magnolia stellata

Spring Blooming
shrubs and plants

Here is the place for additional observations on Spring bloomers, shrubs, perennials, and bulbs that bloom in this season. Much of the information given for growing tulips and daffodils applies to other bulbs, as well, and there are many perennials that bloom in the spring. Certain shrubs seem to be the very essence of a spring garden, and I wanted to describe a few of these, suggesting some delightful springtime ideas.

Hyacinths are not quite as showy in variety of color as tulips, but they have quite a presence in both sight and scent. I like them in group to themselves underplanted with violets or a low-growing carpet of thyme. It is very popular to have a group within the bulb beds of other types as well. They are much the same as tulips, except that they are more dependably perennial. Usually they come in shades of violet-blues, pinks, and white, but there is an apricot colored variety called " Gypsy " that is very beautiful.

There are several types of alliums in widely differing heights. I especially like the taller "Drumstick" ones for their height and soft purple color. I have a small stand overplanted with daylilies. These alliums bloom toward the end of the season, May and June. The little "rosy bells" , Allium ostrowskianum, are described in my Bulbs page.

Large Frittilarias are interesting, and " Persicum " seems one of the best. It is a plummy purple. The "imperialis" is very showy, and has a skunky smell. Maybe this is why it is reputed to keep rodents away from other susceptible bulbs. I couldn't keep it long enough to tell, I think it is only marginally hardy in my area, although some list them as zone 4 (which is plenty hardy).

Many bulbs disappear more for reasons of too much dampness in winter. This is why excellent drainage is critical for some of them. I suspect that is the cause of the loss of my Frittilarias.

The larger Hyacinthoides non-scripta, (aka Scilla non-scripta), are something between the minor bulbs and the full hyacinths. They are often called "English Bluebells", and there are two sorts which keep changing nomenclature. They aren't really called scillas, anymore, but have been the same plant, essentially, in gardens. Whether you choose the "nonscripta" or the "Hispanica" the plants look the same in the garden and grow under the identical conditions here. They need a bit more of the woodland conditions of moisture and semi-shade, but I have some under a rosebush with sweet woodruff, that have persisted despite our dry conditions.

Spring Flowering Shrubs

Viburnum - Cardinal Candy

Shrubs will be part of the framework of your garden, and the spring bloomers are always strong favorites. In the Midwest, Lilacs are the usual association with spring. If you grow a lilac, (and I have a number of them) it is a good idea to keep them well pruned right after they bloom. They grow very large, are prone to mildew, and can have problems with borers. They are gorgeous in their bloom season, though.

My very favorite is the Viburnum Carlesii. I grow a few different kinds of viburnum, but this is my all time first choice in a shrub. I also like Lonicera fragrantissima. Both are sweetly fragrant, the viburnum with spice and showy flowers, the Winter Honeysuckle with a sweet lemon and subtle cream color bloom. The Honeysuckle will scent its entire area of the yard, although it can be susceptible to die-back. No fears, just cut it back mercilessly, it responds to that. The viburnums are best pruned in a naturalistic removal of old and excess branches. The Spring is a short season, and a shrub that is interesting for more than one season is always an asset. That is why I especially like the viburnum family. Good disease-free leaves, flowers, berries for birds, are considerations. Viburnums as a group are renowned for their good looks through the seasons, so the Carlesii is a good choice in a mixed border.

The flowering quinces, Chaenomeles speciosa, are lovely, though some grow large and twiggy. Jet Trail is very compact and has snowy white blooms. The common quince is coral, and they all produce a small aromatic fruit in the fall. In fact, I like to pick these and put them in a bowl to fragrance the indoors in early fall. I used to, before the county destroyed my plants, but I plan new ones for my driveway entrance this spring. The "Jet Trail." bushes do not produce as many fruits as the other types, but that is not what you grow this sort for; that would be 'Cydonia oblonga' . Eventually I did replace those quince bushes, but with the 'Texas Scarlet' variety. they have the deep coral blooms and twiggier growth than the 'Jet Trial', which I think is the superior choice. I also grow 'Cameo' which is a larger shrub, it leaves tend to chartreuse and its flowers are apricot colored.

I have a forsythia in an out of the way place, which I don't pay much attention to, but the memories of forsythias are entrenched in my youth. The great weeping types of my mothers porch and the huge specimen of a neighbors provided secret hideouts under the arching branches. I hate clipped forsythias. They are ugly- so don't grow them where you must maim them. The bright yellow blooms are quintessentially spring when the late frosts don't ruin them. Since first writing this I have taken starts from that forsythia bush and placed one in front of dark evergreens. It is going to be striking once it grows larger. This is the way I like to see upright forsythias grown.

My newest favorite are the shrubby magnolias."Stellata" is good, and I am trying out "Jane", both in somewhat unprotected areas. Spireas are stalwarts, so I use those, and Daphnes are a new addition that seem a bit twiggy, but I like their later blooms. The azaleas keep dying off, but if you can grow them in the moist, acidic, and protected areas they need, there is nothing lovelier or showier in a spring flowering shrub. Nonpareil is the word for the rhododendron group. I am really sorry I can't grow them. If you pair them with dogwood trees and heathers, it is really a sumptuous picture.


Fruit trees bloom

Some small trees and large shrubs blur the categories. If you have a large garden it doesn't really matter, but if your garden is small, wisely choose the ones that you can prune to size. They have as much of the qualities that you are looking for in the larger tree choices : shade, structure, vertical form.

Fruiting trees, such as apple, peach, and cherry, are very sweet scents in the spring. They are food for you, if the birds don't get greedy.

Crabapple trees, Dogwoods, and Amelanchiers ( Juneberry) trees are all beautiful spring bloomers. Hawthorns, too, if you situate them away from those who could be harmed by their wicked thorns.

Of all the garden books, and garden writers, Helen Van Pelt Wilson was always my favorite. You don't hear much of her books, now, but she inspired and delivered knowledgeable advice. It was her writing that sparked my creativity to garden and try such shrubs and small trees as the viburnum and the fringe tree. I still wish I had a back yard stream to try the lovely ideas for a stream garden. Iris ensata calls to me, but only in my dreams...they have given way to the more tolerant Siberian irises.

My dreams of gardens remain, but I am content in my real ones.

spring means birds and flowers

Weigelas and Spirea Bridalwreath

Spireas are favorites of many, and the weigelas have a surprising amount of variety in both size and leaf color. the bridalwreath spirea, Spirea vanhouttei , is an old fashioned favorite. I think it looks best given some room and I have it situated with a Sweet cherry tree. It makes a beautiful hedge (not clipped, but growing with natural form), and it tolerates some shade- so it works well in a city garden. In the Weigelas the variegated form wins my favor hands down. Weigela florida 'Variegata' has the most delicate tender pink bloom and a harmony of cream and green foliage that grows in a loose fountain-like form.

Some Suggested Favorites

for a garden calender for seasonal tasks see Month by Month Garden Calender
My Favorite Shrubs :

Blooming in Spring
*Viburnum Carlesii
*Viburnum Shasta
*Lonicera Fragrantissima
*Lilacs, Miss Ellen Wilmott & President Grevy
*Chaenomeles speciosa, Jet Trail
*Spirea Bridal Wreath
*Kerria, Picta

My Favorite Perennials

Flowering in Spring:
*Phlox subulata
*Bleeding hearts, Dicentra
*Myosotis, forget-me-nots
*Alyssum saxatile
*Iberis sempervirens, Candytuft
*Mertensia virginica
*Primula, Primroses
*Columbine canadensis

These are only a few of the choices of shrubs and perennials available, but the ones I have personally enjoyed and grown.

Some are fleeting : Virginia bluebells are an ephemeral cloud of blues with up-close shadings of pink and purple surrounded by juicy green leaves.

Bleeding Hearts are charming while they last, but soon are all but lost in my hosta's foliage, melting all too quickly into the ground at the touch of summer's heat.

The Columbine canadensis is a vision of dancing orange-yellow droplets in its clump amongst the ivy. It really does bob in the breeze. Sometimes it reblooms very late in the season, but don't count on it.

Some spring bloomers are all season performers: the Iberis sempervirens with its forest green leaves lasts through much of the winter, then greens up and blooms with that strong white dome of blooms in spring.

Phlox subulata lasts through most of the growing seasons, but only commands attention when it is a sheet of color in the spring, otherwise it withdraws to a nondescript green tangle of needle-like leaves.

To everything there is a season, but to some...more of a season than others.

Quicklist: hints and tips

  • Springblooming shrubs should be pruned soon after they have flowered, approximately two weeks after.
  • Planting trees? some pointers
  • Many shrubs can be propagated by layering.
  • Consider dedicating a section of the garden to an entire spring picture of bloom for greatest impact of effect
  • Combine flower bulbs with perennials, plant under flowering trees and shrubs

More of the Season:

a selection of pages on the web

Explore the Seasons : here

guides for each gardening season


Explore the Garden : here

or other parts of the site listed below


Viburnums I Grow

Viburnums are often mentioned as a top choice by knowledgeable gardeners, so what is so attractive about these shrubs? First, the showy flowers. Viburnums have a ball or flat topped clusters of white or cream flowers, both beautiful and often fragrant. Sometimes pink, pink- tinged, they often cover the shrub.

Second, the leaves are good looking. They are often a perfect spear shape with deep green color. In the fall many of them give attractive color and they can produce berries, some like cranberry bush viburnum, V. trilobum, can claim that as a highlight.

They are usually graceful in form, especially the tomentosum "doublefile", and have a wide range of size. I wish I had paid more attention to that fact. I planted V. plicatum var. tomentosum a little too close to the driveway and now need to prune it more than I'd like. If you give it its space, the artistic horizontal branching needs littel help from human hands to look well formed.

Another thing to like is that these shrubs require no special care. They do well in average soil with average moisture and some do well in part sun as they do in full sun. My V. carlesii grows in such a situation and blooms happily.

Specific Varieties:
V. X bodnantense 'Dawn' blooms early, with small pink balls of bloom. It is quite tall and a bit upright rather than spreading. Beautiful for a naturalistic corner.

V. carlesii is not the top choice for everyone, but I love its fragrance and graceful form. Some complain that this viburnums is susceptible to disease. My experience in two different gardens was problem free.

V. plicatum var. tomentosum is just covered with flat topped white flower clusters, followed by fall berries. It is a strong grower and has been hardy here where we get some pretty harsh winters.

V. x burkwoodii has been one of the first plantings I put into this rural garden- I am glad I gave them space because they are quite tall. The flowers have a sweet aroma, but not strong here. The flower clusters are smaller than carlesii , but larger than 'Dawn'; a good all round shrub.
Viburnum descriptions

Garden notes

a few other shrub choices: Deutzias | Mahonias | Broom | Azaleas | Rhododendrons | Itea virginica


Cottage Gardens
Butterfly Garden