Marianne Binetti

Usher in continuous color

Iris, one of the late-spring plants, brings color to your garden.  (PAUL A. SMITH/MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL)
Iris, one of the late-spring plants, brings color to your garden. (PAUL A. SMITH/MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL)

Only an April Fool would plant out warm-season plants such as tomatoes, squash, geraniums or petunias now. April is for planting cool-season peas, lettuce, cabbage, Swiss Chard, primroses, new shrubs and all perennials.

If your garden had an early spring color flash with hellebores, crocus and daffodils, it might need another shout-out of blooms for a second wave of spring color – followed by more color in summer, fall and winter. Planning for continuous color in a small space is the art of Forever Blooms and a fun challenge no matter how big your garden bed – or container garden happens to be.


Winter color

The backbone of any winter garden are the evergreen plants but for color in a compact space use what I call the heavenly “H” plants. Heather, Hebe, Hellebores and Heucheras.

Choose one of these winter-wonder shrubs for the center of a pot or the back of a narrow bed. Heather and hebe do best in the sun, hellebores and heuchera will take the shade. The point here is to use the evergreen foliage as backdrop for the early spring color but to plant the early bloomers close enough to the evergreens to hide a bit of the fading bulb foliage.

Early spring

Invest in the early-blooming crocus and snowdrop bulbs and plant these near the back of your bed or near the center of a large container garden. Remember to nestle these small bulbs just under the skirt of the evergreen plants. This way, as the bulb foliage fades, the new growth of your heavenly “H” plants will help cover the mess.

Late spring

Now is when you need to close the color gap between early spring bulbs and summer annuals.

Check out the early-blooming perennials in April and May and add English primroses to container gardens or drought-resistant iris to the back of a narrow but sunny garden bed.

Tulips are at their prime this time of year but remember you will want to either dig the spent bulbs once they bloom or place the bulbs behind the spiky foliage of iris or between a row of hebes or heathers.

In a shaded bed pulmonarias, brunnera, coral bells and primroses add April and May color while in full sun, candytuft, creeping phlox, and late blooming bulbs heat up the color palette.


You just can’t beat annuals or bedding plants for continuous blooms from May until first frost. In a small space impatiens, begonias and lobelia have it made in the shade and for a bed or pot in full sun use alyssum, geraniums or one of the new super petunias.


Every sunny garden needs at least one plant of Sedum Autumn Joy, a drought-resistant perennial that returns year after year with rust panicles of blooms that attract bees and butterflies for added color. If you use annuals for summer color you’ll find they often bloom until October in our mild climate.

For added punch the autumn crocus and fall-blooming cyclamen are two bulbs that will return year after year if given the well-drained soil they crave.

You can cheat ...

A simple shortcut to Forever Blooms is to save a spot in the pot or bed for a quick rotation of star players.

Then just visit the nursery every few weeks and pop in one accent plant for a shot of bright blooms. Maybe a pot of potted tulips in April.

Hide the rim of the plastic pot (no need to remove blooming bulbs from their pot) with moss or mulch and once the tulips fade lift out the bulbs pot and all and replace with blooming lilies in the summer, mums in the fall and flowering kale and cabbage in the winter.

Your garden will boast an endless, seasonal display of color for the price of a single potted plant when you nestle this accent plant in with your other performers in this nicely orchestrated show of Forever Blooms.

Marianne Binetti is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and eight other gardening books. She has a degree in horticulture from WSU and will answer questions from her Web site at

Meet Marianne

April 3: Windmill Gardens, Sumner. “Forever Blooms – Continuous Color in a Small Space” Register at or phone 253-863-5843

April 6, 8, 13: Gardening classes at GRCC 7-8:30. 253-288-3401 or