Spring is a wonderful time of the year. There is so much to look forward to, including all those lovely early blooming perennials. In the wild spring flowering plants grow beneath deciduous trees and shrubs where the ground is relatively warm and sheltered, and where in the coming months an upper canopy of leaves extends to shade the ground below. Because of this some plants start to flower early, before they are hidden from pollinating insects. In my garden early blooming perennials are intermingled with dainty violets and colourful primroses to form a colourful patchwork carpet.
(Elephant's ears) For evergreen form throughout the year, Bergenia is a must. Aptly nick-naked ‘Elephant’s ears’ the large, leathery leaves of these useful ground-covering plants will, with slow stealth, spread to exclude most weeds. But it is the flowers I really love. They are bell shaped and carried in clusters or tumbling sprays high above the leaves. Some varieties also produced bloom sporadically throughout summer. Bergenias are great in pots, and look lovely with soft, airy plants like Polemonium. Picture: Bergenia 'Dragonfly' with Polemonium 'Lambrook Mauve'.
(Siberian bugloss) Like many early flowering perennials, Brunnera begins to flower as the days get longer. At first the flowers are hidden within the emerging leaves, but as the weeks move on the small, forget-me not-like flowers and the large, heart-shaped leaves stretch upwards and outwards to create a pretty, lacy mound that is attractive right through to early summer. They look great with Pulmonaria. Picture: Brunnera 'Silver Wings' and Pulmonaria mollis.
(Bleeding hearts) Botanists have recently renamed yet another easily recognised perennial. Once titled Dicentra spectabilis, this is now called Lamprocarpus. Forget the tongue twisting name, this lovely and intriguing plant blends easily with other perennials. The decorative plump, heart-shaped pink or white flowers dangle along juicy pink tinted stems, which sprout from a beautiful clump of lacy leaves. It is great for shady spots, and once the flowers have faded the whole plant, including the leaves, disappears. The group left with the much nicer name of Dicentra are just as pretty, but much smaller, which makes it very useful for smaller borders.
(Perennial honesty) Most gardeners know of Honesty, but this pretty early flowering annual has a perennial counterpart. Less easy to grow and establish, in a moisture rich soil Lunaria rediviva forms an attractive lush, upright clump that is topped with heads of small, soft lilac flowers. In time like the annual version the flowers turn into long-lasting flat, papery seed heads.
(Lenten or Christmas rose) These are the earliest perennials to flower. Evergreen, and handsome I find the most reliable varieties are those raised from selected seedlings of Helleborus x hybridus (Lenten rose) and the wild forms such as Helleborus argutifolius. When grown in a shady, moisture retentive soil they can be left undisturbed for years. These are great for shade and wooded areas.
(Lungwort) I’ve always had a soft spot for the pretty leaved Lungworts. Although the clusters of small, bells shaped flowers - which come in shades of pink, blue or white - are lovely, the real charm lies in the rosette of large leaves. Mid-green in colour, the leaves of many are covered with silver spots, a few are entirely silver or edged with cream. The flowers are an excellent food source for early emerging bumble bees.