I love spring - I love the anticipation of warmer weather and seeing everything springing back to life. It’s tantalising at first – and then, suddenly, it all bursts into an exhilarating feast of colour that puts paid to winter.
It starts with bright splashes of yellow and then blue. Daffodils, Crocus and bluebells are signature plants for spring but there are lots of other colours and many beautiful plants - plants such as soft pink, plum, or dusky-purple hellebores, pure white wood anemones, and tawny orange crown imperials. So many wonderful plants to feast your eyes on. Those on the list below are a few of my favourites when planting a spring border.
A beautiful evergreen tree, with ferny, glaucous leaves and fragrant yellow flowers, usually from January to April. It is not totally hardy but can be planted in milder areas like the South-West. Even so, many were lost, even on the south coast, in last winter’s unusually cold weather. Thankfully, this year’s cold winter seems to have had a less severe effect and, though later to flower, they are beginning to show their colour now, in late February.
Stunning, vivid-pink flowers in spring, heart-shaped leaves, and amazing seeds pods. Likes a sunny spot.
This small cherry tree has amazing, shiny, mahogany-coloured bark, which peels with age in transluscent strips, catching the winter and early spring sunlight. In spring, it’s great teamed with white daffodils and the dark maroon shades of tulips like Tulipa ‘Black Parrot‘.
Shrubs, wall shrubs and climbers
A useful and attractive shrub for sun or shade, with glossy evergreen leaves and flowers in a variety of colours, many which are often very early to bloom. Avoid planting where the morning sun can damage the blooms. Very happy in large containers.
Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Nivalis’
White flowers from March to May. Great wall shrub, even in shady places.
Scented white flowers in late spring and often again in late summer and autumn. It’s shiny, evergreen leaves also exude a heady aromatic fragrance in summer. A really useful and attractive evergreen shrub.
A great evergreen climber, with scented white flowers in early spring.
Highly-scented rose-pink flowers from February to May. Good in sun or partial shade.
Forsythia x intermedia ‘Lynwood Variety’
Although very common and without great merit at other times of the year, the abundance of bright, yellow flowers really do say ‘Spring’!!
Known as the winter jasmine because it flowers in winter but its pretty yellow flowers continue into March. Easy to grow on a wall and will tolerate partial shade.
Magnolia x loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’
This is a fantastic small tree or large shrub, one of the earliest magnolias to flower. In April, its delicate, star-shaped, pink flowers bloom on the bare branches before the leaves appear, so they’re even showier and somehow more magical..
Similar in flower shape to ‘Leonard Messel’ above, and just as early, the white Magnolia stellata is slightly scented and forms itself into a manageable shrub or small tree. It has attractive silky flower buds throughout winter, which open out in into an abundance of white, star-shaped flowers in early spring.
Ajuga reptans ‘Atropurpurea’
Happy in sun or shade, this makes great groundcover, quickly forming a dense and beautiful carpet of bronzy-purple, evergreen leaves. In spring, it produces small spires of blue flowers.
Bergenias are robust and easy plants with large, evergreen leaves, which form effective and low-maintenance ground cover in sun or shade. In addition, it produces attractive pink flower spikes in spring.
A great spring-flowering perennial, with heart-shaped leaves and airy sprays of blue flowers in April and May. Very useful and really beautiful in shady borders.
Beautiful and delicate, with pink, heart-shaped, flowers in April and May and ferny leaves. Great cottage garden plant. Happy in shade or sun, as long as there is plenty of moisture in the soil. Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’ is similar but has elegant, pure white, flowers.
Epimedium x perralchicum ‘Frohnleiten’
Fantastic plant for difficult places, such as under trees where it can be dry and shady. Makes great ground cover, with attractive, evergreen, leaves and dainty yellow flowers in spring. A real ‘must-have’ plant.
Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii
An architectural evergreen with limy-green flowers early in spring which continue until May. It always looks good, whether in flower or not.
A wide range of Hellebores are now available, with beautiful flowers from February to April, and evergreen foliage. Perfect for shady borders or under deciduous trees. Prune out the old leaves to show off the flowers and to deter hellebore leaf spot.
A couple of my favourites are Helleborus x hybridus Harvington double pink, which as its name suggests has double pink flowers, and Helleborus x hybridus Harvington speckled white, which has white flowers enlivened with red speckles.
It wouldn’t be spring without the native cowslip! Although it’s known as a wildflower, I use it in the garden under the shade of deciduous trees or growing on grassy banks, where its fragrant yellow flowers bloom in April and May, and look just right.
Viola riviniana ‘Purpurea Group’
Quietly beautiful, the wood violet thrives in shade. It has pretty, purple-tinted, heart-shaped leaves, and its little violet flowers start to bloom in April.
Anemone blanda (blue shades)
A lovely plant flowering in March and April. It has blue daisy flowers and pretty foliage, which carpets the ground. Looks at its best when planted in large drifts.
Another quietly beautiful plant, the wood anemone, has sweet little white flowers in March and April. Carpet the ground under deciduous trees and shrubs by planting in bold drifts.
Commonly known as lily-of-the-valley. Beautiful white scented, bell-shaped, flowers in spring and a great ground plant for sun or shade.
Another amazing early-spring flowering bulb with the most delicate-looking flowers in shades of silvery blues and purple. With flowers that look so fragile and brave on a cool February day, this is a real harbinger of spring. Easy to naturalise, it looks at its most heart-stopping when it forms large drifts through grass or under deciduous trees. Beautiful under and around silver birch trees, especially those with the whitest bark.
This dog’s tooth violet is aptly named ‘Pagoda’ because of the shape of its yellow flowers, which are reminiscent of little pagodas. These are held on stems above low-growing but very attractive, shiny green leaves suffused with bronze mottling. Stunning and happiest growing in shady spots where the soil has been enriched with plenty of leafmould.
This is a stunning, unusual but easy bulb, which flowers in March and April. It produces tall, stately spires with numerous flowers heads. The variety ‘Lutea’ is golden yellow, ‘Orange Brilliant’ is orange tinted with brown, and ‘Rubra Maxima’ is red.
More than any other flower, daffodils represent spring. There are many, many different types and varieties, flowering from early March right through to May. Tall, blousy ones vie for attention with smaller and more delicate varieties in colours ranging from white to yellow and oranges, and a few even have a salmony pink hue about them. Early varieties include ‘February Gold’ and ‘February Silver’ whilst one of the latest to flower is Narcissus poeticus recurvus, the Old Pheasant’s Eye daffodil, a very old variety which is highly scented and flowers in May. Many others, such as Narcissus ‘Paperwhite Ziva’ and ‘Cheerfulness’, are also deliciously fragrant.
Mostly flowering in April and May, Tulips are indispensable in mid to late spring, with a variety of colours and flower shapes. Like daffodils, there are loads of tulips to choose from. The following three are some of my own favourites but they also associate really well with each other.
Flowering in mid-April, Tulipa ‘Zurel’ is like rasperry ripple, as it has deep red flares to its white base colour.
Tulipa ‘Black Parrot’ flowers in May and is a sultry dark purple in colour but with a flouncy frill to the flowers.
Tulipa ‘Spring Green’ also flowers in May, a combination of fresh white with streaks of green produces a cool, yet elegant, effect.
Please Note: Many garden plants and bulbs are poisonous or toxic if ingested and some can cause irritation of the skin. This information is not detailed in the lists above, so if this may be concern to you, please do check before purchasing any of these plants.
© Naila Green 2011
A SPRING BORDER IN APRIL