12 Low Growing Spring Perennials

12 Low Growing Spring Perennials

When you choose an area for fall planted bulbs think also about underplantings of low perennials that bloom in tandem with the spring flowers of tulips, daffodils, and the like. Some of the prettiest spring gardens are designed this way, and the benefit for the rest of the season is the persistent foliage that many of these plantings have.

Since perennials need to be planted late summer/early fall for a good chance to root before winter’s frost hardens up the ground, consider your schedule of tasks. Either you can plant an entire area a bit earlier than you might usually think of putting in bulbs (although it won’t hurt to do that), or you may want to plant your bulbs in the fall and mark spots for the spring flowering perennials to be placed in early spring. Alternatively you can plant the perennials, and then add in the bulbs separately instead of using the trench method of planting a whole group at a time. Whatever the plan, you shouldn’t miss out on the exciting vernal picture resulting from combining these plants with your bulbs. For a complete spring tableau, spring flowering shrubs and small trees in partnership create an impact where the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

The pictures of Spring are fleeting, but I don’t think there is any other time in the garden where the plantings are more anticipated and joyful.

Spring companions

Spring companions

The 12 Companion Plants

Alyssum (Aurinia) saxatile:
Bright gold dainty flowers in late spring with gray green leaves.AKA ‘Basket of Gold‘ blooms April-June. | Sunny to part sun | Regular Moisture |
Iberis sempervirens:
Strong white flowers against deep green evergreen foliage, in April. AKA ‘Candytuft‘ |Sunny to part sun |Regular Moisture |
Phlox subulata:
Low mat of pink, deep pink, white, or blue flowers. Blooms in May, in well-drained soil. AKA “Moss phlox” | Sunny to part sun |Regular Moisture |
Arenaria montana:
Low mound of white flowers from March to April. Likes lime. AKA “Sandwort” | Sun to partly sunny | Regular Moisture, tolerates dryness |
Ajuga:
Blue flowers. Green, bronzy purple, or variegated leaves. AKA “Bugleweed” | Sun to partly shady | Regular Moisture to Moist |
Arabis caucasica:
White flowers, sometimes pink, with grayish leaves. Blooms in March thru April. AKA “Rock Cress” | Sunny |
Aubrieta deltoidea:
Low mat of reddish mauve to blue flowers. Blooms in March to May. AKA “Purple Rockcress” | Sunny to part sun | Regular Moisture |
Galium odorata:
Small starry white flowers against dense mat of medium and fresh greens. May to early July. “Sweet Woodruff” |Partly shady | Regular Moisture, likes moist conditions |
Myosotis sylvatica:
That special Blue, but also in pink and white in May to August (if trimmed back) AKA “Forget-Me-Not” | Partly sunny to part shade |
Saponaria:
Deep green, fine oval leaves with pink flowers. Very dainty carpet of flowers in late May. Can be invasive.
AKA “Soapwort” | Sunny | Low Moisture needs |
Bergenia cordifolia:
Evergreen. Thick , glossy, heart shaped foliage. Pink flowers in Spring. AKA “Heartleaf Bergenia” |Sunny to part sun | Regular Moisture |

Design Notes

Allysum, 'Basket of Gold'

Allysum, 'Basket of Gold' by Memotions

Gertrude Jekyll was enamored of a garden specifically set apart for spring blooms. Among her ideas were patches of Bergenia cordifolia with Hellebore niger, nearby drifts of Arabis, and Aubrietas, planted with pale yellow daffodils, white anemones (windflowers) and long drifts of white and pale yellow tulips were included. That sounds like sunshine in a bottle! Another combination she imagines is plantings of Arabis with Myosotis sylvatica under pink and rose-red tulips and Virginia bluebells interspersed across the back of the plan. Her own plan is arrayed against the dark evergreen of yew bushes. This is a simplified notation of complete plans which are quite complete and complicated within her book, Colour Schemes for Flower Garden.

Penelope Hobhouse, in Color in Your Garden , suggests a similar and even more simple combination of forget-me-nots and Pink tulips.

Rosemary Verey tantalizes with Pale yellow or Ivory tulips with underplantings of dark purple foliage such as an ajuga atropurpura, a bridal wreath spirea [spirea x vanhouttei] behind them. Her combination of ‘General De Wet’ tulips with golden varieties would be lovely underplanted with Aurinia saxatile, Arabis, and/or Arenaria.

Lily-flowered tulip ‘Ballade’ with Saponaria or Aubrietas.

The white Iberis sempervirens looks best with an equally strong partner such as a bright red tulips or a bright yellow daffodil such as ‘Dutch Master’ or ‘Golden Aura’, perhaps. Try also the oranges of tulips and wallflowers together with this perennial. A good example is found in this Iberis, plant highlight page.

The time to think about spring garden plans is in the fall. Fall planted bulbs such as tulips are available from August onward. And perennials are available in late August through September.


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