Winter drags on and even when the Snowdrops kick of the growing season there are still a good few weeks of often miserable weather lurking around the corner. The arrival of each flush of flowers in these months is most welcome and if planned well you can suddenly find yourself with a burst of rich colour that heralds summers arrival and makes to most of the sunny days that do arrive.
I remember talking to a seasoned fellow who had been tending a large National Trust property for several decades. I admired the flow of colour on a soon to be shady bank and he smiled rolling off a series of Genus then telling me this was the secret to ALL NT gardens and their continuous flower offerings from January through to June.
Eranthis, Galanthus, Narcissus, Tulipa, Scilla, Anthricus of course these aren’t the only options but it is a good range of flowering bulbs and perennials that will knit together, often under deciduous trees to give colour over a long period which require very little work. Eranthis hymelis (Winter Aconite) starts in January with acid lemon yellow flowers first then followed by lush green foliage, February brings Galanthus nivalis (Common Snowdrop) follows close on it’s heels sometimes VERY close on it’s heels with tiny dancing white heads over strappy slightly glaucus foliage.
In March follow the Narcissus (Daffodils) from late February with N. ‘February Gold’ to Early April with N. ‘ Thalia’ and on into May with naturaliser N. poeticus .
Tulips start in April with delicate species nodding heads on flexible stems. T. turkestanica a soft white slightly pointy flower, T.tarda more acid yellow and arching petals, T.humulis ‘Persian Pearl’ in rich deep pinky red, slightly glaucous outer petals and of course there are a myriad of wonderful cultivars that flower from March to June. Plant them deep, 30-45cm (12 -14 inches) and the theory is they will return and return, some though, better than others.
Favourties here are vintage colours of T.’La Belle Epoque’ planted with T.’Recredo’ or crisp whites of T.’Spring Green’ with T.’Mount Tacoma’, T.’SuperParrot’ and the luxurious boldness of T.’Carnaval de Nice’. Another post on good combinations later in the month. As May arrives the fat leafed, sweet smelling Bluebell, Hyacynthoides non-scripta bursts forth. The non-native Hyacinthoides hispanica, Spanish bluebell, is much larger and more bullish, cross breeding and dominating our more delicate native variety. Any colour but blue is a cross with the H.hispanica. H.non-scipta has flowers to only one side and the top of the flower nods slightly towards the ground, a Spanish bluebell is generally bigger and more sturdy with more upright flower stems and blooms to all sides of the flower stem. I weed out the H.hispanica in the main preferring the native bluebell or for an earlier showing Scillia siberica which is a miniature version of both flowering in March.
Come the heat of June (!) and the lax umbels of Anthriscus are at their lofty best, feathery foliage clouds the planting attracting all manner of insects feasting on it’s nectary bounty. And so it closes, the season of bulby perennials and into the cultivated ornamental gardens the season of interest passes.
If you have a penchant for tapestries of earlier colour try mixing blues and purples of Crocus species C.tommasianus and C.siberii, C.biflorus; Chinodoxa;
Anemone nemorosa ‘Robinsoniana’ and A.nemorosa ‘Alba, A.blanda (blue flowered);
Pulmonaria ‘Diana Clare’; Fritilaria meleagris (Alba if you can get it)
with pale creamy yellow of Primula vulgaris and delicate tiny Narcissus triandrus.Follow under low canopies of Eranthis with Convalaira majalis (Lily of the Valley), flowering in April but soft green leaves lasting well into the summer months and dot through the odd taller Hellebore in creams and whites, doubles and singles (Harvington have a wonderful selection).
The possibilities are truly endless.