through May. Sometimes when the summer gets hot and dry, they disappear, but re-emerge reliably each spring.
Hardiness: USDA zone 4.
HELLEBORUS x hybrids: (many types known as “Hellebores“)
These plants are among the earliest to bloom in spring. Their waxy flowers, in addition to their sometimes glossy evergreen foliage and deer resistance, make them valuable additions to any garden. There are many hybrids and cultivars, ranging in beautiful tones of muted maroon, pink, white, green and spotted; all they really need is some good organic, well-drained soil. If leaves look burnt and brown in spring, carefully cut them off to enjoy the emerging flowers. Hellebores self-seed: meaning they will pro-create and spread. Once you see their lovely flowers, you will want them to spread!
POLYGONATUM odoratum ‘Variegatum’: (Variegated Solomon’s Seal)
This lovely perennial emerges like a telescope, and dangles lovely white flowers from the axils of each leaf along the stem. This form can reach 3 feet tall. It spreads slowly, making a small colony. The arching stalks emerge pink in early spring and emerge to reveal soft green leaves edged in creamy white. This is true architectural grace.
Hardiness: USDA zone 4. Prefers some shade.
Spring is something we all long for, but is often so fleeting in New England. Select special plants that remind you of this beautiful, sometimes short, season. We have enough “broadcasts” and “neon lights”; these plants can bring simple delight and subtle charm, which most of us can appreciate if we only take the time.