In her article “Spring Planting Ideas,” Michelle Gervais beautifully illustrates the magical time that is the start of spring: “Our winter-weary spirits lift as hints of green begin to appear. We notice even the smallest patches of snowdrops and crocuses as we drive by at 55 miles per hour. The first daffodil sighting is a thrill, and tulips are almost too colorful to bear. The pale chartreuse haze in the trees seems to change to lush, vibrant green overnight, and every new sprout brings delight. It’s the start of another exciting season, and the potential and possibilities for our gardens seem boundless.”
While spring is often a flurry of planting, planning, and performing the many garden chores in between, it’s always a treat to have some plants that will kick off the season with color while others are still waking up and waiting for warmer weather to show off their best. This spring planting plan, crafted by regional experts Scott Endres and Laura Mathews, would be a spectacular addition to any Midwest garden.
1. ‘Ripple Effect’ bergenia
Name: Bergenia ‘Ripple Effect’
Size: 26 to 28 inches tall and 36 inches wide
Conditions: Full sun to full shade; moderately moist, well-drained soil
Native range: Hybrid
‘Ripple Effect’ opens the season with its uniquely oversized foliage, producing mounds of leaves that are each over 12 inches wide and are adorned with distinctive, wavy margins. It blooms in early spring, topping its beautiful deep green leaves with long-lasting, creamy white blossoms that blush pink as they mature. Like other bergenias, it works well as a mass planting, or you can site a smaller group in a location that will showcase its fantastic foliage throughout the growing season.
2. ‘Aurea Variegata’ sweet iris
Name: Iris pallida ‘Aurea Variegata’
Size: 24 inches tall and 12 to 18 inches wide
Conditions: Full to partial shade; moist to dry, well-drained soil
Native range: Southeastern Europe
Foliage-forward and easy to grow, this iris delivers sizable lavender blooms in early to mid-spring. The flowers stand on sturdy, upright stems and offer a sweet aroma in addition to their excellent color. The blooms are juxtaposed against the iris’s elegant, gold-streaked leaves, which offer a welcome glow of color all season. It is upright and architectural, characteristics that can be hard to find in other cold-hardy perennials. The elegant fans of foliage play well against plants with darker colors and finer textures. ‘Aurea Variegata’ sweet iris is adaptable to a variety of soil types, as long as the soil has good drainage, and established plants are somewhat drought tolerant.
3. ‘Bartzella’ peony
Name: Paeonia ‘Bartzella’
Size: 3 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Full sun; rich, moderately moist, well-drained soil
Native range: Hybrid
In mid-spring, ‘Bartzella’ quickly steals the spotlight with a lush bounty of double yellow flowers featuring pops of bright rust-red at the centers. This is a sturdy Itoh peony, one of a group of intersectional hybrids named in honor of the first horticulturist to cross the two peony types. That produced plants with excellent winter hardiness and dense, sturdy forms that don’t require staking. If you love the romance of a lush garden peony but have gotten tired of seeing your plants lying flat after a spring rain, ‘Bartzella’ is perfect for you. The flowers have a lovely, fresh scent with a hint of spicy citrus.
4.‘Taylor’s Sunburst’ lodgepole pine
Name: Pinus contorta ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’
Size: 12 feet tall and 8 feet wide
Conditions: Full sun; moderately moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soil
Native range: Western North America
The stars of spring don’t often include evergreens, but ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’ lodgepole pine more than fits the bill. Early in the season it erupts with an abundance of new, golden yellow needles that are on par with any other spring color display. Its small, fuchsia cones appear early, adding to the spring spectacle. Compact and showy, this is a perfect option for small spaces. As the season progresses, the bright foliage darkens to a rich green that is an excellent backdrop to other plants. Like all the plants in this sunny spring combo, ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’ is sturdy, easy to grow, and deer resistant.
Scott Endres and Laura Mathews are designers and horticulturists at Tangletown Gardens, a retail garden center, landscape design firm, and regenerative agriculture farm based in Minneapolis.