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Monday, 21 January 2019

Late Winter Almost Spring Gardens

Spring Is On Its Way Despite the cold we have felt the it's first breath and a lot of us are back in the Garden preparing for the forthcoming year. We don’t need to wait for warmer weather as its so mild 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.

Early Spring Flowers
Here are a few ideas. A few easy things to plant to keep our gardens interesting in late February early March. You will have noticed the snowdrops are out, the bluebells have come through the ground and in some places the Daffs and Narcissi stems have also appeared. The snowdrops plant well in the green as do quiet a few bulbs so you can buy them in flower now and transplant them and enjoy them instantly. All these bulbs are available to plant in the autumn.

Primroses look delightful at this time of year. They herald Mother's day in March and later Easter celebrations. As soon as you see them you know spring is coming. Now we also see 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. 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 so do take a look at some of the other primroses other than the popular hybrids. The drum stick primrose or denticulata is particularly pretty. 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
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, Euonymus jap. Pierrolina and my two curent favourites Ramnus alat. and Osmanthus heterophyllus Goshiki.
Ramnus alat.
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 spectacular. 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 though lack the wonderful silver bark. To bring some of this quality into my garden I have planted two pendula birch 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 this brings a warm vivid colour into the winter garden.

Winter Bark

I would always 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. 

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
Corylus avellana maxima purpurea
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, Salix caprea kilmarnock  or Garrya Elipticas.

Garrya Eliptica
Early Flowering Clematis definitely deserves an acknowledgement. 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. 

In late Winter early spring borders can still be outstanding with subtley beauty. Shapes are more defined and dramatic and there is plenty of colour and character available.

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