A photo essay on the perennial pleasure of spring flowers that thrive on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket
Spring comes so slowly to the Cape and Islands. The frigid water all around the landscape keeps our garden soil cold long past the first day of spring. While inland landscapes are bright with daffodils, on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket we must be content with the emerging foliage of green daffodil tips barely poking through the still frozen earth.
When spring finally does grace our shores, the sight of the season’s first tiny flowers—ethereal snowdrops and bright Crocus—bring joy to everyone, especially grateful gardeners on their knees in backyards from Bourne to Vineyard Haven.
On these pages we share some spring perennials that thrive in Cape and Islands gardens to warm your winter-weary soul.
Hellebore • Helleborus niger
One of the first perennials to appear in Cape gardens—Hellebore is native to Europe, but it blooms beautifully in New England when planted in a semi-shady location. First appearing in February, the five-petaled flowers in charteuse, lavender, and cream survive frigid temperatures before other spring blooms appear.
Snowdrop • Galanthus
The sight of these sweet bells poking though the snow in late February and early March has long been a delight for seaside gardeners desperate for a touch of spring. Tiny snowdrop bulbs are easy to plant in the fall; just choose a sunny location and plant shallow sweeps along a driveway, surrounding trees, or lining a front walk. Snowdrops can last for generations, pleasing all who see their pristine beauty.
Crocus • Crocus
Diminutive Crocus are a bright sight when they pop up in vibrant purple and gold in backyards and community gardens. Native to Southern Europe, these vivid perennials are best planted in large groups. The tiny corms are planted in the fall. For a lovely Cape Cod display of Crocus, visit many community gardens, such as the Armstrong-Kelley Park in Osterville.
Daffodil • Narcissus
Bright daffodils are considered by many to be the quintessential spring flower, brightening backyards, parks, and even Nantucket windowboxes. There are more than 40 varieties in the Narcissus family, in shades ranging from pure white to soft pink and including the golden trumpets so beloved by gardeners everywhere. The bulbs will divide and naturalize with carefree abandon in sunny, well-drained locations.
Jacobs Ladder • Polemonium caeruleum
The delicate blue and purple flowers of this easy-to-grow perennial peek out from fern-like foliage on slender stalks, alternating like Jacob’s famous biblical ladder to heaven. Grown in small clumps in partial shade, these subtle beauties require little care and are also easy to divide and transplant.
Hyacinth • Hyacinthus
The sweet scent of Hyacinth in a full rainbow of colors from white to deep purple has been associated with the earth’s spring rebirth for centuries. The tightly clustered flowers on thick green stalks are best planted in groupings of 10 to 20, in indirect sunlight. Like daffodils, Hyacinth do not like wet, soggy soil. The bulbs are native to the Mediterranean, but thrive in gardens around the world.
Tulip • Tulipa
The stunning colors, shapes, and sizes of these showstoppers are especially beautiful when planted in masses in gardens, under trees, or along walkways. Unlike some other spring blooming bulbs—such as daffodils and Iris—tulips are not long-lived and need to be replanted every few years. However these spectacular bloomers—in a gorgeous array of colors, patterns, and shapes—are worth
the time and effort.
Iris • Iris
There are more than 250 species of Iris in the world. Iris, in a diverse array of vivid colors and patterns, are very easy to grow and the creeping rhizomes are simple to divide and replant in the fall. Iris love soggy locations and will even thrive when potted plants are submerged in fish ponds or other water features. This old-fashioned plant is a mainstay in Cape Cod and Island gardens.
Peony ~ Paeonia
These late spring beauties are the true queens of the perennial garden with huge fragrant blossoms in gorgeous colors. Peonies—which can live for centuries and will even thrive in abandoned gardens—are a favorite of brides everywhere and add drama and vivid texture to any bouquet or garden design. Growing in tall clumps, Peonies are best planted in sunny locations at the back of a perennial border.
Wisteria • Wisteria
The fragrant lavender flowers of Wisteria vines love the sandy soil and moist climate of Cape Cod and the Islands. These hardy plants can grow up trees, over porches, and around doorways; their delicious fragrance and beauty is a true sign of seaside spring. In old Cape Cod sea captains’ villages like Cotuit and Centerville, Wisteria planted long ago still bloom beautifully with almost no care.