Pick of the bunch for sring blooms
Every season has its charms, but spring is possibly the most beautiful when it comes to flowers. At this time of year we are spoilt for choice, with exciting new growth everywhere.
Daffodils and leapfrogging lambs aren’t the only harbingers of spring. You know winter’s on its way out when epimediums (pictured left) and pulsatilla (right) start raising their heads. These plants rarely get the recognition they deserve, but in spring, these winter-dormant perennials put on a winning show.
Shrubby perennials are winners too. At this time of year, much of the new growth breaks out devoid of the green chlorophyll, which is such a party pooper later on, masking as it does garish pigments such as scarlets in pieris leaves and the purples in Japanese maples. Which is why spring stars often have maroon or red tips. Take the humble paeony, for example. Creep up on them just as they are unfurling and in some varieties you get a hit of blackcurrant before the green breaks through. The leaves of several roses are newly clothed in copper too.
Naturalised bulbs, like daffodils and bluebells, are one of the joys of spring. Though Spanish bluebells ( Hyacinthoides hispanica) are not as elegant as true English bluebells ( Hyacinthoides nonscripta), with their sideways-arching stems of pendulous deep blue flowers, these pale-blue Spaniards are better for picking, having strong upright stems. They self-seed and spread merrily too.
BARRENWORT & PASQUEFLOWER
Barrenwort makes an excellent groundcover in dry shade and many have reddish or rusty marbling on their leaves – as handsome as the dainty flowers which come earlier. Pasqueflower ( Pulsatilla vulgaris) is a frost-hardy alpine plant ideal for rock gardens or gritty soil. They are best suited to cooler climates though; they loathe humidity.
SHRUBS FOR SPRING
Make room in your garden for these spectacular spring-flowering shrubs: michelia, magnolia, rhododendron, viburnum and Californian lilac (ceanothus). Enkianthus campanulatus (right) is another spring sensation, and a sassy companion for pieris and camellias. It's great for a shady corner or woodland, and has beautiful buds, blossoms and autumn brilliance.
Deciduous viburnums are at the top of the list for sheer spring beauty and ease of growth. Unfussy to the point of enjoying neglect, they can be grown as backdrop shrubs rather than needing to be front of house, provided they see some sun through the winter.
Californian lilac is a lovely bold addition to drier parts of the garden and smothers itself in deep blue flowers in spring. The dwarf spreading forms, such as Ceanothus 'Yankee Point', have nice foliage and blend with other spring blues such as early-flowering lavender and hebe.
Rhododendrons are at their showy peak in spring. Their flowers work best planted in groups. Plant the thripresistant Rhododendron maddenii for its scented white trumpet flowers, but many of the hybrids offer a bigger colour range.
Think climbers too. Wisterias tend to be show-stoppers but require space to climb around structures or fences.
No wonder the Dutch went a bit potty over tulips when they first arrived in the Netherlands from Turkey in the 17th century. These gorgeous blooms are hard to resist, although in warmer parts of the country you'd be forgiven for seeing them as a fussy luxury rather than a garden staple. But these willing exhibitionists put on such an eye-catching show that a splurge at the garden centre to buy them fresh each year and six weeks in the fridge seem a small price to pay.
For best effect, plant in bold splashes rather than drizzled meanly all around the garden. Choose single-colour tulips, or blend two complementary colours that will flower at the same time. Pack pots generously.
While the Darwin hybrids are easier to grow in our climate, you could try planting a mix of varieties from the 15 different tulip groups or divisions, as each has distinct qualities and seasons. One of the earliest tulip groups is Fosteriana, with the white-flowering 'Purissima' being one of the most well known. 'Queen of Night' (Darwin) is the best-known black tulip. It flowers late in the season.
Mix fruit tree blossoms with tulips or other spring bulbs for a cheerful indoor display. For single stem displays, pick them in bud and force them indoors, but first determine if you’re looking at fruit or leaf buds. Typically, fruit buds (or spurs) are plump and rounded. Leaf buds are flatter against the branch. As well, some trees fruit on new wood; others form on old wood. Determine what you have before cutting. Cut branches at a 45-degree angle. Place in a vase with tepid water and keep away from heat and bright sunlight. Then, over time, watch the progression from tight green buds to puffs of pink or white blossom. It can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks for the buds to open. Replace water regularly to prevent bacteria forming.