Every gardener loves to celebrate SPRING with early blooming perennials. After months of rainy, grey Seattle skies I’m first in line at the nurseries for anything with color. Be warned, however, that your desperation for early spring flowers may result in late spring frustration – simply because you have forgotten to keep the FOLIAGE in mind. What will this perennial contribute to the design once the flowers are done?
Not to worry, Team Fine Foliage has you covered with some of our favorite spring blooming perennials that also have stunning leaves to make sure that today’s impulse buy will continue to bring you pleasure tomorrow.
1. Gold Heart bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis ‘Goldheart’)
Gold Heart in front of Mountain Fire andromeda
How can you not love the glowing, fern-like golden foliage of Gold Heart? The pink heart shaped flowers are a bonus! Combine this with a foliage plant that echoes the pink stems and flowers such as a pink toned heuchera or an andromeda, whose new growth is often pink or red (shown above). Alternatively work with the gold detail by siting this next to a spotted leopard plant (Farfugium japonicum ‘Aureomaculatum’).
In my experience this variety is not as vigorous as the regular bleeding heart but it is a delightful addition to the spring landscape or containers nonetheless. Just plant a couple more if you are looking for a massed effect.
Don’t care for the pink flowers? Then look for white-blooming White Gold from Terra Nova Nurseries Inc. Try this paired with a green and white variegated Japanese aralia (Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata’) or variegated acanthus (Acanthus ‘Whitewater’) to highlight the white flowers.
Bleeding heart is also reliably deer resistant in my garden and either the rabbits haven’t found it or they don’t care for it.
2. Double Stuff Variegated Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum ‘Double Stuff’)
Tall arching stems of richly variegated leaves are a delightful addition to any shade garden. Add an abundance of white, bell-shaped flowers dangling from each burgundy stem in spring and the delight is doubled; Double Stuff is well named. Translucent yellow fall color makes sure that you enjoy this perennial through to the very last day of fall.
For companion planting take your inspiration from the breeders own display garden shown above: a dark purple heuchera to echo the stem color and golden forest grass for contrast.
Mercifully it is ignored by deer and rabbits too.
3. Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla) varieties
Jack Frost Siberian bugloss
While Jack Frost may be the most popular variety with its large heart-shaped leaves displaying a network of silver tracery over green, it is not the only one. Hadspen Cream is more sensitive to sun but is loved for it broad creamy leaf margins and is one of several white-variegated forms. Spotted Langtrees has been available for many years and offers a more subtle effect.
All Siberian bugloss have a remarkable display of blue forget-me-not type flowers in spring and in my native England are often called ‘perennial forget-me not’. My daughter used to love picking these and English primroses for tiny floral displays on the kitchen table.
Sea Heart Siberian bugloss in a late summer container display
While Siberian bugloss make stunning landscape plants Team Fine Foliage loves to use them in containers. They mix with tropical caladiums and bromeliads just as well as ferns and heuchera. From contemporary to cottage – you can’t go wrong!
Bonus points for deer and rabbit resistance.
4. Berry Exciting corydalis (Corydalis ‘Berry Exciting’)
Delicate, fern-like foliage in brilliant gold, each leaf brushed with crimson- who needs flowers? You do? Well, for you we can add grape-colored flowers held a few inches above this delightful shade loving groundcover. Tuck this under weeping Japanese maples, interspersed with black mondo grass or Maroon Beauty saxifrage (as seen above). Also a great addition to containers.
This may go dormant in summer heat but with adequate moisture and shade will continue to shine until fall.
Deer resistant, although rabbits may try to nibble emerging shoots. A spritz with Liquid Fence helps mine get large enough to be ignored by the inquisitive bunnies.
5. Lungwort (Pulmonaria varieties)
Do you have favorite flowers from your childhood? This is one of mine. In England one of the common names for Pulmonaria is ‘Soldiers and Sailors’, a nod to the blue and pink flowers that appear at the same time on this perennial. Some varieties have now been bred for pure pink, cobalt blue or white flowers , but I love the old fashioned ones such as Mrs. Moon that opens pink and fades to blue. The cut flower stems make exquisite posies and the foliage is virtually evergreen.
Although gardening books will recommend this for rich, moist soil in partial shade I have successfully grown this in full sun with only occasional supplemental water.
Combine with other spring blooming perennials such as hellebores and primroses in the woodland garden, or mass at the base of white barked birch trees where the dappled light will offer protection and the tree bark will enhance the silver spotted leaves.
I have found these benefit from trimming back the foliage as well as flowering stems when blooms are done. This seems to prevent powdery mildew developing on the leaves in summer, and the new clumps resemble healthy, spotted hosta as seen in this next image.
Want more reasons to buy it? It is both deer and rabbit resistant, and hummingbirds love it! Also very easy to divide to get new plants in fall or spring. You NEED this….
Spotted lungwort at the bottom left of this image, making an important contribution to this dappled shade border in Portland. (Design by 4 Seasons Gardens LLC)
Our new book Gardening with Foliage First has more inspiring combination ideas for all five of these key plants! Have you got YOUR copy yet?
You’ll even find most of them in foliage-only combinations in our first, award-winning book Fine Foliage.
And there’s more….
Hellebores -some of the newer introductions have variegated or speckled foliage as well as amazing flowers. So many to choose from….
Mukgenia ‘Nova Flame’ – new and fabulous!
Mukdenia ‘Crimson Fans’ – gorgeous for the shade garden
Bergenia ‘Lunar Glow’ – lemon and lime colored leaves with pink blooms. Worth hunting for.
What’s YOUR favorite spring blooming perennial – with GREAT FOLIAGE?
Tell us in a comment below or post a photo to our Facebook page.
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