Achieving a colorful garden in early spring in the Rocky Mountains can be a definite challenge. Landscape design for spring interest isn’t for the faint of heart. Mother Nature can surely challenge plants meant to bloom early. Many a spring season she will cover them in snow or burn them with severe cold. Snow is actually most often a good thing as it will protect plants by insulating them from below-freezing temperatures. The weight of it however can do damage, so it is a fine line of whether to try and remove the snow or leave it in place. I generally leave it in place unless it is heavy enough that a woody tree or shrub is in danger of having branches broken. Most herbaceous plants are flexible and will bend under the weight of snow and then revive after it melts.
These notoriously erratic Rocky Mountains springs, in both temperature and precipitation, challenge us. Yet if you’re willing to be patient and maybe lose some blooms in occasional years, it is worth the effort. Planting a garden for spring color requires not only planning but a degree of acceptance that some years you may have to face defeat or enjoy only a brief display.
A good landscape design will focus your spring color in places where you can enjoy the flowers. Most people are not hanging out on their patios during cooler spring temperatures. Therefore, you’ll want these pops of color and interest to be along a primary walkway where you come and go often. Perhaps the path to your front door, or the route you take to the compost bin. You can also focus your spring landscape features in key positions that are highly visible from your windows and in particular, windows where you spend a lot of time looking out.
Are spring-blooming bulbs the only avenue for early pops of color? No, but they are a great starting place. Tulips come in early-mid- and late-blooming categories. By focusing on all three you increase the chances of a long span of color. There are also species (wild) tulips that bloom quite early, naturalize beautifully and provide unexpected little pops of blooming interest.
Daffodils are another cheerful spring flower coming in a full range of yellows with some whites. Crocus will give you very early blooms along with snowdrops and Iris reticulata.
There are other lesser-known spring bulbs as well, such as Alliums and Fritillaria. Look for them in catalogs and garden centers in September when it is time to purchase and plant these spring bloomers.
Look for Part 2 in this series for more ideas on adding color and interest to your spring garden.