Early Spring Ephemerals Light Up the Garden

Corydalis solida seedling 4-3-2011 7-36-54 PMCorydalis solida comes in many colors: in the right corner is ‘Purple Bird’, in the middle is pink ‘Beth Evans’, and in the left corner is brick red ‘George P. Baker’.

As the hellebores bloom in my garden, they do not stand alone but are surrounded by large swathes of spring ephemerals.  These are plants that come up in the spring to take advantage of the available sun before the leaves come out and then go dormant for the year as it gets hot.  I especially appreciate their vibrant colors at a time of year when spring is here, but the weather is not necessarily warm and sunny.

Nursery News:  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.


Corydalis solida 'George P. Baker'‘George P. Baker’

All the plants shown here are in bloom now or just about to bloom.  They are very easy to plant and grow.  And best of all they spread by themselves to form large patches in the years after you plant them.  Spring ephemerals don’t take up any room as they can be interplanted with hostas, ferns, and other perennials that come up later and fill in the space.  They are also great for the backs of beds that are empty and visible before other plants emerge.


Corydalis solida, helleborusThis riot of color is going on in my woods right now as various shades of Corydalis solida bloom with hellebores.

Here are some more suggestions for plants that will achieve this early spring bounty in your garden—all available at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens this weekend:


Crocus tommasinianus 'Ruby Giant'Snow crocus, C. tommasinianus, bloom with the snowdrops, and you can’t beat the color of ‘Ruby Giant’.


Crocus tommasinianus, Helleborus x hybridus‘Ruby Giant’ with white hellebores, a match made in heaven.


Scilla mischtschenkoana, Dicentra cucullariaPale blue squill, Scilla mischtschenkoana, is the earliest blooming of the group, here with Dutchman’s breeches.


Eranthis hyemalis & Galanthus 'S. Arnott'Winter aconite, Eranthis hyemalis, blooms with the snowdrops.


Galanthus nivalis and EranthisSnowdrops and winter aconite are the most beautiful sight in my late winter garden.


Eranthis hyemalis, Corydalis solidaAfter it blooms, winter aconite’s elegant foliage makes a great backdrop for hellebores and Corydalis solida.


Puschkinia scilloides As the pale blue squill fades, striped-squill, Puschkinia scilloides, takes over.


Puschkinia scilloidesStriped-squill has naturalized to form a large patch under my winter hazel.


Scilla sibericaAlso coming into bloom now are the fluorescent blue flowers of Siberian squill,  Scilla siberica.


Scilla sibericaSiberian squill has moved all over my garden and has never appeared anywhere that I didn’t want it.  The color is just gorgeous.


Fritallaria meleagrisCheckered lily, Fritillaria meleagris,  is just getting started.  It too seeds to spread through out my woods.


Heuchera 'Caramel', Chionodoxa forbesiiGlory-of-the-snow, Chionodoxa forbesii, has lovely upturned blue flowers with an ethereal white center.  Here it peeks through the winter leaves of native ‘Caramel’ heuchera.


Chionodoxa forbesiiGlory-of-the-snow spreads quickly to form large patches.  It looks especially beautiful under my star magnolia right now.


Erythronium 'Pagoda'The lovely leaves of U.S. native dogtooth violets, Erythronium, are appearing now and the earliest varieties are blooming.  Although they look delicate, they are as tough as nails and come back in my woodland year after year.


Stylophorum diphyllum & Mertensia virginicaI can see the dark purple leaves of native Virginia bluebells, Mertensia virginica, emerging from the mulch.  I can’t get enough of its porcelain blue flowers, here with native Celandine poppy.


Anemone ranunculoides, Mertensia virginicaEuropean wood anemones are also getting ready to pop.  The earliest is yellow-flowered Anemone ranunculoides, but they also come in pink and white.


Anemone nemorosa 'Wyatt's Pink'‘Wyatt’s Pink’ European wood anemone is quite rare and beautiful.


Anemone nemorosa 'Bractiata'The elegant flower of ‘Bractiata’ European wood anemone.


All these flowers keep me going through the cold wet days of early spring.  Add them to your own garden to beat the winter doldrums and signal that the end is in sight.


Nursery Happenings: Our first event is the Hellebore Extravaganza this Saturday, April 11, from 10 am to 3 pm.  However, you can stop by anytime by appointment to purchase hellebores and other plants.

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a local retail nursery in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, U.S., zone 6b/7a. The only plants that we mail order are snowdrops and miniature hostas and only within the US.

If you are within visiting distance and would like to receive catalogues and information about customer events, please send your full name and phone number to carolynsshadegardens@verizon.net. Subscribing to my blog does not sign you up to receive this information.

Facebook: Carolyn’s Shade Gardens has a Facebook Page where I post single photos, garden tips, and other information that doesn’t fit into a blog post. You can look at my Facebook page here or click the Like button on my right sidebar here.

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.) or to subscribe to my blog, just click here.

22 Responses to “Early Spring Ephemerals Light Up the Garden”

  1. dpdenslow00000 Says:

    PLease put me on the list for snowdrops. Thank you.I have never been to your garden but am looking forward to meeting you and buying some of your plants.

  2. What a beautiful riot of color, and so early in the season too! 🙂

  3. Every one of those flowers looks like just what my soul needs at this point in the winter/spring.

  4. So many of my favorites…still too cold here for many to grow much. Hoping finally the forecast for warm weather will come true. Can’t wait to see the Corydalis.

    • Donna, That is the way it has been here. The ten day forecast shows that winter is over but then as the days approach it doesn’t happen. Just went through three days of raw, cold weather and supposed to be done for good tomorrow, we’ll see. Carolyn

  5. I keep checking for the native spring ephemerals, but mine usually start in late April or early May–could be a little earlier this year, though. My Daffodils, Crocuses, Hellebores, and Snowdrops are blooming. What a joy they are! Enjoy these fleeting days of early spring beauty. 🙂

  6. That is what I miss about PA, all the early spring ephemerals. I just talked to my cousin and she mentioned her woods are in bloom too. Here, my crocus are not even up yet. I am missing my spring visit this year too.

  7. I couldn’t believe it when I saw your post, we have written about the same subject with some of the same plants! It is a wonderful time of year in the woodland at the moment, with something new opening its flowers every day. Your Corydalis have such bright colours, mine seem so much more muted by comparison.

  8. Lorraine Wallace Says:

    Nice post, Carolyn. Love that Corydalis! Was wondering if in your woodland you have trouble with that nasty invasive, lesser celandine, and what if anything you do to deal with it.

    • Lorraine, I have lesser celandine coming up from the stream and in from the neighbors on the other three sides. We just dig it out whenever it appears in any of our beds or the lawn. We take the whole clump of soil and dispose of it in the trash. We run the nursery organically and nasty chemicals do not work on it anyway. Carolyn

  9. I would so love to visit your spring garden Carolyn. I love the bold purples, yellow and red. I must add to my collection of anemones. I love some of the ones featured here.

  10. debsgarden Says:

    It would be heavenly to explore your nursery! The dogtooth violet looks to be a substantial plant. How large is it? I had an opportunity to buy one locally but passed it by. It was a tiny thing that did not seem to be worth its price. But if it grows to look like yours, I will reconsider! I also appreciate seeing the native Virginia bluebell, another one that was available at the same nursery.

    • Deb, The dogtooth violets are from the cultivar Pagoda and are about a foot high. It is a west coast native. The east coast natives are much more flat to the ground. VA bluebells are one of my favorites, and they spread where they are happy. Carolyn

  11. Heike Kubasch Says:

    I am in Virginia. Where can I get the Wyatt’s pink and the Bractea European Wood Anemone?

  12. […] seen even more Corydalis glamour shots including the most enticing group shot which I found at Carolyn’s Shade Garden.  Her tapestry of rich purple with pinks and reds would have to be imitated in my own garden and […]

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