You know the best time to plant your spring garden? Yesterday! OK, that’s a joke, but the kernel of truth in it is that you don’t get a fabulous spring garden by planting in spring—you have to start much earlier. Here in Northern California, the best time to plan a spring garden is fall, and many of the plants and seeds you’ll need can go in the ground between Halloween and Christmas.
If you're starting a brand new garden, choose a site in full sun since most easy spring flowers need sun. If you have any doubts about the sun exposure of your site, try a device that measures sunlight. I have a very simple one called SunCalc. It takes readings all day then tells you whether the location is sun, shade or part shade. I’m sure there are more sophisticated versions on the market, but this one works well. Once you know the exposure of your garden, you can think about appropriate plants. In my last three posts I’ve covered daffodils and sweet peas, both easy flowers for spring. In this post I’ll add to that plant list and give you more plant suggestions.
Keep in mind that some plants are annuals (growing and flowering in one year, then dying) and some are perennials (growing and flowering for many years). Others grow from bulbs (tulips, ranunculus, iris, anemones and freesias), most of which come back each spring.
Annuals to start in late fall/early winter from seeds or plants: Nemophila, Omphalodes, Cerinthe, Nigella, Agrostemma
Above, clockwise from top left: Nemophila, Omphalodes, Cerinthe, Nigella, Agrostemma
Nemophila (aka Baby Blue Eyes) can be grown from seed but I've had better luck with plants from Annie's Annuals. Omphalodes is a personal favorite of mine, but not easy to find. I bought a couple of plants from Annie's Annuals years ago, and although the plants die at the end of each spring, they re-seed so well that I've never had to re-plant. Cerinthe (aka honeywort) can be grown from seeds or plants from either Swallowtail Seeds or Annie's Annuals, and it re-seeds each year. Nigella (aka Love in a Mist) is easy to grow from seed and it, too, re-seeds. Swallowtail Seeds is a good source. Agrostemma (aka Corncockle) can be grown from seeds or plants from the sources above.
More annuals to start in late fall/early winter from seeds or plants: larkspur, poppies, snapdragons, sweet peas
Above, clockwise from top left: white Agrostemma, purple larkspur and red poppies in my garden; a bouquet of Iceland poppies, purple larkspur and ivory snapdragons; California poppies; sweet peas
This group will give you blooms from early spring through to the beginning of summer. Larkspur and snapdragons won’t bloom until late May or June, but poppies and sweet peas will start much earlier. Larkspur are easy to grow from seed, sown in the fall. Poppies are a diverse group comprising Eschscholzia (aka California poppy), Iceland poppies and several other Papaver species. Poppies are easy to grow from plants; sources include Half Moon Bay Nursery, Yamagami's Nursery and Annie's Annuals. Snapdragons can be grown from seed, but a beginning gardener will have better luck buying plants. I covered sweet peas in my previous two posts, so now you know all about growing those fragrant treasures.
Perennials to add as plants: Roses
I could list lots of flowering perennials and shrubs, but the queen of them all would be roses. I'll have later posts discussing other perennials and more about roses, so for now I'll simply say that you can plant new roses for spring bloom any time from September to the end of January. I recommend Regan Nursery in Fremont; they have an extensive online inventory to order from. There are more rose varieties than you can imagine, but a few of my personal faves are Just Joey, Sally Holmes, French Lace and Julia Child.
Bulbs to start in late fall/early winter: Iris, freesias, ranunculus, anemones, daffodils
The easiest type of iris for beginners are Dutch flag types. You'll find these bulbs in local nurseries every fall and you can plant them 4-6" deep during fall and early winter. The same goes for freesias, which have a lovely fragrance that you'll enjoy when they bloom next spring. I'll have a separate post next month about ranunculus and anemones, and I discussed daffodils in a previous post.
To end this long post, here's a little video clip of larkspur in bloom. Can you hear the birds singing in the background? Wouldn't that be lovely in your yard next spring?