Come March, Fleur is seek­ing colour to ban­ish the grey days of win­ter, and chooses ten plants that help brighten the length­en­ing days of early spring

Gardens Illustrated Magazine - - Dig In Plantsman’s Favourites - WORDS FLEUR VAN ZON­N­EVELD PHO­TOGRAPHS MAAYKE DE RIDDER


I’m al­ways amazed that Anemone nemorosa doesn’t gen­er­ate the same lev­els of ex­cite­ment as snow­drops. These wood anemone of­fer far more vari­a­tion – the Aus­trian breeder Chris­tian Kress has a col­lec­tion of 140 types – and nat­u­ralise well. This cul­ti­var is al­most white but the backs of the petal-like sepals are pink, so in full sun it looks like a typ­i­cal, white wood anemone, but when light is low, and the flow­ers start to close, its ap­pear­ance changes com­pletely. In some lights the flow­ers can ap­pear dark pink. Height 20cm. Ori­gin Western Europe Con­di­tions Well-drained, hu­mus-rich soil; part shade. Har­di­ness RHS H6, USDA 5a-8b. Sea­son Spring.


Fri­t­il­lar­ies feel like an un­stop­pable force of na­ture. You turn away for a cou­ple of days and then sud­denly there are nu­mer­ous new stems with shiny green fo­liage. This frit­il­lary’s flow­ers have a beau­ti­fully sub­tle, lime-green colour, which fits per­fectly into spring’s colour pal­ette. They’re also large, mak­ing this a very strik­ing plant. It is one of the first fri­t­il­lar­ies to flower and prefers well-drained soil and hot dry sum­mers. Af­ter flow­er­ing, it evolves into large, an­gu­lar seed­pods that look won­der­ful when used in flower ar­range­ments. Height 70cm. Ori­gin Cen­tral Asia. Con­di­tions Well-drained, hu­mus-rich soil; full sun or part shade. Har­di­ness RHS H7, USDA 5a-8b. Sea­son Spring.


In his book Gar­den Myths, Robert Pavlis de­scribes how the botanist Carl Lin­naeus re­ceived some in­cor­rectly la­belled seeds that he planted out in his gar­den. They turned out to be Corydalis nobilis, and from his gar­den in Swe­den the plant has now nat­u­ralised all over much of north­ern Europe. I find this a beau­ti­ful story for a beau­ti­ful plant. It’s one of the largest corydalis with strik­ing yel­low­brown flow­ers. Most plants need some heat to see a real spurt of growth, but this plant ben­e­fits from cold to form up a solid plant. If spring is too warm it slows and col­lapses. Height 50cm. Ori­gin Al­tai Moun­tains and cen­tral Asia. Con­di­tions Dry to moder­ately moist soil; full sun. Har­di­ness RHS H7, USDA 3b-8b. Sea­son Spring.


Most cuckoo flow­ers are de­cid­u­ous plants; this is the ever­green ex­cep­tion. It forms whole mats of three-lobed, dark-green leaves, but as leaves age their un­der­side fades to pur­ple due to the pres­ence of wa­ter-sol­u­ble pig­ments known as an­tho­cyanins. It is a lovely plant that can be used to mask the tran­si­tion be­tween a path and a bor­der. It is also happy in full shade and com­pletely at home un­der trees es­pe­cially form­ing a car­pet with a few ferns, such as Os­munda re­galis ‘Pur­puras­cens’, in be­tween, or un­der a group of polyg­o­na­tums and dis­po­rums.

Height 20cm. Ori­gin South­ern and cen­tral Europe. Con­di­tions Moist, hu­mus-rich soil; full or part shade. Har­di­ness RHS H5, USDA 7b-9b. Sea­son Spring.


Af­ter the grey­ness of win­ter, we of­ten crave a lit­tle colour. But spring colour is much more wel­come if it ap­pears grad­u­ally, which is why the sub­tle beauty of this yel­low Cor­nus mas is so much more ap­peal­ing than the bright yel­low of the ubiq­ui­tous forsythias. Cor­nus mas ‘Jolico’ is an older se­lec­tion from Vi­enna and has only re­cently been re­dis­cov­ered. Its bloom is richer and more in­tense than the usual Cor­nus mas and its dark-red fruits are much big­ger – and de­li­cious when turned into a jam. It also has fine au­tumn colour. AGM*.

Height 4m. Ori­gin Europe, western Asia. Con­di­tions Medium mois­ture, welldrained soil; full sun or part shade. Har­di­ness RHS H7, USDA 4a-8b. Sea­son Flow­ers spring.


An un­usual plant that can be quite hard to source. Its large, tri­an­gu­lar leaves held on long stems look a lit­tle like those of the Amer­i­can poke­weed, but this comes from the same fam­ily as the potato ( Solanaceae). It has deep roots so can tol­er­ate quite dry con­di­tions. The plant is also very strong and likes nu­tri­tious soil in part shade. Its smoky pur­ple flow­ers look a lit­tle out of place among the fresh colours of most spring plants, and most un­usu­ally once the plant has fin­ished blooming, and the bees have taken their fill, the plant dis­ap­pears. Don’t worry it’s not dead; it is just dor­mant from sum­mer to spring.

Height 40cm. Ori­gin Cau­ca­sus, Turkey, Iran. Con­di­tions Well-drained soil; part shade. Har­di­ness RHS H7, USDA 3b-11. Sea­son Spring.


A mys­te­ri­ous-look­ing plant with beau­ti­ful, shiny fo­liage that is slightly mar­bled. Look be­neath these, ever­green leaves and you’ll find vel­vety, brown­black flow­ers with a large white cen­tre look­ing back at you. No sur­prise then its com­mon name is panda face wild gin­ger. The root­stocks are used in Chi­nese medicine (even though they’re toxic and also car­cino­genic). Al­though slow grow­ing, it makes a beau­ti­ful ground­cover. Plac­ing it in a pot on an out­door ta­ble is a good way to dis­cour­age slugs and the best way to en­joy its in­cred­i­ble flow­ers.

Height 20cm. Ori­gin China. Con­di­tions Moist but well-drained soil; full sun to part shade. Har­di­ness RHS H6, USDA 8a-9b. Sea­son Spring.


The wa­tery, pale-blue colour of this tiny lit­tle plant looks re­mark­able when massed plant­ings are viewed from a dis­tance in early spring. Even when the weather is over­cast flow­ers are wide open. It nat­u­ralises eas­ily and doesn’t get in the way of later emerg­ing plants. It’s best grown in drifts un­der de­cid­u­ous trees or in a bor­der. Plant en masse along­side fel­low stinzen­planten [see page 25] Chion­o­doxa forbe­sii and Prim­ula vul­garis and you will have an eye-catch­ing, colour­ful spring dis­play.

Height 10cm. Ori­gin Cau­ca­sus, Turkey, Iran, Le­banon. Con­di­tions Well-drained soil; full sun or part shade. Har­di­ness RHS H7, USDA 4a-8b. Sea­son Spring.


The blue flow­ers have curled end­ings on the petals that look like lit­tle pro­pel­lers with a sharp point. Flow­ers ap­pear be­fore the hairy, heart-shaped, rough leaves that will quickly cover large sur­faces mak­ing it an ex­cel­lent ground­cover plant and ex­tremely valu­able for nat­u­ral­is­tic schemes. It needs a moist soil and in drier pe­ri­ods the leaf will quickly hang down. How­ever, it does well in the shade of trees, and can eas­ily be com­bined with tall plants, such as Polyg­o­na­tum bi­flo­rum and Aralia con­ti­nen­talis. All parts of the plant are ed­i­ble and of­ten eaten in its na­tive Turkey.

Height 30cm. Ori­gin Eastern Europe, Turkey. Con­di­tions Fresh to moist soil; part to full shade. Har­di­ness RHS H7, USDA 6a-9b. Sea­son Spring.

Fleur van Zon­n­eveld runs the Dutch nurs­ery De Kleine Plan­tage. dek­leine­plan­

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