Perennial flowers are the foundation of all permanent gardens. Cold-tolerant, they are relatively low maintenance and available in colors, forms and sizes to suit every taste. Dwarf perennials are ideal choices for rock gardens, edgings and confined spaces. Many of them are early bloomers, making elegant pairings with tulips, daffodils and other spring bulbs.
Graceful astilbe is a spring shade garden essential. Hardy to minus 30 degrees F, it has a spreading clump of compound, toothed, medium-green leaves. Its delicate, upright stems produce feathery spires of tiny blooms. Standard astilbe grows up to 3 feet high and 30 inches wide. Dwarf astilbe 'Sprite,' however, has a 10-inch mound of dark green, bronze-tinged foliage. Its total height-- when its pale pink May flowers appear--is only 12 to 18 inches, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden. Sprite’s stems arch instead of standing erect, so its flower spikes bend toward the ground. This dwarf perennial needs part to full shade and consistently moist soil high in organic material. Frequent watering will maintain its foliage through the summer.
Dwarf Crested Iris
Dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata) is a tough and tiny plant handling temperatures to minus 40 degrees F. Reaching just 6 to 9 inches high and 1 foot wide, it has narrow, pale- or medium-green leaves. In April, its extremely short stems bear flowers with pale blue standard petals and falls (drooping, outer petals). The fall’s golden-yellow crests guide pollinating insects to the plant’s nectar. This quickly spreading perennial is an ideal rock garden plant, advises the Missouri Botanical Garden. Tolerating full sun to nearly full shade, dwarf crested iris is happiest in rich, averagely moist well-drained soil and partial shade. Plants in sun locations need regular watering.
Columbine 'Little Lanterns'
Tolerating winter temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees F, columbine (aquilegia Canadensis) is another shade-tolerant, spring-blooming garden mainstay. Full-sized varieties of this buttercup family perennial stand between 2 and 3 feet high. The ‘Little Lanterns’ dwarf cultivar, however, measures just 10 inches tall. It has airy, compound foliage with deep green, oval leaflets. In April and May, it blooms with nodding stems of five-spurred, red and yellow flowers. Protruding yellow stamens add to its ornamental value. Hummingbirds love this plant. Small stature makes 'Little Lanterns' a good choice for shady borders and woodland gardens. Thriving in partial shade and consistently moist, fertile soil with good drainage, it suffers in heavy clay. After blooming, plants in moist soil continue to appeal with their attractive foliage.