Spring always seems a long time coming — and is too fleeting when it does arrive. That’s why I use a three-step approach to make the most of the season: include plants with the earliest possible bloom times, think beyond the flower and create layers in the garden. Consider pairing blossoms with interesting foliage, plant forms and fragrance, including qualities supportive of wildlife. It is also good to do some research and choose plants with overlapping bloom times. Creating a bloom sequence not only provides ongoing interest for you and your garden visitors, it helps support wildlife by providing pollinators with a constant food supply.
We tend to think of spring blooms as showy cherry trees and large tulips, but there are many lesser-known plants to provide a surprising show. One of my new favorite trees is the Japanese flowering apricot (Prunus mume). The national tree of China, it is gaining appeal in the United States. I have a variety named “Kobai” in my backyard. The hot-pink double flowers usually bloom from February to March, earlier than many other flowering trees.
Another less-familiar tree is Corneliancherry Dogwood (Cornus mas). This specimen is well-suited for small city yards in Richmond. The small flowers are bright yellow, the bark is beautifully mottled and it has edible fruit.
I like to pair deciduous trees with evergreen shrubs. Japanese camellias (Camellia japonica) thrive in Richmond.
Japanese camellias thrive in Richmond. (Photo by Don Williamson)
In shades of white, pink and red and bloom from April to November. Another choice is leatherleaf mahonia (Mahonia bealei). While its spined leaves can be a little prickly, the glossy evergreen foliage is beautiful, and the shrub has yellow blooms from February to April.
Looking closer to the ground, Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) is an evergreen perennial with showy flowers in shades of white and pink. Many spring perennials in Central Virginia are considered spring ephemerals, meaning they emerge in the spring, flower, set seed, and then remain dormant until the next spring.
Trilliums (Trillium grandiflorum) are one of my favorite early spring ephemerals, producing large white flowers with three petals.
Trilliums are an early spring ephemeral. (Photo by Grace Chapman Elton)
For the bulb lover, daffodils (Narcissus sp.) are a budget-friendly option because they will come back year after year.
Daffodils deliver year after year. (Photo courtesy Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden)
In addition to large, showy bulbs, “minor bulbs” can beautifully define the edge of your garden beds. Becky Heath of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester playfully calls these the “shoes and socks” of the garden, as they bloom just above ground level. Crocus chrysanthus ‘Romance’ is a lovely soft yellow crocus with short grassy foliage and Crocus tommasinianus has a lavender bloom held upright on a silver petiole. Pair these with the small purple bell-shaped flowers of Grape Hyacinth (Muscari sp.).
Crocus tommasinianus look great when paired with grape hyacinth. (Photo by Don Williamson)