Just past Groundhog Day, and there’s already a promise of spring in our cold northern Zone 4 garden — miraculous! Of course, it has been a remarkably mild winter with little snow. Still, the green shoots that show in the rock garden this early are the hardy few among perennial plants.

Photo: withrow

My favourite among the early perennials is the Arabis, because it stays alive under the snow all winter. In the wet spring, Arabis can become a soggy unattractive mass, but it won’t take much sun and warmth for it to show signs of new life, new growth.

Arabis is one of the early and reliable bloomers in the perennial rock garden. Its low-growing fuzzy pale-green rosettes of scalloped leaves form a pretty background for a drift of bright white flowers, when blooming time comes in late May. The flowers will last for the better part of a month, gently scenting the air and attracting the beneficial pollinators to the garden.

As the blooms fade out into untidy seedheads, a quick haircut will tidy it up and often results in a second round of flowers, fewer and more scattered, but still a lasting joy in the sunshine and a luminous beauty under starlight.

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