Has the fading of winter left your garden looking bleak? No worries! Those bare patches are a golden opportunity for adding some bulbs and/or spring ephemerals. Early spring is a great time to add new layers of beauty to your garden—don't let any corner of your garden plot go to waste.
This approach to planting design is all about adding to your garden, not taking away from it. You can create a stunning winter and spring display without sacrificing the performance of your “main season” garden. The trick is to choose plants that play well together and to keep the seasonal flow in mind.
Watch my latest YouTube video, "Spring Bulbs Add Months of Enjoyment to Your Garden" (below) to learn how to enjoy your garden for longer. Also, check out this earlier blog post on how to incorporate bulbs into your planting combinations for more inspiration.
This time of year, our gardens are typically more subdued. That's natural and to be expected. But if you look closely, a quiet beauty is revealed that is more subtle than the boisterous scenes of high summer. So if your garden is leaving you less than inspired during the early season, I hope this article will give you some ideas.
For the sake of this article, I'll use "early spring bulbs" somewhat interchangeably with "spring ephemerals." The overarching goal is to look at ways to extend the garden season with the addition of blooms in times of the year that you might be ignoring. This won't be a complete list of possibilities. There will be many options not mentioned here that are worthy of growing.
A Sampling of Early Bloomers to Consider
By ephemerals, I mean perennial plants or ground covers that do their thing, then die back to allow another layer of foliage to occupy the same space. Two examples of early blooming perennials that produce flowers and foliage early in the year and then die back are Corydalis solida and Anemone blanda. Other perennials to look for are ground-covering plants that share space well, allowing other plants to grow up over and through. Some examples are Cardamine trifoliata, Veronica 'Georgia Blue', Sedum 'Angelina', to name a few.
Spring bulbs that naturalize are an excellent way to make additions to your garden that get better with each passing year. I was reminded of this earlier this year: my crocus display in my front garden was exceptional, the best it's ever been! I planted my first crocuses many years ago. Since then, they've politely reseeded and migrated throughout my garden. This year was an exceptionally long and floriferous display that delighted me. And I got so many comments from neighbors and passersby, I know that I brought joy to others as well. Win, win!
You're probably most familiar with these early spring bulbs: snowdrops (Galanthus), crocus, daffodils (Narcissus). But a bit less commonly grown examples include glory in the snow (Chionodoxa), Cyclamen, and species tulips (not to be confused with the traditional, widely-grown hybrid tulips). Species tulips are good naturalizers and get stronger year after year—many/most of the more typical hybrids get weaker over time.
There are some wonderful Northwest natives to consider as well. Trillium and Dog Tooth Lily (Erythronium) are favorites of mine. See the photo gallery included in this post for examples of these and other plants mentioned.
A caution: be careful of unintentionally adding a plant to your garden that risks becoming a nuisance later. For instance, as I was researching this article, I found suggestions on other websites to add buttercups to create this effect. Gardeners in the Pacific Northwest should steer clear of Ranunculus repens and eye other species with suspicion until proven otherwise. I'm looking at you, Brazen Hussy (Ranunculus ficaria 'Brazen Hussy').
Getting the hang of making these additions to your garden will add weeks or months of enjoyment to your garden.