Getting people to slow down and appreciate the often nuanced and diminutive delightfulness of native plant flowers, particularly in spring, is a challenge. Instant gratification is now the norm in gardening where you can go to a big box store or hire a landscape installation service to quickly fill your yard with indestructible, showy non-native trees, bushes and flowers or bulbs that add little or nothing to the ecosystem.
The first patches of spring native flowers in my naturescaped yard are shades of violet. In fact, the very first flowers that bloom are violets which I encouraged adding to a spring garden in a recent post.
Below I’ve listed out a handful of lovely and underused spring native plants in shades of blue-violet, lavender and lilac that would easily rival common early spring non-native ornamental flowers like grape hyacinth or ajuga. The bonus is native plants help turn your yard into an ecological oasis.
I’ve tried to give some basic information about how each plant grows in my yard and how they might fit into any landscape. Of course, they may grow a bit differently outside of the Atlanta area. If you don’t live in Georgia, check out the native plant database on the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center site to see if any plants on the list are native where you live or search for new spring natives to add to your yard!
Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium Angustifolium) Plant and Flowers: petite blue-violet star-shaped flowers with yellow center bloom on 6”-1½’ tall narrow grass-like leaves. Bloom Time: starting in late March. Soil: likes moist but tolerates drier soil. Light: likes partially sunny areas but tolerates partial shade. Landscape Use: Let naturalize as a pathway border, ground cover, meadow garden, flowering lawn or even plant in containers. For more plants divide in the fall. Plant as Alternative To: non-native dwarf iris, ipheion, grape hyacinth, or liriope (monkey grass) Interesting Tidbit: a member of the iris, not grass family.
Lyreleaf Sage (Salvia Lyrata) Plant and Flowers: semi-evergreen low growing rosette of basal leaves with stalks up to 2 feet with tiny light blue to white flowers. Bloom Time: starting in early April Soil: damp, but tolerates drier soil Light: sunny, but will grow in slightly shady areas. Landscape Use: will self-seed and naturalize along borders, flowering lawns, as a ground cover, or as a naturescaped understory plant in a perennial garden. Tolerates some foot traffic. Plant as Alternative To: non-native ajuga (bugleweed), invasive dead-nettle or vinca Interesting Tidbits: It's in the mint family and the only native sage in North America, it has been long valued as a wild edible and medicinal herb.
Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium Reptans) Plant and Flowers: clusters of delicate looking light blue, bell-shaped flowers on 12"-18" plants Blooming Time: starting in early April Soil: moist – will go dormant if soil is too dry Light: bright shade Landscape Use: rhizomatous but spreads by reseeding so it will naturalize in a woodland area, perennial shade garden or as a groundcover. Spring ephemeral meaning it disappears after spring and grows well with other perennial plants. Plant as Alternative to: non-native astilbe, brunnera, invasive dead-nettle, barrenwort, Interesting Tidbits: named because opposite leaf leaflets are arranged like rungs of a ladder and Jacob is a biblical reference.
Fernleaf Phacelia (Phacelia Pipinnatifida) Plant and Flowers: profuse round, lavender-blue flowers on 1-2-foot evergreen biennial plants that complete their lifecycle after it flowers. Blooming Time: starting in mid to late March Soil: moist Light: shade Landscape Use: generously self-seeds - let naturalize in moist woodland or shady perennial garden areas Plant as Alternative to: non-native astilbe, brunnera, invasive dead-nettle, barrenwort, Interesting Tidbits: I’ve only seen this stunning and uncommon early spring flower planted by hardcore native plant gardeners. This needs to change!