Early spring blooming

Photo by Deborah Maier

When a person thinks of a garden, typically the summer garden is what is pictured in the mind — a beautiful yard with lush green lawns, fully leafed-out trees and shrubs, and mature perennial plants and containers of annuals adding colour accents; frequently, it is a calm and relaxing scene.

When we think of the spring garden, flowering bulbs are some of the first plants that come to mind — the bright coloured hybrid and species tulips, grape hyacinths, snowdrops, Siberian squill, and Narcissus.

After the dull beiges and browns of late winter, a bloom that can grab the attention with its bold colour is welcome. I think it’s one reason daffodils with their rich green leaves and yellow flowers that glow like bursts of sunshine over last season’s dried grass are so appreciated in the spring.

However, there are trees, shrubs, and herbaceous perennials that bloom in early spring, too. These plants put on an early show, then fade away or become the green backdrop for the gardens of summer. They are important to pollinators in the spring and all gardeners should strive to incorporate some of these early spring-blooming plants into their gardens.

Aside from bulbs, what plants will bloom in a Calgary garden in the spring? One of the earliest is the prairie crocus or pasqueflower (Anemone patens).

In a warm sunny spot, they can be found blooming as early as March, but typically put on the best show in late April. If you visit Nose Hill early in May, you should still be able to see this native plant in bloom on the east-facing slopes. The pasqueflower in my garden blooms in mid-May.

Hepatica is another early spring bloomer. It often sprouts flower stalks before its leaves are noticeable, and blooms before many garden plants are showing any signs of life.

If you want to see these flowers in bloom, take a walk in Reader Rock Garden in May. The Garden should also have white anemones (around the water feature in the lower area of the garden), hellebores, and Bergenia, blossoming.

Another showy spring plant is the cushion spurge (Euphorbia polychroma). The terminal bracts are chartreuse and the reddish crown sprouts appear at the end of March. The plant quickly grows into a mound that makes a vivid statement by mid-May.

Just keep in mind that the margarine lid-sized crown will grow into a metre wide plant by the fall. The Botanical Gardens of Silver Springs has a beautiful, variegated plant in the Old Post Garden.

A stroll in the Botanical Gardens of Silver Springs is always a treat. Look for the Alpine Crevice and Native Plants garden. You can find Geum trifolum — (prairie smoke) a native plant — in that garden. It has small pink flowers which support local native pollinators. It may not be a showstopper in the spring, but the seed heads which look like pink-tinged streams of smoke are eye-catching throughout the growing season.

One of my favourite May-blooming flowers is leopard’s bane (Doronicum spp.). It has yellow daisy-like flowers and is the earliest bloomer of the daisies (Asteraceae Family). Aside from being a perennial that adds colour to my garden, I like it because it does well in an area where it competes for moisture with the roots of a boulevard-planted Northwest poplar tree.

If you would like a spring-blooming vine, consider a Clematis alpina cultivar. My bluebird clematis blooms mid-May and often will have a few blooms again in the fall, when the temperatures cool down.

I’ve mentioned just a few of the herbaceous perennials that flower this month, but many of the fruiting trees and shrubs also bloom in May.

Visit Reader Rock Garden, the Botanical Gardens of Silver Springs or stroll your neighbourhood this month to see what’s blooming. Why not choose one of the plants you see to add to your garden? If you visit a garden centre in June to purchase your selected plant, its blooms will have faded.

It may not be eye-catching then, but it’s the perfect time to plant it in your garden. That spring-blooming plant will have all summer to settle in and get reinvigorated to put on a show next spring.

If you’d like to learn more about gardening in Calgary, visit our website calhort.org.