Spring color draws the winter-weary eye

We recently heard a teacher tell first graders, "It is spring but it’ll be three or four weeks before there are flowers, maybe longer." We thought, "But there are snow crocus, snowdrops, winter aconite, witchhazel and others in bloom right now. You can see them even at 45 mph!”

So let’s all grow more early bloomers. Kids should know that flowers are opening every day from earliest spring to latest fall."

Blooming eye-catchers

Here are just some of the species currently in bloom, a month into spring. They are in no particular order since spring species, more than all others, defy organization. List them in bloom order? Talk about variable: This year species A will bloom two weeks after winter wanes, in concert with B, C, and D. Next year it may hold out to flower weeks later with different companions. Even sorting this line-up by name would be futile. Common names abound, which to choose? The alternative, scientific names, seem way too formal for creatures that embody the unpredictable, joyful explosion of new life.

In early spring we northerners can be so starved for color that any little thing stands out. However, the bright yellow of marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) qualifies for 45 mph notice in any season.

In early spring we northerners can be so starved for color that any little thing stands out. However, the bright yellow of marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) qualifies for 45 mph notice in any season.

Marsh marigold

(Caltha palustris) is a spring blooming North American native most often found along stream banks and wetlands but may accept average garden conditions. It's a day-brightener in spring that goes completely dormant by summer.

Bigleaf forget-me-not

(Brunnera macrophylla) The all-green species is a workhorse in our groundcover team for part shade. The variegated forms are worthy additions to a perennial garden so long as you keep seedlings in check and cut out any all-green reversions. All types are charming in their sprays of sky blue flowers.

Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris)

Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris)

Bigleaf forget-me-not (Brunnera macrophylla)

Bigleaf forget-me-not (Brunnera macrophylla)

Striped maple/Moosewood

(Acer pennsylvanica) Most people are surprised to hear "maple flowers" but there they are, tinting a red maple's canopy and dangling on the likes of moosewood, aka striped maple.

Rue anemone

(Anemonella thalictroides) Not a true anemone but a true gem in the spring woodland.

Woods anemone

(A. nemerosa) Cheerful, ephemeral North American native woodlander, spreading over tiime but not pushy.

Moosewood/Striped maple (Acer pennsylvanica)

Moosewood/Striped maple (Acer pennsylvanica)

Rue anemone (Anemonella thalictroides)

Rue anemone (Anemonella thalictroides)

Woods anemone (A. nemerosa)

Woods anemone (A. nemerosa)

Vernal sweet pea

(Lathyrus vernus) A clump forming, long lived perennial that is a pretty foliage plant post bloom, vernal sweet pea is deserving but not well known.

Labrador violet

(Viola labradorica) Many of the native violets are blooming now. As owners of two Labrador retrievers we felt we should always keep a spot for the Labrador violet, too. Even after bloom its dark leaves look great in a rock wall.

Cherry tree

(Prunus species and hybrids) Cherry trees in bloom are things of romance, particularly the weeping cherry.

Vernal sweet pea (Lathyrus vernus)

Vernal sweet pea (Lathyrus vernus)

Vernal sweet pea

Vernal sweet pea

Labrador violet (Viola labradorica)

Labrador violet (Viola labradorica)

Weeping cherry (Prunus subhirtella pendula)

Weeping cherry (Prunus subhirtella pendula)

Interesting fact about weeping cherries

They are three trees in one, created by grafting a straight trunk to hardy roots, and then grafting weeping branches to the top of that trunk. If branches develop from the trunk or roots they will not weep but grow vertically. They will also bloom differently, often white rather than pink.

Unless you cut out such errant growth at its source, the upright growing limbs will become dominant and eventually shade out and kill the weeping branches. An upright white-blooming cherry replaces the pink weeper.

Bishop's hat/Epimedium

(E. rubrum and other species) In the perfectly sheltered woods these are evergreen species that bear pink, white, lilac or yellow blooms above attractive foliage.

This 45' white-blooming cherry was once a 15' pink weeper.

This 45' white-blooming cherry was once a 15' pink weeper.

As a weeper its pendulous branches all joined at about the point where now, its very straight main limbs branch off the trunk. The weeping limbs died back and were cut out over time.

As a weeper its pendulous branches all joined at about the point where now, its very straight main limbs branch off the trunk. The weeping limbs died back and were cut out over time.

Bishop's hat (Epimedium variety) For many, the epimediums are only semi-evergreen and winter may take its toll on the foliage. Feel free to clip away any tattered, dessicated leaves in late winter, for the sake of a neater floral show.

Bishop's hat (Epimedium variety) For many, the epimediums are only semi-evergreen and winter may take its toll on the foliage. Feel free to clip away any tattered, dessicated leaves in late winter, for the sake of a neater floral show.

Wood poppy

(Stylophorum diphyllum) Native to much of eastern North America, wood poppy is true gold in the shade. Over its long bloom season, just starting, it produces lots of seed. That seed is this plant's transportation strategy so don't invite it unless you want lots of it.

Creeping speedwell

(Veronica repens) Yes, it is a lawn weed. Have you ever seen a lawn full of this weed in bloom? Beautiful. So if it's in your lawn and you like blue flowers - who doesn't?! - try to enjoy it now.

Old fashioned bleeding heart

(Dicentra spectabilis) Enjoy the dangling hearts, but keep your nose away from this leading member of the  fumitory family.

Wood poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)

Wood poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)

Creeping speedwell (Veronica repens)

Creeping speedwell (Veronica repens)

Old fashioned bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis)

Old fashioned bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis)

Checker lily

(Fritillaria meleagris) The checker pattern that gives the species its common name is very faint in the white varieties. It is a bulb that becomes a self sower and we indulge it.

Checker lily (Fritillara meleagris)

Checker lily (Fritillara meleagris)

Checker lily, white form.

Checker lily, white form.

Checker lily. Cheeky little self-sowing ephemeral, it managed to muscle in to the crown of a cup plant.

Checker lily. Cheeky little self-sowing ephemeral, it managed to muscle in to the crown of a cup plant.

Lenten rose/Hellebore

(Helleborus x orientalis) Some have been blooming for a month already. The show goes on and on because even after the true flower is pollinated and seed is developing, the eye-catching colorful bracts remain attractive.

Helleborus hybrid. This flower that opened relatively recently - pollen still remains on the frill of stamens.

Helleborus hybrid. This flower that opened relatively recently - pollen still remains on the frill of stamens.

Helleborus hybrid flower, done blooming (no pollen) but still attractive.

Helleborus hybrid flower, done blooming (no pollen) but still attractive.

The hellebore "flower" on the left is a months-old stalk topped with colorful bracts and ripening seed pods.

The hellebore "flower" on the left is a months-old stalk topped with colorful bracts and ripening seed pods.

Helleborus x orientalis, Lenten rose

Helleborus x orientalis, Lenten rose

Hyacinth

(Hyacinthus hybrid varieties) Such large flowers they do not seem real!

Star magnolia

(Magnolia stellata) The star magnolia blooms earlier but does not lose its flowers to frost so often as its big brother, the saucer magnolia. The star magnolia is fading now as the saucer magnolias begin.

Bloodroot

(Sanguinaria canadensis) Another North American woodland native, bloodroot may bloom for a week or if the spring happens to be very warm, a single day. Its pollinators find it quickly and the petals fall, their pollinator-summoning misson complete. Gardeners don’t mind – its beauty is no less for being brief. The double-flowered variety pictured here befuddles pollinators and so provides a longer show.

Hybrid Hyacinthus

Hybrid Hyacinthus

Hybrid Hyacinthus,  taking an alternate perspective.

Hybrid Hyacinthus, taking an alternate perspective.

Star magnolia (M. stellata)

Star magnolia (M. stellata)

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), double flowered form.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), double flowered form.

Virginia bluebells

(Mertensia virginica) Can’t beat Virginia bluebells for ooo-ah power in spring. Plant them among ferns or another late-rising perennial that will come on as the bluebells go dormant in summer.

Mid-season daffodils

(Narcissus species and hybrids) Early blooming daffodils have come and faded already. Now the mid- and late season of large-flowered trumpets begins.

Alleghany spurge

(Pachysandra procumbens) The North American native pachysandra is only semi-evergreen, so it may bloom without leaves in spring, as you see here.

Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

Daffodil time!

Daffodil time!

Alleghany spurge (Pachysandra procumbens) flowering before producing new leaves. Pollinators love it.

Alleghany spurge (Pachysandra procumbens) flowering before producing new leaves. Pollinators love it.

Pasqueflower

(Pulsatilla vulgaris) We think pasqueflower has some magic, that it causes so many people to comment – on the furry look of the flower buds and stems, on the precocious bloom that precedes the year’s greenery, on the delicate lion’s mane seed puffs and on the neat, clean deep green of the summer foliage

Pasqueflower (pulsatilla vulgaris) presents its flowers first, before the leaves.

Pasqueflower (pulsatilla vulgaris) presents its flowers first, before the leaves.

Pasqueflower three weeks into bloom, the foliage beginning to rise.

Pasqueflower three weeks into bloom, the foliage beginning to rise.

Usually, we cut away pasqueflower's greenery at year end. Here where we did not we get the idea how it looks in bloom in the wild.

Usually, we cut away pasqueflower's greenery at year end. Here where we did not we get the idea how it looks in bloom in the wild.

Early- and mid-season tulips

(Tulipa species and hybrids) If you have only tall, late-blooming tulips you are missing this great opening act.

Honorable mention

Although there are oodles more species that could be shown here for their bloom, we must give a nod to the species that light up the scene by virtue of foliage alone. It’s another big group in the what-was-that spring eye-catcher category. We let one plant represent the whole bunch.

Spring promise

Much more to come. The buds of the saucer magnolia are ready to open. Will the frost claim them on their first night? Will a rogue spring heat wave cause the petals to drop off after opening? Or will it be that one year in five or so when it puts on a spectacular week-long show? Saucer magnolia always keeps us guessing.

So many types of tulips, so little time to try them all!

So many types of tulips, so little time to try them all!

Golden zebra iris (Iris pallida aureo-variegata) gets a special mention in honor of all the species with gorgeous foliage and flowers to come later.

Golden zebra iris (Iris pallida aureo-variegata) gets a special mention in honor of all the species with gorgeous foliage and flowers to come later.

Saucer magnolia (M. soulangiana)

Saucer magnolia (M. soulangiana)