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Potting

Make the Most of the Fleeting Spring Garden

By Therese Ciesinski, GardenSMART

If your property is mostly to very shady during the summer, then spring – before the trees leaf out – has the potential to be your garden’s most glorious season. All those early-blooming plants benefit from the sunlight that won’t be reaching the ground a few weeks hence. Grab the opportunity to make the most of this fleeting time by going all out with colorful plants, from shrubs to groundcovers. Here are some ideas to create a brilliant spring landscape.

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Tulips can get leggy and look stiff when planted in clumps all by themselves. A froth of pale blue forget me nots around their “legs” takes away some of the awkwardness and lets you focus on the beauty of the shimmering soft pink flowers. And when the tulips have finished their bloom, the forget me nots will still be flowering, making those empty stems less noticeable.

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Japanese gardens are known more for foliage than flowers, and by that nature are gardens that create a far bit of their own shade. While tulips or daffodils might look too big and flashy in this kind of space, a stone basin filled with Johnny jump ups (Viola tricolor, also known as wild pansies) adds color and lightness without overpowering the existing elements. A purple wind sculpture at back right picks up the color of the flowers and really pops against the vivid green of the shrub behind it.

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You might not think to plant iris in containers, but if your garden doesn’t have the right conditions – meaning six to eight hours of sun – then planting them in pots and moving them around could be the answer. Iris rhizomes aren’t planted deeply, so underplanting with blue hyacinths, as done here, is a way to add more color using spring-blooming bulbs that require the same excellent drainage that irises do. Planting colorful spring bulbs or perennials in containers (or choosing colorful containers to begin with) allows you to locate them in areas that will become shadier later.

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There’s no easier or cheaper way to get lots of spring color than by planting small bulbs such as squill, glory-of-the-snow, scilla, or grape hyacinth under trees where grass won’t grow. These bulbs are inexpensive (as flower bulbs go), and even better, they reproduce enthusiastically on their own without any help from you. An initial investment of 25 or 50 bulbs will spread over the years into an impressive carpet of low-maintenance spring color.

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Call it acid green, electric green, lime green, or yellow-green, if your spring landscape needs a shot of energy, but you’re not sure what to add, you can’t go wrong with chartreuse. Whether it’s the new growth of a shrub that later changes color, such as Golden Spirit smokebush (Cotinus) or one that keeps its color, like Lemon Lime nandina, shocking bright green adds a buzzy excitement to a garden, and sets off other colors wonderfully. While chartreuse shrubs provide a backdrop that make spring bulbs pop, interspersing them with perennials such as lady’s mantle, ‘Gold Heart’ Dicentra, and ‘Angelina’ sedum will make your whole garden glow.


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