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.

NZ Gardener - 365 Days of Flowers - - The Spring Garden -

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.

TULIPAMANIA

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.

BEAUT BLOS­SOMS

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.

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