Perennials for your spring garden
Perennials offer a glorious display of colour, form and texture to enhance your spring garden.
Spring is the beginning of the gardener’s year. It is a season when flowers show off their prettiest party dresses of sunshine yellow and sparkling white, soft lavender and rose-pink, glowing orange and velvety red, rich purple and indigo.
Many of the flowers that bloom in spring are perennials, plants that re-appear year after year. Apart from their wonderful choice of flower colour, they offer great diversity in form and texture, both in their growth habit and in their flowers. Because of their versatility, perennials can be grown in mixed borders as major players or as fillers, in containers and rockery pockets, and alongside water features. While the majority of perennials need well-drained soil and sunshine, there are others that will grow in woodland conditions.
The perennial herb, hellebore, flowers in late winter and early spring beneath deciduous trees, and in dappled or semi-shade. Despite the delicate appearance of the flowers, hellebores are able to withstand cold, frost and even snow. The Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) and its cultivars are the most popular, with segmented leaves and nodding, cup-shaped flowers of white, pink, lemon and burgundy, some spotted and stippled, others plain.
Spring and early summer borders would not seem complete without tall spires of delphiniums in a rich tapestry of white, lavender pink, violet and blue. The florets of these elegant perennials are often marked with a contrasting central bee, while others are striped. Delphiniums are best grown in groups of three or more for best effect. To avoid damage from wind and rain, plants should be staked at time of planting, making sure the stake is tall and sturdy enough to support the eventual height of the plant, as well as the weight of the blooms.
The bearded iris is one of the most popular spring-flowering perennial rhizomatous plants. Flowers can be ruffled and lacy-edged in a wide range of colours of white, shades of pink and yellow, orange and bronze, cinnamon and purple, to almost black. Some flowers have no markings, while others have stippling or spotting. Grow in a sunny position with the top of the rhizome exposed to the sun. Even when not in bloom, the sword-like grey-green leaves are an attractive feature in a border.
Penstemons begin flowering in spring, and if old flower spikes are removed, they will continue into autumn, making them a good choice for a mixed border. Their attraction lies in the tubular white, pink, red, lavender and purple flowers, many bicoloured, held on slender stems. Flowers can be dainty or gloxinia-like, and leaves can be broad or narrow, depending on the variety.
Mauve is a popular colour in the spring garden, and scabious has dainty mauve flowers with frilly petals that resemble pincushions, held well above the soft, hairy leaves.
Scabious have a long flowering season beginning in spring, and make excellent cut flowers. Whether you grow one of our beautiful indigenous species, or cultivars like ‘Butterfly Blue’ and ‘Pink Mist’, scabious have the most impact when grown in clusters in full sun and well-drained soil. On warm days, butterflies can be seen feasting on the nectar.
What could be more charming in a spring garden than the pendant mauve-pink bells of dierama (also known as grasklokkie or fairy’s fishing rod)? The flowers are held on arching, grass-like stems that move gently in the slightest breeze. These clump-forming perennials are attractive alongside an ornamental pond, in rockery pockets, or in sunny borders.
Aquilegias (columbines) are charming cottage-style flowers with long spurs held above lacy green foliage. Flowers can be single or double in a colour range of lemon and pink, and in shades of blue and purple, often with contrasting centres. These are short-lived perennials, but self-sow freely in the right conditions of moist, rich soil and semi-shade.
Gerbera (Barberton daisies) are clump-forming perennials with bold hairy leaves and single or double daisy-like flowers in pink, yellow, orange and red. Given excellent drainage and a sunny position in a rockery or container, they need little attention once established, and flower generously.
Gazania hybrids are excellent as ground covers for sunny banks, in rockeries, and in pots. Daybreak Series is a compact perennial with a free-flowering habit and daisy-like flowers of yellow, orange, bronze and pink, with a central yellow disc. Gazoo Series has extra large flowers that open in lower light conditions. Some perennials remain evergreen, while others die back to ground level each winter, then send up strong new growth each spring.
Felicia amelloides (blue marguerite) is a low-growing bushy perennial with pretty blue daisy-like flowers that first appear in spring and continue for most of the year. Grow in sunny rockery pockets, the front of the border, and alongside paths.
- Plant boldly in groups, rather than singly.
- Repeating a particular plant at regular intervals gives greater impact and helps to unify the garden.
- Perennials sometimes need a year to become established, but thereafter only need to be lifted and divided when they become overcrowded, or the soil becomes depleted.
- Thorough digging is recommended when planting, as most perennials have a deep root system. Incorporate generous amounts of compost and well-rotted manure.