The earliest signs of color to emerge on the coast include many native plants. Without the benefit of hybridization and selection, their flowers tend toward the more subtle than the standard nursery shrubs. These delicate blooms deserve your attention and space in the garden as they have learned to live with the demands of our seaside climate.
First among the shrubs is generally the Indian Plum, Oemleria cerasiformis. Hidden in the shrubby understory of our native forests, almost invisible in winter, these tall multi-stemmed natives suddenly light up the roadsides in early spring with their upright lime-colored new leaves, quickly followed by delicate pendant clusters of soft white blooms. Another star of early spring is the Red-Flowering Currant, Ribes sanguineum. A tall and easily-pruned shrub, the currant displays a range of raspberry-red to pink or white pendant clusters amid bright green crinkly leaves. Selected varieties such as 'Elk River Red' and 'White Icicle' can be dazzling, where they are allowed to develop a natural habit and placed against a contrasting backdrop.
Dependable non-natives for the coast offer a range of selection from groundcovers to medium and taller shrubs and several blooming trees. Ubiquitous for a reason, spring-blooming heath (often called heather) is widely adaptable to most coastal conditions and requires little other than acid soil and good drainage. These belong to the genus Erica, blooming in shades of pink, purple and white, with many exhibiting brilliant foliage colors including gold and red. Pair these with true heathers of the genus Calluna, and summer-blooming heaths for a 3-season display of color.
Other blooming groundcovers for the coast include Genista lydia, or Woadwaxen/Broom. Reminiscent of the invasive Scotch Broom, this well-behaved and non-invasive groundcover offers a dense habit of silvery-gray leaves that can take saltspray and wind --then a brief golden bloom. Ceanothus is available in a groundcover form, known commonly as Carmel Creeper or Point Reyes Ceanothus, lending a hint as to origin. This evergreen bears dark, shiny leaves and a stunning late-spring/early-summer show of periwinkle blue flowers with a honey-sweet fragrance. Each plant lures bees like a siren's song.
Certainly the coast is the ideal climate for rhododendrons, provided they have a little shelter from the direct ocean wind. All colors, leaf forms and sizes, along with a vast number of azaleas are on display throughout the central coast-- locally they are featured at the Connie Hansen Garden in Lincoln City. Several nurseries on the coast offer a wide selection, and now is the time to choose the exact color for your landscape.
Camellias also thrive in our area, including one oceanfront home we care for that features them in a sheltered courtyard on the lee side of the house. They appreciate some shade from the afternoon sun and annual doses of acid fertilizer. This month you might also notice the brilliant new growth of Pieris japonica, along with the urn-shaped flowers borne in clusters. Like camellias, they are a good choice for shady areas of the landscape and provide a nice tall framework shrub for backdrop.