Plant Spotlight: Sensation Lilac and Helleborus

Spring has sprung!

Ok, that’s a lie. I’m sorry. But the harbingers are everywhere. The trumpets have been sounded. That much is true. You’ve probably dog-eared a few pages in the new seed catalog already. You may have begun plans for that unsightly area of your landscape. The itch to visit your favorite garden center is probably close to producing hives (I broke down over the weekend). If you haven’t been yet, you should. They’re a buzz of activity – setting up, moving, staging, fretting. Trumpets, and excitement, and hope, and… color! Color, glorious color.

With spring color in mind, I want to highlight two lesser-known early bloomers that are quick to erase the grays and whites of winter.

Sensation Lilac

Everyone knows the common lilac, I know. Your mother knows it and her mother before her knew it. It’s been scenting kitchen windows, perfumes, candles, and sprays since the dawn of time. But!!! Did you know that there is a lilac – a proper lilac with the heart-shaped leaf – with white fringed, pink and purple blooms? The ‘Sensation’ lilac has been in production for several years, so it’s a tried and true performer. I’ve used it in several landscapes and its growth and habit is very much like the common purple lilac. It blooms best in full sun (a few hours of shade is fine), grows to about 10’ tall with a slightly smaller footprint. It serves well as a stand-alone in the perennial garden or in conjunction with other smaller shrubs and perennials for a layered grouping. As it’s an early bloomer, pairing it with few summer and fall blooming shrubs and perennials will truly add a world of color to your outdoor space this year. Some companion plants to consider: ‘Monet’ weigela, ‘Banana Cream’ Shasta daisy, ‘Lo & Behold’ butterfly bush, ‘Mamma Mia’ echinacea, and ‘Morning Light’ maiden grass.


This is one that though I’ve been in perhaps thousands of yards over the years, I’ve only seen in perhaps five of them. Why? No idea. Helleborus comes in dozens of different colors – creams, pinks, orchids, purples, blacks, reds. It’s also a remarkable plant for the shade garden. Growing to a little over a foot tall, it can serve in mixed plantings, as a border perennial, or it can be used in mass plantings with, perhaps, a redbud in the middle of them. Some other companion plants to consider: ‘Lady in Red’ fern, ‘Jack Frost’ brunnera, ‘Purple Dragon’ lamium, and ‘Hino Crimson’ azalea.

Whatever your vision for the garden may be this year, I’d encourage you to spend some time at the garden center seeking out some of the color that they’re bringing in. And if you’d like for me to meet you there to talk plants, I’d be happy to (I’ll probably be there already).

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