Snow came earlier than ever before this year, forcing gardeners indoors for a winter hiatus. We try to remember the good things about snow -- its insulating properties, the moisture it provides when it melts, and even the break it allows gardeners to take. But instead of contemplating snow, I would rather consider plants that include that four-letter word in their names.
Snow in summer, botanically known as Cerastium tomentosum, is a tough perennial for sunny and dry conditions. Low-growing, it forms a mat of gray-green leaves barely 6 inches tall and a foot wide. White flowers rise on slender stems above foliage in late spring and early summer.
Cut back flowering stems after blooms have faded to prevent self-seeding and to keep plants looking tidy. Divide plants every few years for best performance.
Plant snow in summer at the front of a border, along the edge of a garden path or in rock gardens.
Centaurea Amethyst in Snow also prefers a spot in full sun. If happy where it's growing -- rich, slightly moist soil -- it may spread quicker than desired, but in poor to average soil it is much better behaved. Its unique, bluish, purple-centered flowers with fringed, pure white petals bloom at the top of two-foot stems in May and June.
If flowering stems are removed after blooming, another round of flowers in early fall may result. Plant Amethyst in Snow in cottage gardens or at the front of borders.
For sun-starved gardeners, Astilbe Snowdrift grows best in part to full shade in compost-enriched, moist soil. Eighteen-inch tall and wide mounds of fern-like foliage are attractive all season as long as the soil doesn't dry out. And feathery, flowering plumes the color of pure white snow brighten the garden in midsummer.
Stalks of spent flowers can be cut back or left standing in the garden for winter interest. Snowdrift is most effective planted in large groups.
Grow Alyssum Snow Princess in containers or in the garden. This annual doesn't set seed so it can put all its energy into producing masses of tiny white, fragrant flowers from spring until frost. Snow Princess grows best in part to full sun and grows a foot tall and up to 2 feet wide.
The only demands this princess makes is plenty of water and fertilizer. If it grows too large or looks a little summer worn, it is easily trimmed back. New growth will quickly begin.
Planted in containers, it spills over the edges. In the garden, it forms a snowy ground cover. Bees and butterflies are happy wherever it's planted.
Deutzia Yuki Snowflake is a small shrub gorgeous in perennial gardens, at the front of shrub borders, and even planted in large containers. Low and spreading, it is carpeted with snowy white flowers in late spring and early summer.
Yuki Snowflake grows in part to full sun but the more sun it gets, the more flowers it delivers. Not necessary, but it can be pruned after flowering to keep the shrub's growth more dense.
Spirea Snow Storm is the only kind of snowstorm I want. Commonly found in most garden centers, spireas are easy to grow in average soils in full sun. Snow Storm grows 3 to 5 feet tall and wide and boasts large flowers in May and June. Its attractive blue-green foliage turns pretty shades of orange and red in fall.
Prune Snow Storm in late winter or early spring to keep it smaller and neater. It is suited for shrub borders, foundation plantings and toward the back of perennial gardens.
And then there's snow crocus, Crocus chrysanthus. Often parading its bright colors on snow-covered gardens, its goblet-shaped flowers signal the end of winter is near and another season in the garden is about to begin.
• Diana Stoll is a horticulturist, garden writer and speaker. She blogs at gardenwithdiana.com.