by BRIAN MINTER
April 3, 2001
Today, the interest in perennials is tremendous. They are a wonderful garden investment, but many folks are missing the boat when it comes to using them. Perennials should be used to provide a continuous flow of colour throughout the year. By selecting combinations that include evergreen foliage, long-blooming plants and varieties that bloom at specific times, perennials can provide year round colour. We should also be using them in groupings with other flowering shrubs and conifers for a knock-out showing. The idea is to have not only continuous colour, but also combination highlights all through our gardens.
The traditional plantings of white arabis (Rockcress), purple aubrieta and the yellow Saxatile alyssum, still remain the most outstanding colour combination for early spring. These plants are ideal as a low ground cover or as border plants. They also work well in flower beds. To accent these plantings and to keep the colour going, try using the rich purple foliage of heucheras and some later-blooming coreopsis for a stunning display through to fall.
The dwarf Iris primulas do not flower for more than three weeks, but they are one of the most delightful early spring perennials. Reaching only six to eight inches in height, these unique early-flowering iris make a fine ground cover, and they often flower again in late fall. They are available in colours of white, purple, yellow and blue, and used in combination plantings, they are a real knockout.
Geums are lovely spring perennials coming in a colour range of yellows, reds and oranges, but I highly recommend the new, more compact varieties. They grow only twelve inches tall, flower heavily in spring and continue to sport flowers all summer and fall. The butternut orange tones can be accented beautifully with silver artemisias and blue campanulas, especially ‘Dixon’s Gold’ with its evergreen chartreuse foliage.
Iberis, (Candytuft) is one of the more outstanding white flowering early perennials. Here again, the varieties from cuttings are far superior to the seedling varieties. Growing only six inches in height, these plants smother the ground in a carpet of white for at least a month. Used as a combination plant with Hino Crimson Japanese azaleas, they create one of the more beautiful displays in an early spring garden. Ali some low-growing, colourful conifers, like Thuja ‘Rheingold’, and the new colourful foliage of heathers like ‘Golden Starlet’ and ‘Bell’s Extra Special’.
Creeping phlox is one of the most popular early spring perennials. In well-drained soil, it spreads like an evergreen carpet and flowers so vigorously, its foliage is completely hilien by its blue, red, lavender or white blossoms. They are at home in alpine situations, but also make spectacular borders along shrub beds. Flowering for three to four weeks at this time of year, their colour can be expected in patches throughout the summer.
Calthas (Marsh Marigold) are perhaps best suited to our wet springs. These double yellow marigold-like perennials enjoy wet feet and tolerate heavy, damp soils. Their foliage is attractive throughout the summer, and they make fine water plants. Try the single flowered white variety to brighten things up. The variegated forms of ivy will certainly highlight calthas all summer and fall.
There are many other early-flowering perennials that are unique. Now is a great time to visit your local garden shops to see some of the old reliables, as well as a host of new and interesting perennials. The secret to bringing your garden alive is to blend all your plants into exciting combinations of foliage and flowers that will ali interest all year round.