With February often being the coldest month of the year spring seems far away but with increasing hours of daylight and birds starting their nesting behaviours perhaps it’s time to think about early flowering plants or enjoy a few ‘garden treats’ while we wait for warmer weather. Early flowerers don’t just include the obvious spring flowering bulbs such as tulips and daffodils which are often planted in pots so that there is no long wait for their foliage to die back within borders and, primarily, so they can be enjoyed right outside the window or patio door!
There is a range of plants, including bulbs, which make the garden attractive during the early (or late) months of the year. Some of them often take you by surprise when they show before nature even seems to have woken up after the long dormant winter season.
Winter Aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) are native woodland plants flowering from mid to late winter bearing a bright yellow buttercup-like flower. They are efficient ground cover plants for shady or semi-shady positions, approx. 13cm tall, forming a vibrant yellow carpet often coinciding with the first snowdrop blooms. Snowdrops and Winter aconites are very effective when used as under planting for trees and shrubs.
Galanthus nivalis (Common snowdrop) is the best known and most widespread of the 20 species in the genus Galanthus. Some Snowdrops are especially ornamental and attractive such as the double G. nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’ or the broad leaved G. woronowii.
Snowdrops and Winter aconites are best bought and planted ‘in the green’ just after flowering time.
Another eye-catching plant flowering during January and February is Iris reticulata - a dwarf, bulbous perennial to 15cm in height, with narrow, stiffy erect leaves. Their fragrant flowers, approx. 8cm in width, are light blue, deep blue or dark purple and will add early interest to the front of a sunny border or an alpine garden. Bulbs are planted in late summer or early autumn.
Similarly attractive are Spring Crocuses, native to our woodlands, scrub and meadows and grown from corms. These delicate perennials flower in February and March in tones of blue, yellow and white. Crocuses can be planted within borders or directly into the lawn where they will naturalise profusely in order to create a bigger display each year as they mature.
Snowdrops, Crocus and iris reticulata alike are especially showy if scattered around the base or amongst colourful dogwood winter stems!
Trees and Shrubs
But it’s not only at ground level where early winter/spring colour appears. We must not forget the variety of beautiful shrubs and trees available. Camellias come into bloom anywhere between January and March depending on the weather. Flower colours range from white and shades of pink through to red, and their dark glossy foliage forms a wonderful contrast to the blooms and provides good winter interest.
Deciduous spring-flowering Magnolias are another superb choice for early flowering shrubs although flowers can get damaged and browned off by cold weather. There is a huge variety to choose from with medium sized Magnolia stellata being a classic. All magnolias have ornate sizable furry buds.
From early March onwards it’s the ornamental Cherries and Plums that come into their own. There are Prunus cerasifera ‘Nigra’ (Plum), Prunus ‘Accolade’ (Cherry) and Prunus sargentii (Cherry) just to name a few of the earliest. Ornamental Cherries and Plums bloom in pastel pinks or near to whites and grow into small to medium sized trees with rounded crowns or large shrubs. These plants are easy to grow and provide stunning winter interest through their often attractive bark and strong red to orange autumn colour. Many of the ornamental Plums and Cherries are also suitable as street trees.
There is an additional selection of medium to large shrubs which will give your garden the ‘wow-factor’ during the bleak winter months if planted as a specimen in a wide border so their full charm can be appreciated:
Hamamelis x intermedia or H. mollis (yellow, orange and red flowering varieties with unusual small flowers borne on leafless branches in mid to late winter or sometimes in the autumn. Deciduous shrub, some with autumn colour)
Viburnum carlesii (deciduous shrub with round clusters of white very fragrant flowers emerging from pink buds. Black fruits for additional wildlife interest and brilliant red autumn colour to foliage)
Daphne bholua (winter-flowering evergreen or semi-evergreen shrub, very fragrant flushed purplish-pink flowers. There is a good selection of small Daphnes available too!)
Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty (flowers from December through to March with very fragrant white flowers)
Last but not least there are the hardy winter- and spring-flowering heaths (species of Erica), often forgotten about or considered old-fashioned but they are invaluable if there is a suitable spot for them in the garden and their benefit to wildlife is great. They are low growing shrubs and look fantastic mass planted to the front of a border or in a ‘Heath and Heather Garden’ with conifers and boulders and drift wood as ‘natural sculptures’. Actually, Ericas make a rather attractive display in a winter container.
Erica have evergreen fine, needle-like foliage with racemes or panicle of small, bell-shaped or tubular flowers. Flowers usually appear in white and shades of pink and purple. Erica require acidic (some will tolerate neutral to alkaline) soil and full sun to dappled shade. They image below shows a plant combination ‘natural style’ that works well: deep pink Erica and white Wood Anemone.
If you would like help realising the full potential of your garden we provide a full range of services: ‘Design, Build, Maintain’ so don’t hesitate to contact us! Alternatively for more professional advice on garden maintenance and design tips keep following our blog.