Western Washington has an ideal climate for spring flowers, with its long, mild transition from winter to summer. Spring sometimes starts as early as February and lasts through the end of May. In this cool weather flowers last longer and spring bulbs bloom at intervals. Planting especially for spring is one of the pleasures of gardening in the Pacific Northwest.
Daffodils are some of the earliest flowers to bloom, especially the variety 'February Gold,' a reliable perennial with medium-sized yellow flowers whose clumps rapidly increase in size. Daffodils come in shades of white, cream, yellow and orange.
Tulips truly cover the color spectrum. You can find varieties in every shade except for true blue. While they sometimes fail to return after a few years, you can increase tulips' longevity by planting them at least 1 foot deep.
For blue flowers, your best bet is the tiny Siberian squill, Scilla sibirica. Its flowers are only 4 or 5 inches tall and an inch across, but the color is an intense true blue. Grape hyacinths, another blue-flowering bulb, multiplies quickly and blooms with small heads of grape-like flowers only 5 or 6 inches tall.
Calendulas are hardy annuals with yellow, gold or orange flowers that may bloom through the winter in mild years. Even if they freeze, calendulas will quickly return from self-sown seedlings. They are easy to start indoors in pots, and when planted outdoors in mid-March will bloom for months.
Forget-me-nots, well known for their tiny clear blue flowers, survive the winters as small plants and begin to bloom in March or April. Prolific seeders, Forget-me-nots can become pests but are easy to pull out wherever you don't want them.
The corn poppy, Papaver rhoeas, is a self-seeding hardy annual. Sow it as early as January and have pink, salmon and red flowers in May.
Primroses are some of the earliest flowers to bloom, and are widely available in nurseries in February. For reliably perennial plants, choose varieties that say "Wanda hybrids." This indicates ancestry that includes the small, tough, purple-flowered variety 'Wanda.' The pale yellow English primrose, Primula vulgaris, is also tough and long-lived.
Hellebores with their large-lobed evergreen leaves and flowers in shades of white, pink or purple, are both ornamental and practical. They do well in shade and are tolerant of drought once established.
Bleeding hearts, Dicentra, are also shade-tolerant. The large pink and white flowered variety, D. spectabilis, is showy but dies down by mid-summer. The smaller groundcover bleeding hearts, D. formosa and D. eximia, bloom over a longer period of time and keep their attractive ferny foliage through fall.
Late in spring, the oriental poppies are surefire attention getters. The ordinary variety has orange-red saucer-sized blossoms, and other varieties have salmon, purple or white flowers. Oriental poppies die down by mid-summer, so plan on planting annuals around them to fill in.
The flowering quince is often the first of the flowering shrubs to bloom. It's a tough, spiny bush with warm red flowers that can take shade or sun, ordinary watering or drought. Varieties are also available with soft peach, pink or white flowers.
Forsythias are next to bloom, their gold or yellow flowers borne in great masses along the branches. As with all spring flowering shrubs, pruning right after flowering assures a prolific blooms next spring.
Early rhododendrons, often pink or purple, come in March, followed by evergreen azaleas in shades of red, pink, white and salmon. Deciduous azaleas bloom in a wider variety of shades including yellow and orange. These plants appreciate some shelter from hot sun, though flowers become scarce if they are planted in deep shade.
Camellias are a popular spring flowering shrub. One of the best varieties is 'Donation,' a willowy spreading shrub with large, clear pink blossoms borne over a long period of time. It drops its spent flowers cleanly rather than holding on to the brown petals as some camellias do.
Clematis are the big spring bloomers, starting with the white-flowered evergreen Clematis armandii. It's a big vine, often covering 30 feet or more of a wall or fence, but can be pruned to a smaller size.
Another spring Clematis, C. montana, is even more vigorous and its small, fragrant pink flowers are borne in masses that literally cover the vine with blossoms. Prune after flowering to control its size.