Early perennials, shrubs, and bulbs strutting their stuff right now.

By Steve Bender
March 31, 2021
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Even with a thoroughly unwelcome frost expected this week (Mother Nature is a bitter, old woman), plants in Grumpy's garden continue to pop. Here are five really cool early birds that I have begged the Big Guy to spare. My faith is strong. 

Blue Fescue Plants and Yellow Creeping Jenny Plants
Credit: Steve Bender

Sensational color comes not from flowers alone. The combination of 'Elijah Blue' blue fescue (Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue') and yellow creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea'), shown above, proves it. They welcome honored guests to my front garden. The former (USDA Zones 4 to 9) is a tough-as-nails, small ornamental grass that grows about a foot tall and wide and keeps its blue color year-round. It needs only full to part sun and good drainage. The latter (Zones 3 to 10) is a prostrate, deciduous ground cover whose small, rounded leaves paint the spaces between plants and stepping stones bright gold. I trim it periodically to keep it in bounds. Give it part sun or light shade for the best color.

Pink Candy Tulip Plant
Credit: Steve Bender

Candy tulip (Tulipa clusiana), above, shatters preconceptions about what tulips should be. Not only does it come back reliably in USDA Zones 3 to 8, it spreads rapidly to form drifts. I started out with about five bulbs a few years ago and must have 50 now. Thus, it's a good tulip for naturalizing. Plant in sun to light shade. This particular selection, 'Lady Jane,' sports pink-and-white blooms with pointed petals on 9-inch stems. It's easy to dig and share as soon as the foliage starts to yellow.  

Orange Akebono Paper Bush Plant
Credit: Steve Bender

Paper bush (Edgeworthia chrysantha) used to be a rare sight in Southern gardens, but now lots of people are really into it for good reason. It is easily grown, sports handsome, deciduous  foliage, and deer and bugs leave it alone. All it needs is full to part sun and well-drained soil in USDA Zones 7 to 9. The common form bears fragrant, showy clusters of tubular, white or yellow flowers from late winter into spring. But Grumpy doesn't do "common." My paper bush really is rare, a red-flowered kind called 'Akebono,' shown above. I'll forgive you for thinking the blooms look like coronavirus. 'Akebono' is smaller and less vigorous than the species, slowly growing to about five feet high and wide.

Fire Island Hosta Plant
Credit: Steve Bender

I love it when my hostas first emerge from the ground. This little guy, 'Fire Island,' fairly glows. When the golden foliage completely unfurls, you discover gaudy, red stems beneath. It grows about a foot tall and wide and likes shade and moist, fertile soil in USDA Zones 3 to 8.

Champions Wood Fern Plant
Credit: Steve Bender

Ferns abound in my woodland garden. Champion's wood fern (Dryopteris championii) truly is a champ. It's evergreen with bold, upright, deep green fronds that grow 2 to 3 feet tall. I love its hairy, rusty brown stems. It's very easy to grow in USDA Zones 4 to 9. It prefers shade and soil that contains lots of organic matter. Deer don't eat it.