Flowers for Early Spring🌷🌼
Updated: Apr 21
There are several flowers we anticipate and enjoy once a year as the days lengthen and spring begins to transform the landscapes around us.
Some of our very favourite bulbs are daffodils, crocus and tulips – and then there are early flowering shrubs such as lilacs, forsythia and rhodos. For trees, magnolias amaze us each year with their large blooms; cherry with its many flowers; and fruiting trees such as pear and apple, which are not only ornamental, but also form a crop to enjoy in autumn.
The reason some early-bloomers develop and flower in early spring is to ‘get ahead’ of the newly forming tree canopies that block the spring sun. But there are shade-loving plants that bloom early too - including Ontario's emblematic Trillium, and also the lesser-known native Corydalis, which continues to flower throughout the summer and into fall.
These are all classic plants which seem to be included in every design book and therefore, in many gardens. There are so many other choices, native examples – and even more from other Zone 5's (& colder) throughout the world.
When it comes to sensational spring-flowering trees, there’s the Redbud (Cercis canadensis), a small tree which does something rare – it actually flowers on the woody stems and trunks rather than on last year’s new growth. There are also many amazing varieties of dogwoods – originally a forest edge small tree – plus the earliest bloomer of these – the Cornelian-Cherry (Cornus mas) which flowers before opening its own leaves and producing small red fruit – bringing visual interest in summer, as well as a valuable food source for birds.
Let’s move on to the “introductions” – those trees that aren’t originally native to our area but that have acclimatized to our climate and grow quite readily and happily in our zones, such as Witch Hazel (Hamamelis X intermedia) whose beautiful ribbon-like flowers bloom very early in spring when nothing else except early bulbs are showing off flower colour.
Forsythia is considered ‘easy’ to grow and so it’s typically not valued, but there are many forms which maintain a graceful shape for the rest of the year after flowering, such as the ‘Ottawa’ variety.
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra Black Lace) has fine leaf form and a dark purple colour – offering a presence to the landscape until fall, as well as lovely edible fruit. The native form, Sambucus canadensis, has similar features, but without the unusual leaf colour of Black Lace.
If you’re considering an ornamental tree to your brighten your spring landscape, it’s reasonable to select one that not only flowers, but bears fruit as well. Pears are a ‘tougher’ species than apples, and so are generally less concerning and more reliable.
Also, when it comes to pear trees, the options seem endless… A combo tree that has several grafted varieties on one trunk – or a nursery-grown Espalier tree that has had its branches trained to grow sideways along a fence or wall… Perhaps one with normal upright form – that features 4 or 5 varieties on dwarf root stock!
Flowers in spring are desirable because of the emotional and physical significance they bring – the long-awaited arrival of spring! They bring colour, which has seemed so absent all winter.
Flowers of spring particularly stand out and show their brilliant range of colours when planted alongside evergreens.
One particular favourite evergreen that combines well with flowers of any season is the Sunkist Cedar (Thuja occidentalis ‘Sunkist’), a gold-coloured evergreen that gives us the sense that summer is coming – even in the dead of winter – and provides a gift of colour during the long winter.
Evergreens give us the pleasure of colour all year long, as well as a solid all-season presence in our landscape that provides privacy and screening – and a beautiful background for the other plants around them, no matter what season.