Although the tulips and daffodils featured in last week's column are extraordinarily beautiful, they are not enough to create perfect, long-lasting spring flowerbeds.
Spring bulbs offer stunning but fleeting beauty and are highly subject to the whims of nature, including spring rains, high temperatures and wind.
Most emerge with rather nondescript rosettes of foliage that finally sends up a flower stalk that is, in most cases, topped with a single glorious bloom.
If it is hot, rainy, snowy or windy, the flowers might last a day or two. Even under the best conditions, an individual bulb flower might look great for a week, acceptable for two weeks and horrible after three. Face the fact that bulbs look bad for much longer than they look good.
After the bulb petals drop, the long, gangling flower stalks rise like gargoyles in your garden. Showy spring gardens need plants that bloom and look good for a much longer period.
Although these other flowers might not be the stars, they certainly get the awards in the best-supporting roles. They provide the underlying beauty for the prima donna bulbs. Included in this group are a wide array of winter annuals, biennials and spring blooming perennials. Plant these in the fall, and you will be amply rewarded with their beauty next spring.
At the top of the list are the pansies. These are stellar performers because they survive our winters to cover the soil next spring. These flowers provide much of the "flesh" or understory flowers that cover the garden soil and provide a backdrop for the bulbs. Next week's column will focus on these essential spring plants.
Some of the best flowers for spring are the perennials. My top three that cover the soil with evergreen foliage include Arabis, Aubrietia and creeping phlox.
All of these are dependable spring bloomers. Arabis or rock cress produces an abundance of white blossoms on dark green groundcover foliage. Aubrietia or purple rock cress is a similar low-growing spring plant. The bright pink, purple or rose flowers are among the showiest in the spring garden.
The creeping varieties of phlox also fill out this group. All of these are very winter hardy and work well in rock gardens, mixed beds and naturalized areas. Add basket-of-gold if you prefer bright yellow colors in the mix.
For a taller flower, try wallflowers. These are a little harder to find, but given their beauty, they are well worth the effort. Most commonly you can find yellows, reds and oranges, but try to locate some of the taller purple types. These flowers are perennial but are often grown as winter annuals.
If you like soft pastel colors, add Iceland poppies to your spring beds. Muted shades of ivory, yellow, pink and orange are available. The showy flowers are perennial, but many gardeners choose to replant them each season because they do not tolerate the summer heat very well.
Another medium-size flower is the forget-me-nots, or myosotis. They have tiny, delicate flowers and colors range from deep to pale blue or pink to white. Siberian bugloss or Brunnera is a spring-blooming perennial with similar flowers. Jack Frost is a cultivar with showy, variegated foliage. Choose them for more naturalized garden plantings.
These are many species and types of Dianthus. Some are long-lived perennials called pinks, but the bedding-plant types are very showy additions to the spring plant palette. They are considered hardy annuals, but selective breeding has introduced some outstanding short-lived perennials. Plant the beautiful white, pink, red, lavender or maroon flowers this fall.
Lunaria, also known as honesty or money plant, are beautiful lavender, purple or white spring flowers. It is slightly taller and is best used as a background planting or mixed with taller bulbs. If you leave the plants, they produce the "money" translucent silvery circular seedpods.
Other taller plants include foxgloves with delicate pink, white or lavender shades. Get these in this fall because they are biennials. If you wait and plant more mature plants in the spring they will quickly bolt or go to seed and then die. They grow 2 to 4 feet high, and buds start opening at the bottom of the spike and then continue until they reach the top.These and many others flowers are the salvation of the spring garden. They will keep your spring garden exciting and dynamic and many come back each year to make it even more sensational.
Larry A. Sagers is a horticulture specialist at the Utah State University Extension at Thanksgiving Point.