From must-have Wake robins to the charming and rare Soldanella, here are some colorful flowers to spring for.
WE ALL KNOW that spring-blooming bulbs add color to the spring garden. There’s also a wide variety of early-blooming perennials that will light up the spring garden with colorful flowers and beautiful foliage.
No woodsy garden should be without at least a few Wake robins (Trillium). There are more than 40 species native to North America, and every spring, exciting species arrive at quality nurseries. We’re fortunate to have one of the most attractive of all as a Northwest native. Trillium ovatum, the one you see when you hike our local woods, adds charm to the shade garden with its nodding white, fading-to-pink flowers.
The most spectacular of the bunch, however, has to be the Oregon native Trillium kurabayashii. Eventually forming a 2-foot-tall-by-3-foot-wide clump, each stem on this stunningly beautiful plant is topped with a whorl of black and green deeply mottled leaves crowed with a magnificent deep-red, 4-inch, upright flower. Trilliums are amazingly easy to grow. All they need to prosper are light shade and rich, well-drained soil amended with plenty of compost.
An underappreciated spring bloomer for a shady garden is bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). Hailing from eastern and Midwestern woodlands, these native poppy relatives bloom in early spring with flowers made up of layers of satiny white, paper-thin petals. The flowers are a bit short-lived. The blooms on the single-flowering varieties remain for only a day; however, the blossoms on the doubles (Sanguinaria canadensis ‘Multiplex’) can sometimes last up to a week or more. The bluish-gray, scalloped 6-to-12-inch round leaves are so lovely, I grow this perennial as much for the foliage as the blossoms. Given rich humusy soil, bloodroot will spread slowly to form large, much-cherished colonies over time.
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If you aren’t growing Corydalis, you’re missing out on one of the gems of the spring garden. These members of the poppy family are hardy and easy to grow, and feature colorful spurred flowers held above fernlike foliage. There isn’t a blue-flowering one I don’t like, but the beauty of the bunch has to be Corydalis ‘Blue Heron’. Hardy to zero degrees, the fragrant, iridescent flowers shimmer like sapphires above lacy blue-green foliage.
As irresistible as ‘Blue Heron’ is, wait until you see the red ones! Corydalis solida ‘George Baker’ is adorned with spectacular red flowers, varying from brick to dark red. The flowers of Corydalis solida ‘Beth Evans’ open bright pink before softening to a paler shade as they mature. Corydalis tend to do best in well-drained moist shade and will bloom from spring into early summer if they are given adequate moisture. After the blooms fade, cut the foliage down to about 1 inch tall. Your Corydalis won’t rebloom, but the lacy leaves will grow back looking fresh and lovely.
Finally, if you want some rare treasures, look for the following charmers online or at spring plant sales:
• Cardamine quinquefolia is a delightful spring ephemeral. In March, five-lobed leaves emerge to form a loose, open, 9-inch-tall clump, soon covered in a blanket of soft pink flowers. It’s frighteningly rambunctious, but politely disappears from the scene just before it overwhelms its neighbors.
• If you want to give kids a thrill, plant Chinese wild ginger (Asarum maximum ‘Ling Ling’) in a shady nook close to a walkway. The 2-inch-long black and white flowers look like little panda faces. Little ones love hunting for them under the highly attractive silvery patterned leaves.
• Finally, no one can look at Soldanella sp. aff. rhodopaea without breaking into an aria. The dark-purple flowers that occur in April are irresistible, but it’s the evergreen foliage that sold me on this plant. Soldanella means “little coins” in Italian, and once you see the penny-sized leaves on this irresistibly cute 8-inch clumper, you’ll fork over as many coins as it takes to buy a flat of them.