(Originally published in the April 8 Lynden Tribune.)
Spring is a magical time of year for gardeners. The cold, dark days of winter fade and warmer weather gradually returns. With the warmth comes a profusion of color, and the breathtaking transformation to spring begins in the Pacific Northwest.
As I write, the calendar shows that we officially began spring nearly two weeks ago; this year, however, spring is coming much later than in recent years. Though we had a very pleasant—and even warm—start to the year, the last month brought many days of cold, wet weather. That said, the early-blooming shrubs and trees that often flower in mid-March are just beginning to show their color.
So, as a gardener, what can you look for to brighten up your garden at this time of year? First, let’s go over a few flowering trees. Around Whatcom County this time of year, you’ll see many flowering cherry and plum trees. One garden favorite for many is the ‘Thundercloud’ flowering plum. This small- to mid-sized tree is a great garden accent or focal point with its beautiful pink flowers in early spring. Later, when it leafs out, it has deep purple foliage that lasts all summer long.
Dogwood, another popular flowering tree, blooms later in spring and comes in various shades of pink and white. For small gardens, kousa dogwoods—available in pink or white—provide abundant color in a compact form.
For people who want a wider array of color in their flowerbeds, flowering shrubs come in just about every color of the rainbow. Late in winter, many varieties of heather begin to bloom, heralding the coming arrival of spring. ‘Mediterranean Pink’ heather blooms in a carpet of soft pink flowers and is a seasonal favorite for many gardeners. Another harbinger of spring is forsythia; this deciduous shrub catches the eye with a profusion of golden yellow blooms that cover the stems. Still another early-blooming shrub is pieris, which comes in various pinks and white. While pieris certainly offers color with spring flowers, most varieties provide colorful foliage throughout late spring and well into summer as the new growth comes on in shades of bright red and bronze.
For visitors to the Pacific Northwest from warmer, drier climates, rhododendrons are a showstopper. While many of us yawn at the mention of another “rhody,” there are many beautiful varieties available for today’s gardeners. A few personal favorites are ‘Hotei,’ with yellow blooms, ‘Aloha,’ a rhododendron that blooms with mottled pink and white flowers and stays compact, and ‘Vulcan,’ with its deep crimson red clusters of flowers.
The smaller cousins of rhododendrons, azaleas provide an equally beautiful and diverse array of color in spring. ‘Hino Crimson’ has striking red flowers set above glossy green leaves and scarlet-tinged stems. ‘Mothers Day’ traditionally blooms on and around its namesake holiday and has purple-tinged foliage to provide interest year-round. For gardeners who wish to have orange or yellow azaleas, deciduous exbury azaleas have bloom clusters similar to rhododendrons and flower with eye-catching vividness.
Soon, temperatures will warm, and with the chance of frost behind us, it will be safe to plant your annuals and put hanging baskets outside—then you’ll be able to enjoy the full array of colors in your garden. In the meantime, stop at your local nursery to browse the fresh selection of spring-flowering shrubs and trees, and take a walk through the greenhouses to begin planning your flower garden. And remember, spring is coming—plant now to make it colorful and a season to enjoy for years to come!