April and May are wonderful times in coastal gardens. In fact, I find many of our gardens have a lot of familiar spring plants and some of our old favourites tend to be a bit overused.
This is a great time to move past the tried and true and branch out into new territory. Here are fresh new ones you might enjoy in the spring garden.
Related to the family of bleeding hearts, corydalis is a magnificent and perpetually flowering perennial for an area with half-day shade. If you like yellows, you will love corydalis lutea with pretty, golden yellow locket-shaped flowers that seem to bloom for months. In happily shaded sites, corydalis will seed itself around a bit, but I always welcome the new plants and it’s easy to remove ones you don’t want. The first flowers appear in mid spring and continue to the end of summer. Corydalis grows 12 to 18 inches tall in sun or part shade.
We are all familiar with spring blooming rhododendrons and azaleas, but what about mixing it up with another April/May evergreen shrub called choisya? One of my favourites is choisya ternate, or Aztec pearl. It is a glossy green, well behaved shrub that bears clusters of dainty fragrant flowers in April and May. The flowers have an orange fragrance and the plant hails from Mexico, hence its common name, Mexican orange. I find choisya has a lacy, dainty effect in the garden which is a nice reprieve from more heavy broad-leafed evergreen shrubs. Its foliage provides texture and contrast, and I find it lovely when it is not in flower as well.
Choisya grows well in light shade to full sun and flowers more profusely with more sun. After they bloom, I trim them back slightly and almost always have a second flush of flowers. Choisya can be tender if planted in wide-open, exposed areas as it doesn’t do well in hard frosts. But I have found it does well in the perennial border with other shrubs and plants and has only needed a restorative prune once after a particularly cold winter. Choisya can reach five feet tall and wide, but I keep mine at about three feet. Once established, it’s very tolerant to drought.
Spring flowering dogwoods, cornus, are ubiquitous on the coast. We all know and love the native species and the very popular cornus Eddie’s white wonder, but if you’re looking for something unique, try cornus controversa, variegata. This variegated form of cornus is a show stopper and is sometimes called the wedding cake tree because when it flowers, it is like frosting spread on a wedding cake. The leaves are brightly variegated, unlike most other dogwoods, and are layered out in horizontal tiers. Delicate lace graces its branches in May (creating the look of frosting), later followed by shiny black berries in the fall which the birds love. It’s stunning in the fall as the berries just pop against the variegated leaves. This tree grows well in light to open shade and reaches a height of 15 to 20 feet, and up to 15 feet wide.
Step out of the tired and true favourites and put a new kind of spring in your garden step.