April GBBD: How to Choose

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

Time is just flying by, and we have reached the middle of the month when I encourage each of you to walk around your garden and assess what you need to add to make early spring an exciting time in your landscape.  Do you need more early flowering trees like magnolias and cherries to give you a reason to stroll in your garden?  Could your garden benefit from flowers that bloom in early April like native spring ephemerals, bulbs, pulmonarias, and hellebores?

Make a list and take photographs so that when you are shopping this spring you know what you need and where it should go.  It’s beautiful outside, and you never know what you might find hiding in your garden like this ethereal double-flowered hellebore (pictured above), which I discovered during my own  inventory.  Usually I recommend a local garden to visit for inspiration, but I have to say Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is pretty inspiring right now!

Flowering quince, Chaenomeles x superba ‘Texas Scarlet’, with ‘White Lady’ hybrid hellebore

Today is Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day for April when gardeners around the world show photos of what’s blooming in their gardens (follow the link to see  photographs from other garden bloggers assembled by Carol at May Dreams Gardens).  Here are  some more highlights from my mid-April stroll through Carolyn’s Shade Gardens, but to see it all you will have to visit as Jean from Jean’s Garden and Jan from Thanks for Today are doing this Sunday.

My early magnolias are in full bloom.  Magnolias are my favorite flowering trees, and I want to share these early-blooming varieties with you:

Northern Japanese Magnolia, Magnolia kobus ‘Wada’s Memory’, has the most beautiful form of any magnolia.  The branches curve upwards to form an elongated pyramid, which is maintained even on mature plants.

‘Wada’s Memory’ flower

Star magnolia, Magnolia stellata, blooms so early that it often gets damaged by frost, but amazingly the flowers are magnificent this year.

Star magnolia flowers

I have waited over 15 years for my Yulan magnolia, Magnolia denudata, to bloom, but once I saw mature trees at Longwood Gardens, I had to have one!  It was worth the wait.

My ingenious 13-year-old son used a grappling hook to pull a branch down and clip a Yulan magnolia flower for me to photograph.

There are so many beautiful hellebores in bloom that I made collages of my favorite flowers so that this whole post wasn’t dedicated to hellebores:

Clockwise from upper left: seedling double hybrid hellebore, ‘Mrs. Betty Ranicar’, ‘Velvet Lips’ (don’t you love that name?), ‘Painted Bunting’

Clockwise from upper left: seedling petaloid hybrid hellebore, ‘Blue Lady’, Helleborus x nigercors ‘Green Corsican’ (cross between Corsican hellebore and Christmas rose), seedling in ‘Double Melody’ strain

Clockwise from upper left: double from ‘Golden Lotus’ seed strain, ‘Raspberry Mousse’, ‘Goldfinch’, seedling petaloid hybrid hellebore

I could dedicate the whole post to epimediums too so here are more collages:

Clockwise from upper left: ‘Yubae’, Epimedium x rubra, ‘Cherry Tart’, ‘Sweetheart’

Clockwise from upper left: ‘Shrimp Girl’, ‘Orange Queen’, Epimedium x warleyense, ‘Cupreum’

I have a collection of about 15 varieties of European wood anemones, and April is their time to shine.  They are very easy to grow in shaded woodland conditions:

Left to right from upper left: Anemone nemorosa pink form; Anemone x seemanii; ‘Alba Plena’; ‘Leed’s Variety’; ‘Bractiata’; ‘Allenii’; ‘Vestal’; Anemone ranunculoides; ‘Wyatt’s Pink’

European wood anemones spread to form a sizable and eye-catching patch even in dry shade, photo above of the yellow flowers of Anemone ranunculoides.

I want to share so many exciting blooming plants with you that I don’t know how to choose the photographs to include, hence the title of this post.  Here are other plants that made the cut:

Red lungwort, Pulmonaria rubra ‘Redstart’, is a very unusual pulmonaria with green fuzzy leaves.

Winterhazel, Corylopsis species, unfortunately for the first time ever our late freezes damaged most of the flowers.

Obviously not a bloom, but I wanted to show you the early color of native variegated dwarf Jacob’s ladder, Polemonium reptans ‘Stairway to Heaven’.

Native rue anemone, Anemonella thalictroides double pink form

I planted a mixture of daffodils in the middle of my raised beds, and this lovely seedling appeared in the path.

Native cinnamon fern, Osmunda cinnamomea, is gorgeous as it unfurls.

A seedling Helleborus multifidus underplanted with the spring ephemeral  Cardamine quinquefolia.

The many colors of Corydalis solida when allowed to seed.  I am planning an article on this plant in the future.

Who could have planned this combination?  Native coral bells, Heuchera villosa ‘Caramel’, with a seedling glory-of-the-snow, Chionodoxa forbesii.

The new leaves and flowers of Japanese coral bark maple, Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’, are breathtaking in early spring.  For the full story on this four season tree, read my article Coral Bark Maple.

My latest spring-blooming camellia addition, Camellia x ‘April Rose’, a formal double.

For breath-taking beauty in early spring you can’t beat cherry trees:

A very mature Yoshino cherry, Prunus x yedoensis, that came with our property.  I love the fleeting nature of the flowers and look forward to the day every spring when it rains petals in my nursery.  Its orange fall color is spectacular.

My favorite cherry (at least for today), Prunus x incam ‘Okame’, dominates my courtyard garden in early spring.

I will end with a heart full of cherry blossoms because I love early spring!

Please let me know in a comment/reply what flowers are blooming in your early spring garden.  If you participated in GBBD, please provide a link so my nursery customers can read your post.


Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information.  If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.), just click here.

Nursery Happenings: My second open house sale is this Saturday, April 16, from 10 am to 3 pm, featuring early spring-blooming plants for shade.

97 Responses to “April GBBD: How to Choose”

  1. What a gorgeous garden Carolyn and a huge selection of April blooms. I am so sorry to have missed it. Good advice too to gardeners about taking photos to take shopping. Both what you have at home and those at the nursery to to take home before purchase. Photos are invaluable for those needing that little extra help and confidence. Advice I give often as well.

    • Donna, It’s hard to stay focused working in the nursery with so many pretty flowers in the garden. I try to walk around every day right before dinner without a to do list and just look at the flowers. GBBD has really helped me by forcing me to focus on the garden from a different perspective on a regular basis. Carolyn

  2. Carolyn,

    You have surpassed yourself with these photos! What a mouth-watering selection of plants. They are all too beautiful to pick out a favourite, although the delightful little epimediums come close… As you know, I have no garden here, so enjoy Spring flowers vicariously through your blog.
    I am sure Jean and Jan will have a wonderful time seeing all these for real.

  3. I really love all your plants that you showed in this post. I agree it is really difficult to choose the best blooms in spring because there are so many fabulous ones. I am a hellebore nut too but your magnolias are all spectacular. The photo with the cherry blossoms laying on the ground amongst the path stones just takes me away to a fairyland. With all these blooms I could just sit and spend the day in your garden. 🙂

    • Karin, I wish I could spend all day in the garden or just spend the day working in the garden. That’s the frustrating thing about running the nursery, even though I love it. I am glad you liked the cherry blossom photo because it was a last minute inclusion. I almost left it out, but then I thought one of the main things I like about cherry trees is the rain of petals. Carolyn

  4. We have the first roses. No longer the ratty chewed single flowers that battled thru summer. But real ones I can pick. Linked my post to Gesine’s German Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, since mid-month I focus on non South African plants.

    Look forward to reading Jean’s post about your garden – will be ‘almost’ as good as seeing it with my own eyes ;~)

  5. Love that Jacob’s Ladder! And what a beautiful pair the coral belle with glory-of-the-snow make!

  6. you are quite a bit ahead of me and those cherry blossoms are just gorgeous…wow…I hope to see many of the same blooms in a another week or two…check out my blooms tomorrow at


  7. Beautiful blooms in your garden this Bloom Day. I can see why you could not choose, too many are ‘must see.’

    My April GBBD post hasn’t gone up, but your customers may enjoy my March post which had early spring pretties in bloom. We are a month or more ahead in zone 8b.

    March GBBD.

  8. Carolyn, what an enjoying post!
    I love all your pictures but the magnolias and the helleborus are gorgeous! The fern also is wonderful and the cherry-blossom heart so sweet!
    Greetings from Berlin!

  9. What a lovely post and so many beautiful blooms in early spring !

  10. Your garden has the best colors and layout i’ve seen this week, really amazing blooms and combinations. And yes that Magnolia’s form looks like Christmas again. If i were you i might not be able to do other job but stay in the garden, be amazed and take photos. I bet the fragrance there is alluring as well.

  11. Fantastic photos, fantastic plants. Glad to have found someone who loves shade gardening as much as I do. Will be visiting your blog again and again!

  12. Caroyln I see that you have some amazing blooms in your garden this month. My favourites being the epimediums and the wood anemones and magnolias.

    I have so much in flower in my Scottish garden aswell this month and the link is here as requested for anyone to copy and paste into their browser

    Yesterday evening we went for a walk along the river and the banks were just covered in wood anemones….. I took pictures which I hope to blog about soon for wildflower wednesday.

    • Rosie, Your GBBD post is beautiful–love the color collages. Fun (and frustrating) to see all the beautiful primroses that you can get in Scotland. It is hard to find all the wonderful varieties here. I would love to see wood anemones growing in the wild. Carolyn

  13. Simply stunning Carolyn, I’m not surprised you found it so hard to choose! Thank you for the introduction to Magnolia kobus ‘Wada’s Memory’, that looks like a wonderful tree. I also rather like ardamine quinquefolia. What am I saying? I like it all, they just struck me as ones to think about for my own future garden…

    • Janet, Cardamine quinquefolia is a very beautiful plant, great flower color and leaf shape. Although it looks delicate, it is competing successfully with golden groundsel, which I love but is kind of thuggish. The cardamine does go dormant. ‘Wada’s Memory’ is a great tree, but it gets huge so you need a lot of space for it to show off its magnificent habit. Carolyn

  14. Lots and lots of beautiful blooms. Your garden must be looking an absolute picture. Your Hellebores are just wonderful and that Magnolia is outstanding. It was a real delight popping by to see these blooms.

  15. gardeningasylum Says:

    Oh my, so much color – hopefully soon to head north up CT way. My acer p. Sango-kaku is just beginning to show swelling buds – you’re probably 3 weeks ahead there. I really enjoy the c. solida that’s seeded around from a clump a garden friend gave me – so prolific and so welcome -still in bud at this point.

    • You really are behind us there in CT but spring is right around the corner. Corydalis solida is such a wonderful plant. I get very frustrated with it because when I pot it up to sell, the flowers go by quickly and my customers don’t buy it. Everyone should have it for early spring color. Carolyn

  16. How to choose indeed?! Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! I like your sentiments at the end too! Wow on the J. magnollia!

  17. I practically swooned at the photo of your stone patio covered in pink petals!!

    • Connie, I enjoyed seeing all the unusual pink roses that you posted for GBBD–some really unusual forms. I am glad you liked the photo of my stone path with the cherry blossoms. I can’t make myself walk on it while they are there looking so beautiful. Carolyn

  18. I enjoyed your shade garden very much indeed. I don’t have much shade here in Italy. My only spot is under a white Mulberry – it is very dry and I struggle to find plants that thrive there. I did a slide show of everything that is flowering in my garden as I find it useful to know what was flowering in one moment in time. You certainly chose your images well, they are all beautiful. Christina

    • Christina, Thank you for your kind words. Under your mulberry, you could try epimediums, creeping phlox, and European wood anemone. They all grow and spread in the dry parts of my woodland. Carolyn

      • thanks for the recommendations, I think it is too hot for Epimeduims, I like them very much so I will try some. Janet at Plantalicious posted about the creeping phlox and I’m definately going to investigate that.

      • Christina, I can’t recommend Phlox stolonifera, creeping phlox, enough. It grows in part to full shade and can take dry. It spreads to cover the ground but moves discreetly around other plants without overcoming them. It has gorgeous flowers in blue, purple, white, and pink, and it is evergreen–everything you could want in a shade ground cover. Carolyn

  19. Carolyn, I’ve been doing just as you suggested~Assessing and photographing! Now may I shop in your garden! It’s glorious. Your first hellebore is perfect. gail

    • Gail, I have been so excited that GBBD has made me think in an organized fashion about my garden once a month. I have found it extremely helpful. Also good for building up my photo library. You could shop at my nursery but it is a long way from TN. Carolyn

  20. I stopped by to stop and go. Then to move on to other blooms. Yeah, right! Too many things to look at. Nice photos and gardens. Will come again.

  21. Your garden is so beautiful, Carolyn, I can’t even choose what all to comment on! The magnolias are definitely the stars of the show, but your cherry trees are equally beautiful. But the first photo of the double hellebore caught my attention first, and I can’t forget it–this is definitely going on my “wish list”!

  22. I am just thrilled to see all these beautiful flowers. The best ones are magnolias. Your magnolia trees are just gorgeous, i am sure they will be fragrant as well. Only magnolia grandiflora we have here in our climate which is grown mostly.

  23. GOODNESS, that coral bell and glory-of-the-snow combo is stunning. The magnolias are beautiful as well. Those are just beginning to open buds up here in MI (zone 5).

  24. Oh, my goodness! That Magnolia is just stunning! It kind of looks a flowering Christmas tree! I love it. Actually, I love all the pics but that one most of all. Happy Bloom Day.

  25. Just gorgeous! I am a spring lover too… which I think comes from loving shade plants. It is the best time for the woodland!

    LOVE the cherry petals!!

  26. Wow! So much to share! I have that same variegated jacob’s ladder new to my garden last year so I was surprised by the pretty pink tinge it has as it comes up this year. Thanks for sharing!

    • Rosemarie, The plain green Polemonium reptans takes on a dark purple tone on its winter green leaves so I guess that translates to pink when it is one the white variegation. I find that this cultivar needs more sun than the species. Carolyn

  27. Carolyn, you have so many beautiful plants, I don’t know where to begin… That Japanese magnolia is so gorgeous in bloom, like a Christmas tree. The hellebores are wonderful, I have not seen so many different shapes and colors before, thank you for the collage. I am intrigued by corydalis solida, I love the color combinations, and am looking forward to your post on this plant.

    • Masha, I go through hundreds of hellebores a year at my nursery so I have built up quite a collection in my display gardens. You can do this too by going to nurseries that sell hellebores in bloom and going through all the flowers to find the most interesting. You would be amazed to see what I have found at other nurseries including some of the plants in my collages. Carolyn

  28. missing my pulmonaria and jacobs ladder 😦 we had serious flooding and lost so many of my plants.
    Love your close up photos and your layout! Thank you for sharing!

  29. With all the gardens to visit over at May Day dreams I feel very lucky I came to visit yours.

    OMG what a selection of many of my favorites.

    I’d better head back up to see where you’re from. Would love to come be.


  30. Your garden is waking up beautifully. i love your magnolia in bloom & your cherry tree petals in your walkway! xoxo, tracie

  31. Spring is breath-taking in your garden. I am smitten with Mrs. Betty Ranicar among many others. You certainly have an extensive collection in each of your collections – most I have never seen. Do you buy your seeds/plants from specialty growers?

    • Patty, I got my European wood anemones from a friend who grows a lot of them, the old Heronswood, and Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. The epimediums mainly come from Garden Visions, which is the source for epimediums. I can’t rave about this nursery enough. My magnolias have come from a variety of places but the really special ones from the old Heronswood—I miss that nursery. Most of the special hellebores resulted from the discovery of chance seedlings in my gardens where I grow hundreds to sell or special plants discovered among the ordinary hellebores at other nurseries. Carolyn

  32. Such a BEAUTIFUL collection of spring blooms! I would love to visit your garden someday!

  33. I am attracted to the color on the ground from fallen petals as much as I am when they are on the tree. Camellias and crape myrtles will also do that. Happy GBBD!

  34. Carolyns shade garden is indeed inspiring at the moment. I like the Epimediums in particular. They make a beautiful foliage plant in our woodland but very few flowers. Larry at Conrad art and glass showed his Epimediums absolutely smothered in blooms recently, has me wondering if they like a sunnier spot than I have given them.

    • Alistair, I grow most of my epimediums in an area that doesn’t really get sun but is shaded by 150′ year old trees, high deciduous shade. When they bloom, there are no leaves on the trees, and they are covered with flowers. However, I have three other patches in more full shade, and they are covered with flowers too. Carolyn

  35. What a great set of photos for spring inspiration. I’m particularly smitten by that Hellebore shot that you lead off with. I’m hoping to be in Philadelphia for the June 4 weekend so I will add your plant sale to the calendar as an excuse to visit your gardens…

  36. A belated happy Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day! Gorgeous photo’s!

  37. Jean and Jan are fortunate to get to visit; I wish you were close to me! Your photos are beautiful and demonstrate what a variety of terrific plants are available to shade gardeners. I have never planted wood anemones, but i am wondering if they will grow this far south. I’m off to do some research!

    • Deb, The possiblities for shade gardens are endless, and I pity gardeners who only have sun for all the weeding they have to do if nothing else. If wood anemones grow where you are you will love them. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs is a very good mail order source for them. Carolyn

  38. I know what is like to wait 15 years for a Magnolia to bloom. This spring, after 16 years, my M. Yellow Butterflies will finally have over 50 blooms. Last year, I had six and the year before only two. Remarkably, my M ashei had two huge blooms on it in its third year last spring and I started it from a cutting so it was only about three feet tall when it first bloomed. Love your site, only thing is I don’t understand how you find enough hours in the day to run your nursery, manage the garden, blog, respond to every comment and still find time to walk around the garden at the end of the day, not to mention raising a family at the same time. You must be super woman’s sister.

    • Wayne, Sometimes I even amaze myself :). Actually I work 7 days a week from about 6 am to 10 pm, and there are still not enough hours in the day. I was going to say I have ‘Yellow Butterflies’ but I think its ‘Yellow Bird’. It is a good thing we are both patient gardeners. My yellowwood tree just bloomed for the first time last spring, and I planted it in 1995. I have Anemone nemorosa ‘Robinsoniana’ but would love to trade you for ‘Viride’, which I purchased long ago from Heronswood but it died. Carolyn

  39. I went shopping for hellebores and was very disappointed with the limited selection at my local nursery. I love the wine colored ones and the double varieties that you show in your post. I guess I may have to research alternate Canadian suppliers through the mail. The corydalis you have shown are so pretty, as are the epimedium. The northern Japanese Magnolia also really caught my eye. I would love to know what you recommend for dry shade- which I think is even more challenging than the moist shade covered in most gardening books.

    • Jennifer, I have to say that I fail to see the utility of gardening books for shade that tell you to plant everything in moist shade. I am not sure where moist shade exists, maybe the PNW, but not around here and evidently not where you are. Many of the plants that we are told require moist shade grow very well in dry shade. My favorites are hellebores, epimediums, native ginger, Celandine poppy, dwarf Jacob’s ladder, native aster, and many more. Please read my catalogue on the sidebar of my website under Pages, which is really meant as a reference for shade plants. It will mention other plants good for dry shade. Carolyn

  40. Dear Carolyn, Your spring garden is truly inspiring! I hope to see it for myself very soon. P x

  41. Carolyn, in many ways, I’m glad I didn’t get to your GBBD post until AFTER my visit to your gardens in person! I recognize every photo from having seen it personally;-) I found myself doing double-takes, saying to myself ‘I was there’! I remember that path that intersected near the bench, and the heart-shaped leaf water trough. And, the trees, and the…! And etc…! It was all so lovely, I am still trying to ‘take it all in’ in my mind. Clearly, our stroll through your gardens are what influenced me to pick up and purchase my newest Epimediums and most of the others I’ve brought back with me. I knew in advance a few that I wanted but walking through with you and Jean had did help influence at least a few of my choices;-) I’m so glad we had the chance to spend yesterday together…it was lovely! It will be a little while before I post about it, as I need to do a bit more work on my sustainable living project. Our visit to Chanticleer was wonderful, too;-) Thanks for such a fun day. I enjoyed meeting your family, too;-)

    • Jan, I was so glad I could take a whole day off from work, my first since February 14, to spend it immersed in plants with you and Jean. Now you can vouch for the fact that Carolyn’s Shade Gardens really does exist, and I really do have all the plants mentioned and photographed in my post. I was also glad to visit Chanticleer in the spring—I never make time to go there because I am so busy. Carolyn

  42. Everything is so beautiful!!! I lost most of my Yoshino cherry blossoms to high winds and crazy rain. 😦 Right now the following plants are blooming: doronicum Little Leo, golden alexanders, dwarf white nepeta, thermopsis, silene Rolly’s Favorite, pink old fashioned bleeding heart, white wood anemones (just a few). Purple columbine are about to bloom. Hooray!

  43. Sharon Halpin Says:

    Carolyn — Gorgeous photos, as always. I love the combination of ‘Texas Scarlet’ and ‘White Lady.’ I hadn’t known that the flowering quince could be grown in containers. I have a partial shade patio area and need to learn more about plants which could be grown in containers there.

    • Sharon, I bought the quince early this spring and was going to plant it in the garden. Then I thought it was so beautiful that I put it in a pot on my front porch. I don’t know if it will grow in a container and haven’t decided whether I will leave it there. Carolyn

  44. Delicious Post Carolyn! I envy Jan and Jean! I must say your Epimediums steal the show for me. Lovely and delicate. I love them.

  45. Carolyn,
    Can you please advise me in transplanting brunnera? Of the two I bought from you two or three years ago, one limps along. Only 4 feet away, the other has exploded into a massive and glorious specimen. I’d like to move and divide it. I’d love to do it now, but wonder if waiting until after it finishes blooming, or even until fall would be more prudent.

  46. Matthew Tornabe Says:

    Corydalis solida can you explain how the seed heads disperse the seeds. I think I have some type of corydalis that is seeding in every where. The flower color is purple and when you touch the capsule it explodes seeds everywhere. Also the capslule curls in two when opened. Seeds are shine black. Thanks.

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