The garden in late spring is an exciting place as slowly emerging perennials fill in empty spaces while a myriad of blossoms begin unfurling. The long-awaited true spring show really shines in May and June, with a few standouts in mid-May. One of these May show-stoppers is Bowman’s root, Porteranthus trifoliata (syn. Gillenia trifoliata). A dainty native perennial, Porteranthus trifoliatus breaks dormancy with a deep, almost blood-red color to its new foliage which eventually yields pure green leaves. The three-lobed leaves are lightly textured and easily sway from side-to-side in the slightest breeze. In mid-to-late spring, star-shaped, airy, white blooms cover the tips of each stem. The scarlet red base of the flower, called the calyx, persists long after the blossoms have faded and fallen. Grown in full sun to part shade, Bowman’s root will prove a long-lived native perennial growing to 2-3 feet in height and width. Porteranthus trifoliata prefers moisture during establishment but will show drought tolerance once it has settled into the garden. The common name of Indian physic, often used when referring to this meadow perennial, harkens back to the days when Native Americans used the pulverized roots from Porteranthus as a laxative and emetic.
For a more striking garden statement in mid-to-late spring, the red-hot poker (Kniphofia spp.) is an unmatched perennial. The grass-like foliage provides textural interest in the early months of the growing season, but it’s the flowers that call to the passer-by. Tall spikes of red, yellow, and bright orange, tubular flowers reach high above the foliage to ensure they will not be missed. Oftentimes, one cluster of blooms can contain all three colors, beginning yellow and fading to shades of red and orange. Flowers appear in mid-spring and, with the removal of spent blossoms, will continue to bloom into mid-summer. Given moist, rich soil, red-hot poker will prove to be a long-lasting perennial in full sun. Expect a height of up to four feet with flower spikes, and up to three feet in width.
Yellow foxglove (Digitalis grandiflora) is a remarkable flowering perennial for the shadier spot in the garden. In spring, tall spikes (up to three feet) emerge from the rosette of basal foliage, adorned with large, bell-shaped flowers in a butter-yellow hue. Removal of the flower spike, as blooms begin to fade, will promote additional blooms, though leaving the last few spikes to mature and produce seed will allow the yellow foxglove to seed itself (non-aggressively).
The foliage is nearly evergreen and quite attractive and if you find damaged or rotting foliage it can simply be removed. Digitalis grandiflora prefers consistent soil moisture but will tolerate some drought upon establishment. Allowing this perennial foxglove to develop seed will ensure the persistent perennial nature of this plant in the garden. Foxglove has been used for many years in medicine to treat heart problems in humans, such as arrhythmias and congestive heart failure. Be warned, however, consumption of the leaves can be highly toxic to humans.
Compiled by Cara L. Crocker