There’s something spectacular about spring blooming plants that you don’t get from those that provide summer color. It may be a light that they offer after a cold and dark winter telling us that we made it through. Or possibly it’s because the amazing color that they grace us with is fleeting. A glance that we won’t feel again for yet another year.Certainly the nostalgia they carry with them harks back to the old days. Grandpa tilling the garden while Grandma cans crabapple preserves in her housedress. Fragrant lilac blooms sitting in a vintage milk jug on the kitchen table, cut from the singular large shrub that sits lonely in the middle of the yard.
But for all the wonderful memories and emotions that spring bloomers provoke, they have fallen out of favor in today’s modern garden. Beautiful lilac blooms are followed by the haze of powdery mildew in the summer, crabapples are far too messy and forsythia become too large for the average suburban landscape.Yet while the ‘old-fashioned’ varieties certainly come with an array of issues, there are a number of new and underused varieties on the market today that fit much better into our low maintenance gardens. Here are 5 (plus) of my favorites.
There has been a huge injustice done against Forsythia. Forsythia arrives at nurseries and box stores in the spring and the bright, cheery color speaks to people. I get it, I’ve been spoken to before, unfortunately said people are not informed by store personnel that maybe, just maybe this 12 foot shrub is not the right one for in front of your (2 foot off the ground) dining room window regardless of its spectacular show. Does this ring a bell?
So anyway, said homeowner or lawn company comes in every year and cuts back this once gorgeous shrub to a measly, non-blooming but manageable 3 feet tall. Am I right? Because if you’ve never committed this injustice yourself, you probably know someone who did. You can however, have the Forsythia of your dreams under your dining room window.
Forsythia ‘Gold Tide’ is great because it looks just like the traditional, old-fashioned variety only at a much shorter stature. This variety generally tops out at 1 to 2 feet tall and spreads to around 3 to 4 feet, perfect for the front of a border or in front of those crazy low windows. Plant in full sun to part shade.
Forsythia ‘Show Off’ is somewhat larger but still small by typical standards. Reaching a mere 4 to 5 feet tall and wide, this spring bloomer puts on an amazing show with exceptionally full blooms. As with all Forsythia, this deer resistant plant can go in full sun to part shade.
Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles)
While flowering quince are not necessarily common, you have probably spotted them at least once and wondered how that tropical looking plant could possibly be growing in our area. While not tropical (or even tropical looking up close at all), flowering quince pull off a pallet of colors not common to our region in the spring.
Chaenomeles speciosa, or Common flowering Quince can become a 10 foot mess of a plant with thorns and fruit, but there are new varieties on the market that can put this plant back in today’s gardens. One such series of plants is the Double Take™ Storm series. Ranging from orange and pink to scarlet red, this intensely hued quince produces no fruit or thorns and tops out at 3 to 4 foot. This sun lover is drought tolerant and deer resistant.
For such a common plant, Deutzia is not well known by many people. Their blossoms tend to be white or pink in May but the rest of the year they disappear into the landscape as a mass of leaves. Yet another 10 foot shrub of nothingness you say – well, luckily not anymore.
Deutzia gracilis ‘Nikko’ is a graceful, low growing shrub that only reaches 1 ½ feet in height and around 4 feet wide. This delicate white flowering shrub works great in mass plantings, shrub borders and even in perennial gardens for spring color.
Deutzia ‘Yuki Cherry Blossom’ is also a low spreading Deutzia that reaches 1 to 2 feet in height and width and is amassed with pink blooms in the spring. Hummingbirds love Deutzia as it is some of the first food available in the spring. Plant Deutzia in part to full sun.
Crabapple (Malus sargentii ‘Tina’)
While many Crabapples only grow to around 15 to 20 feet in size (and yes that is small for a tree), Sargentina Crabapple stays truly dwarf reaching only around 5’ tall with a 6 to 8’ spread. This dense tree produces an abundance of red buds that open to pure white flowers every spring and offers small red fruit late summer to fall. Sargentina is extremely disease resistant, can tolerate miserable soils and is loved by bees and songbirds alike.
Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)
Ahh, Lilac. The beautiful blooms that pop up on these magnificent plants and perfume the entire neighborhood…and then it stops blooming and you’re left with…a lilac. While amazing in bloom, they aren’t very landscape friendly, and quite frankly, who has time to deal with mildew issues as well as other maladies that affect this plant.
That being said, there are numerous other varieties of Lilac on the market today that are far more landscape friendly and disease resistant (and yes, I’m giving a big ‘eh, maybe’ on that last statement). I’m not going to talk about Dwarf Korean Lilac (Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’) and its close relation ‘Bloomerang’, or even discuss Syringa patula ‘Miss Kim’ as most people are well aware of these dwarf varieties. Instead I want to talk about a fairly new variety that for all intents and purposes is simply a smaller version of the original.
Syringa vul. ‘Tiny Dancer’ is a dwarf and mildew resistant variety of the common lilac Syringa vulgaris. While the original can easily reach 15 to 20 feet high, ‘Tiny Dancer’ tops out at 5 feet with a spread of 3 to 4 feet making it the perfect size to add to most any garden. Producing the same intensely fragrant lavender blooms, this new variety adds an old charm to the modern landscape.