Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Eye-catching spring blooming plants enhance the Billings' landscape

Have you seen some of the showy displays of spring blooming plants around town? If you are shopping for some plants for your landscape, you may want to take a walk around your neighborhood or take a drive around town to get ideas for some spring color. Here are some of the perennials and shrubs that have caught my eye.


Basket of Gold Alyssum (Aurinia saxatilis) - With its grey-green foliage and profusion of yellow flowers, this perennial is a real eye-catcher. It does best in full sun and well-drained soil. Basket of Gold varieties grow to a height of 8-12 inches, making it a good choice for rock gardens and borders. This plant is also drought-tolerant once established and deer resistant.

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis) - There are several varieties of Bleeding Hearts including some that have fern-like foliage. Dicentra spectabilis is the old-fashioned variety with pink heart-shaped blooms growing approximately 30 inches tall. All varieties need partial-to-full shade and moist soil. These are also deer resistant.

Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata) - This low growing carpet of small blossoms in vibrant shades of pink, lavender, purple, white and red matures at about 6 inches tall and 2 feet wide. Phlox does best in full sun to partial shade and can be shaped after flowering to promote lush new foliage. It prefers moist, well-drained soil but tolerates poor soil. Creeping phlox is a good choice for rock gardens and borders.

German Iris (Iris germanica) - Stately and stunning, German iris come in a myriad of sizes and colors. They grow best in well-drained fertile soil in full sun. If the rhizomes are planted too deeply, they will produce foliage but not blossoms. Clumps can be divided in July and August if they are flowering poorly as a result of overcrowding.

Oriental Poppy (Papaver orientale) - Although the ones I've seen around town are mostly the brilliant orange, Oriental poppies come in assorted colors including red, salmon, pink and white. Large, showy, papery blossoms surround black centers and can reach a height of 24 inches. Oriental poppies are also deer resistant and prefer full sun and well-drained soil.

Sage (Salvia x sylvestsris) - There are many varieties of sage in many shapes, sizes and bloom times with spires of blossoms ranging from white, pink, and various shades of lavender, purple and blue. Most are long-blooming and attract butterflies and hummingbirds. These like full sun, well-drained soil and are drought tolerant once established. Some popular varieties include May Night (deep purple, 18 inches tall), Blue Queen (purple, 30 inches tall), Rose Queen (rose pink, 24 inches tall) and Snow Hill (white, 20 inches tall).

Snow-In-Summer (Cerastium tomentosum) - This mounding perennial has white flowers on attractive silver foliage. It grows 4-6 inches wide and up to 24 inches tall, making it another good choice for a rock garden, ground cover or for borders. This does well in sun or part shade, is drought tolerant once established and deer resistant.

Ornamental Shrubs

Lilac (Syringa) - Lilacs are a large family of ornamental shrubs that come in a variety of sizes and colors. They are probably the most recognizable blooming shrub in the area right now. I've seen smaller varieties used as a specimen planting or a short hedge and the taller common lilacs used as a hedge around entire yards. Any trimming should be done after flowering to increase next year's blooms. Lilacs are tolerant of poor soil and grow best in a sunny location.

Snowball Bush (Viburnum opulus 'Roseum') - When this ornamental shrub is covered with its large clusters of double white flowers, it is truly a show-stopper. A mature Snowball Bush reaches 10-12 feet both in height and width. It likes full sun to part shade and well-drained soil.

Spirea (Spiraea) - This large family of ornamental shrubs provides an endless selection of sizes, foliage color and blossom color. The ones that I'm noticing around town now are the varieties with a profusion of white blossoms such as Renaissance (6-7 feet), Snowmound (3-4 feet), Fairy Queen (3 feet), Fritsch (3-4 feet), Grefsheim (4-5 feet) or Halward's Silver (2-4 feet). Spirea thrive in sun, but will do well in partial shade. Many varieties will get leaf diseases with over-head watering systems, so a well-set drip system is preferred. Trim spent blossoms regularly.

Jim Gainan is VP/Shareholder of Gainan's Flower and Garden Center in Billings. Questions or comments? Email Jim Gainan @