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Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Spring Is On Its Way

Despite the cold we have felt the first breath of spring and a lot of us are back in the Garden preparing for another year. We don’t need to wait for warmer weather to have  interesting borders as there is a lot of exciting stuff going on now. We already have colourful flowers, foliage and bark so there is no excuse for a gloomy border. Early flowers and catkins are crucial as they not only give us a lift they have an important roll in the life cycle of our struggling bees, providing the necessary sustenance for the Queen Bumble bee as she emerges from hibernation.
Here are a few ideas of what we can plant to keep our gardens interesting in late February early March.

Hybrid Primrose
Easy Instant Colour Now 
The snowdrops are out, the bluebells have come through the ground and in some places the Daff and Narcissi stalks have also appeared. Primroses have come into their own. There are pretty violas in abundance and bright pansies. Most of us can’t resist at least a handful of the colourful hybrid varieties in our pots and tubs. 

Common Primrose

I think there is nothing more beautiful than the soft yellow primrose Primula Vulgaris (the common Primrose) naturalising with the Bluebells under the trees. What we forget is how many different primroses exist and how pretty and unusual they can be. Cow slips, the common Oxslip or cow slip as it was originally called because it was often seen in fields with cows, Primula Veris L Primulaceae still grows wild in meadows but also often in deciduous woodlands and still in many farmers’ fields. It’s a tough little plant. Modern agriculture has quite drastically reduced its population so it is nice to plant it whenever we can.

Shrubs and Trees with great winter colour

Silver Birch
Shapes and colours can look quite dramatic this time of year, frosted silver foliage in particular. There are lots of silver evergreens. Silver foliage can disappear in bright sunshine on summer days but it really stands out in winter and I wouldn’t overlook planting simple shrubs like Silver Pittasporum and Euonymus jap.Pierrolina. Rubus thibetanus Silver Fern is a slightly more unusual shrub, well worth planting for its silver stems which look almost like frost on red stalks.
It surprised me how lovely Eucalyptus leaves appear in a mixed border. Keeping them small is important unless you want a Triffid but it’s easy to trim the tops out and keep them as shrubs and they are very resilient.
Picture a misty morning and clumps of snowdrops under a copse of Silver Birch. It’s a spectacular picture. The rough silver bark of the Birch is often overlooked when planting and it is beautiful . The pendula Silver Birch Youngii is a superb tree to plant if you don’t have the space for the tall Betula Jacquemontii (Silver Birch) and it also builds character into a garden with a great winter silhouette. The contorted willows and hazels also bring similar character but lack the wonderful silver bark. To bring some of this quality into my garden I have planted two Youngii together to make a silvery archway and it is very effective.

I should add you don’t just have birch with silver bark, there are some with amazing orange and red tones like Betula Albosinensis

To bring some warm vivid colour into the winter garden I would have to include some Cornus (or Dog Wood). Mid Winter Fire is electric orange. I love it planted with red, yellow and lime green varieties of Cornus for maximum contrast. There is a great new variety called Cornus Alba Baton Rouge, obviously a great red and well worth considering.  Cornus is a brilliant shrub as long as you remember to crop it aggressively, not allowing it to get out of hand. Otherwise it is low maintenance and very easy to grow in difficult heavy soil.

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis) is a brilliant early shrub with bright orange, red or yellow delicately scented spidery flowers. It is stunning. Don’t plant these in a heavy wet position, allow them some drainage and lots of sun and they will reward you.

Garrier Elyptica
Equally eye catching are the red winter catkins on the purple Hazel (Corylus avellana maxima purpurea). Not only does it have deep coloured long catkins in late winter early spring the foliage in the summer is a magnificent deep purple. I’ve found this a very easy shrub to grow. I think it looks interesting if you plant it with green Hazel and enjoy both colours side by side. Catkins bring a bit of character to the border so why not also consider planting Pussy Willows or Garrya Elipticas. 

Early Flowering Clematis
Early Clematis definitely deserves an acknowledgment. Early flowering varieties like Wisley Cream, with lime green nodding flower heads and Freckles with interesting speckled spotted flowers and evergreen foliage. Macropeta varieties like the variety ‘Purple Spider’ scramble beautifully through a hedge and flower effortlessly with little maintenance each spring, providing a profusion of little alpine flowers.

Suffice to say the colour is out there. There are some really good plants that are worth adding to your borders, often overlooked because they may blend in during the warmer months and be overshadowed. Winter borders can be outstandingly beautiful with subtle beauty encompassing shapes and colour and character.

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