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Many perennials are early bloomers

Columbine has nodding red flowers with long spurs. Submitted photo1 / 3
Anemone sylvestris is also known as windflower. Submitted photo2 / 3
Bleeding Heart and Virginia Bluebells are great for a shade garden. Submitted photo3 / 3

The earliest blooming plants are all bulbs, such as tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, crocus and others. Although spring bulbs are planted in the fall, I have already received my first catalog of the year.

The companies are aware that the bloom time is the best time to tempt buyers.

Although tulips and daffodils may be the most showy spring flowers, there are many perennials that bloom early. I have several flowering in my gardens right now, and I am sure that other gardeners have additional selections.

My shade garden has a very pretty combination including pink and white bleeding hearts, sky blue Virginia bluebells, white sweet woodruff, blue periwinkle, and pink and blue pulmonaria. For a time, yellow daffodils added to the mix.

Everyone should have old- fashioned bleeding hearts (dicentra spectabilis). It is a woodland native with dangling pink or white flowers. It likes partial shade and moist soil. In midsummer the foliage may brown and should be cut down.

Virginia bluebells (mertensia virginica) are also a woodland native that can grow to 24 inches with bell-shaped heavenly blue flowers. It is an ephemeral, which means that it emerges quickly in spring and dies back to its underground parts after blooming. It reseeds readily and pairs well with Hostas that come up late and eventually cover the bluebell’s dying foliage. Periwinkle (vinca minor) and sweet woodruff (asperula) are ground covers that grow in partial to full shade. Periwinkle is evergreen with little blue flowers and spreads by runners to cover and area. Sweet woodruff covers itself with tiny white flowers. The leaves are attractive, so they look nice after flowering is done. It spreads by self-seeding.

Pulmonaria has clusters of trumpet-shaped flowers that open pink and turn to blue. Once flowering is finished, its white spotted or streaked leaves form a good-looking 12-inch mound. Several varieties are available.

In sunny areas, pink or white arabis and phlox sublata make pretty groundcovers. Arabis has very fine flowers on mats of creeping foliage. It makes a fine cover under shrubs that have not leafed out yet. Blue creeping phlox came with my house when we bought it eons ago. Old age combined with the last two harsh winters have decimated them. I am having a difficult time establishing new varieties that come in pink, red or white as they are not quite as hardy as the old blue.

Early iris are very pretty and hardy. The purple miniatures bloom at different times depending on where they are planted. I have a dwarf iris variety called “Bing Cherry” that has full-sized blooms.

There are two types of fernleaf peonies. The “Memorial Day” peony (P. officinalis) has double red flowers. I have P. tenefolia, which has single deep red flowers with yellow centers. It also bloomed for Memorial Day, but this lacy-leafed type tends to die back in late summer. Regular peonies’ red shoots are quick to come out of the ground in early spring but bloom much later. The area around them would be a good place to plant daffodil bulbs this fall as the peonies would cover up the dying bulb foliage.

Columbine, iris, alyssum and anemones are blooming in my rock garden. Columbine (aquilegia canadensis) has nodding red flowers with long spurs. Other varieties come in various colors. White anemone sylvestris, sometimes called windflower, has formed a sea of blooms that sway in the wind. Their seed-heads pop to spread around but excess plants are easy to pull. Anemone pulsatilla (pasque flower) has violet flowers on a clump of ferny foliage. A clump of alyssum saxatile with its grey leaves adds a splash of bright yellow in the garden.

One of my favorite spring flowers is the dainty forget-me-not (myosotis). It has tiny sky blue flowers on 8- to 12-inch plants. Sometimes I have many, but they are a little tender, so I have few this year. However, it is a biennial that seeds freely, and I have many seedlings that will hopefully bloom next year. They like partial shade and moist soil.

Look for some of these plants as you shop for summer annuals. Next year at the same time that the flowering crabapples and the lilacs bloom, you could paint a glorious picture with the addition of bulbs and early blooming perennials.

Breitling is a longtime West Fargo resident and avid gardener always in search of new ideas.