Creating an Early Springtime Perennial Garden

Tulips and hyacinths are lovely and wonderful signs of spring.  There are also many other beautiful and charming early-blooming perennials that can create a very intriguing sight while attracting bees to your garden at the same time.  If you are growing early-blooming berry plants, like Honeyberries (Lonicera caerulea) that require cross-pollination, it’s a good idea to become familiar with these early blooming flowers and make them available in your gardens as beautiful and enticing bee magnets.  Find honey berry bushes here.

Basket of Gold, a perennial alyssum, blooming in April.

Following are some of my favorite early blooming perennials that are not only beautiful and slightly unusual, but all will return and expand across your garden year after year, providing a source for bees to return to each Spring.  All are beautiful, some are edible and medicinal.

Pulsatilla is an amazing Spring perennial. It is a native wildflower here in Colorado, and this particular variety is blooming happily in my garden.  It can withstand frost and sudden drops in temperature, which are common in Colorado during the early Spring.  Pulsatilla blooms for weeks, especially if deadheaded in a timely fashion.  The beautiful ferny foliage looks delicate and fragile, but quite the opposite is true.

Pulsatilla in my garden in early April. 

Pulsatilla with dew droplets as the frost melts

I wondered if these flowers would revive after a cold snap.  They were bending down, covered in frost, which began to melt in the sunlight, and soon the flowers were standing and blooming as if nothing had ever happened.  Beautiful!

Pulsatilla in the wild.

Such a pleasure to discover Pulsatilla in the wild.   Used in tincture form for pain and relaxation, Pulsatilla was historically used in two-drop doses to treat asthmatic and other respiratory conditions.   A medicinal herb of olden days, employed for “nerve exhaustion” and recommended “for fair, blue-eyed women.”

Species tulips are smaller and daintier than their hybrid cousins, and are a little more enthusiastic about naturalizing.  They are considered “wild” or “botanical” tulips and can thrive in dry and difficult locations in the garden.  Love these adorable flowers!  You can find an assortment of species tulips here.

Species Tulips!

Violas of all kinds like to bloom early.  All of the flowers are considered edible and nutritious.  Here we see species tulips growing alongside Corsican Violets, which are pretty, yet somewhat unreliable as a perennial.  Corsican Violet is not nearly as prolific or delectable as the traditional blue woodland violet, which is a great addition to salads.

Species Tulips & Corsican Violets 

Woodland Violets in the garden

OK, Violets of the woodland type (Viola spp.) can be invasive, but in a good way.  The leaves and flowers of these lovely spring plants are very nourishing.  Euell Gibbons refers to them as “Nature’s Vitamin Pill.”  Add generously to salads, make violet syrup from the flowers, and enjoy!  One half cup of violet leaves yields more Vitamin C than four oranges, as well as Vitamin A.  The purple flowers do not produce seed, so pick as many as you like!  Seed comes along later in an unobtrusive, well-hidden second flowering.

Veronica & Iberis 

This adorable lavender Veronica (Veronica Waterperry Blue), growing here with Iberis, is a Zone 4 perennial, so has no problem blooming early in our Zone 5 south facing garden.  It loves to creep and twine amongst the rocks and other plants.  Keeps the weeds down, too, once it gets established.  One of my all time favorite perennial ground covers.

Each tiny flower is exquisite!  Quite hardy and will grow in a variety of soil types, from sandy to rich garden soil.  Even in dry areas with partial shade, it will establish and provide early spring color to accompany tulips, violets, daffodils, and other early spring flowers.   Shear back after blooming (which lasts for weeks) to get a re-bloom later in the season.

Closeup of the lovely Veronica Waterperry Blue.

Catmint just getting started. Bees love these flowers!

Catmint (Nepeta cataria) is a major bee flower, blooming early and continuing to repeat until Fall if given a haircut after the first, second and third blooms.  It’s a vigorous plant, so feel free to cut it back.  It really wants to reseed, and will definitely do so!  If you don’t want it all over the place, just dig up the tiny plants as they come up in early spring.  I grow this beautiful blue-flowering bee plant along the front of my hottest and driest garden where it reseeded between the garden and the sidewalk.  Guess what – no weeds!!  If an occasional bindweed shows up, it’s easy to pull.  The stunning blue color of Catmint is beautiful in combination with all of the later perennials, as well as with those early spring blossoms.  Grow it in a pot as a lovely ornamental!  Medicinal properties: antibiotic and sedating.  Make a tea from the flowering tops.  Not really good for cats.

Close up of the humble, delicious chickweed

The humble chickweed (Stellaria media), while not highly ornamental, is blooming in our cold frame and in the vegetable garden, and has been for a few weeks now.  It produces delicious and nourishing greens almost year round, but early Spring is when it grows and blooms profusely and seems to be the most delectable.  We add it to salads, juice it with carrots, lemons and apples, and may also be adding it to steamed greens, just to keep up with it.  High in Vitamin C, it cooks very quickly, so add it during the last 2 minutes of cooking time to other more durable greens. Save the cooking water and drink it down!  Euell Gibbons says “..could restore health to millions of malnourished people all over the world if they would only use it.”   Birds and chickens love this delicious plant, thus the common name.

I’m planning to locate most, if not all, of these plants around or near my honey berry bushes, which started blooming here in Zone 5 at the end of March and are just now finishing their flowering cycle.  These bushes are still in pots and quite small, so I’m not too concerned about whether they got pollinated or not this season, but next year I will definitely want some bees to visit these shrubs.

Enjoy your Spring gardens!  Organic gardens are good for you, for our pollinators, and for the earth.




About Sarah Wadleigh

I am a Clinical Herbalist, Organic Gardener and Nutritional Consultant for people and companion animals. I live in Madrid, New Mexico with my wonderful husband, two little dogs and a big cat. My practice revolves around helping people create health through whole-food nutrition, nutritive herbs, lifestyle and self-awareness. With more than 20 years of experience as an animal nutritional counselor, I offer consultations to improve the health and well-being of our four-legged friends, as well as their humans. We can work together via Skype, in person,or over the phone. Let's create health for ourselves and our animal companions! Contact:
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