Almost every gardener swoons over true-blue flowers, butthey can be hard to find. One such beauty is Virginia bluebells, whose lovely flowers add a celestial note to woodland perennial gardens or shady wildflower plantings.
Early in the spring, this clump-forming perennial sends out large, light green leaves and upright flower stalks. Clusters of dangling, bell-shaped flowers develop at the tips of the flower stalks, changing from pink in bud to gorgeous sky blue when fully open.
Like other spring ephemerals, Virginia bluebells fades away within weeks after it finishes blooming, so plant it with ferns and shade-tolerant ground covers, or add shade-loving annuals like impatiens to carry it through the summer.
Common name: Virginia bluebells
Botanical name: Mertensiavirginica
Plant type: Herbaceous perennial (spring ephemeral)
Zones: 3 to 7
Height: 18 to 24 inches
• Sun: Partial shade (dappled shade all day is ideal)
• Soil: Loamy soil with plenty of organic matter and a slightly acidic to neutral pH
• Moisture: Evenly moist during active growth (spring to early summer)
• Mulch: 1 to 2 inches of organic mulch like shredded leaves or pine needles
• Pruning: None
• Fertilizer: Topdress with a thin layer of compost in early spring.
Pests and diseases
• Slugs and snails may chew on leaves.
• ‘Alba’ has white flowers.
• Virginia bluebells combines beautifully with other early blooming woodland perennials, such as trillium, columbine and foamflower (Tiarella).
• Its blue flowers also mix beautifully with yellow and white daffodils, which bloom at the same time.
• Place a small marker at the base of plants before they fade so you don’t accidentally injure them by digging in that area later in the year.
All in the family
• Virginia bluebells is a member of the borage family (Boraginaceae), which is notable for containing a number of garden plants that sport true-blue flowers, including borage, forget-me-nots, heart-leafed brunnera and lungwort (Pulmonaria).
• Though a little harder to find, Mertensiasibirica, a cousin of Virginia bluebells from northern Asia, is another good garden choice; it has deep blue flowers from late spring to mid-summer and is hardy in Zones 3 to 7.
Where to buy
• American Meadows, americanmeadows.com
• Prairie Nursery, prairienursery.com
• White Flower Farm, whiteflowerfarm.com