Spring means renewed growth in the garden with bulbs and flowering trees contributing splashes of color all over the landscape. Perennials are not usually in full force during this time but there are many that provide interesting foliage as well as flowers. Some of these are easy to grow and propagate and the cottage gardener of past times would have found a place in the garden to enjoy them.

Here are five early flowering perennials that were popular in cottage gardens of the past and are still available and enjoyed today.

English Primrose (Primula vulgaris)Both the lively yellow flowers and the wrinkled foliage make this an asset in the garden. It is one of the earliest perennials to bloom, coming up in very early spring. Added to that is the fact that it tolerates drier soil and more heat than other primroses so it can be used in a variety of places and in many different parts of the country.

    Flower Color: Sulfur yellow, some with darker yellow blotch in center.
    Size of Plant: 6-9” H x 9” W
    Light: Part shade
    Hardiness: Zones 5-9

Common Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis)The leaves alone of common lungwort make this plant worth having in the garden; they are silver spotted and rough with bristly hairs. The violet blue bell shaped flowers open from pink buds, creating a delightful color combination during the bloom season. Unfortunately, lungworts do not do well with the combination of heat and humidity but if you can grow it, it is a gem.

    Flower Color: Violet blue flowers
    Size of Plant: 1-2’ H x 1.5’ W
    Light: Part shade to shade
    Hardiness: Zones 3-10

Globeflower (Trollius europaeus)Globeflower likes cool moist soil and is a great plant for that wet area where little else will grow. It needs moisture to thrive and will do will along stream banks and in bogs but can be used else where if their moisture requirements are met. The round flower heads are conspicuous because of colored sepals that surround the small, insignificant petals. Plants are long blooming if dead headed and the flowers make good cut flowers. By mid to late summer the foliage may deteriorate and can be cut away.

    Flower Color: Yellow
    Size of Plant: 1-.5’ H x 1’ W
    Light: Full sun if moisture plentiful; otherwise needs part shade
    Hardiness: Zones 4-7 (7 only if moisture plentiful)

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis)Given some shade and adequate moisture this picturesque plant is a garden favorite from the time it emerges from the soil until he leaves the garden in mid summer. The gracefully arch stems and dainty dangling hearts always take my breath away in spring. Rhizomes can be brought indoors and forced for Valentine’s Day

    Flower Color: Pink with white trim
    Size of Plant: 2-3’ H x 1.5’ W
    Light: Part to full shade
    Hardiness: Zones 3-9

Basket of Gold (Aurinia saxatalis)Known also as Alyssum, Basket of Gold provides a mass of intense yellow flowers in early spring. It does not like wet feet and thrives in a well-drained soil, especially in cool climates. In fact, it is not heat tolerant and may melt out during the summer but it is spectacular during the spring.

    Flower Color: Canary yellow
    Size of Plant; 12” H x 18” W
    Light: Full sun with some afternoon shade in the South
    Hardiness: 3-7

Cottage gardens pointerAll of these plants like a cool temperature and so will do well in the spring. Where temperatures and humidity are high, they may have to be treated as annuals. At the very least they will probably go dormant during the summer in warm areas but consider that an opportunity to grow some cottage garden annuals. Very few plants look good all season so disappearing after a fabulous spring show can be a good thing.

By Karen