The Magic of Spring Flowers

By Andy McIndoe

Sometimes there are moments in the garden that you just want to share. The spring garden is so full of surprises; something new appears and delights with every weekend.

What I love about this time of the year is the detail: a delicate flower, an unfurling leaf, fallen blossoms on the grass. Everything seems fresh and new, emerging from the remnants of last season and winter. Bulb flowers spring up unnoticed, suddenly declaring their presence as colourful petals unfold.

In some cases the display is brief; some cherries have already come and gone leaving behind a few petals on the ground and the vision of their fluttering blossoms against a blue sky. We have a pair of Prunus ‘Shirotae’, one each side of a mown grass pathway through the meadow. They just about manage two weekends when their delicate white hanging blossoms are at their best. I read in Penelope Hobhouse’s book ‘Colour in the Garden’ that if you plant one each side of a path they will grow together to make an arch: amazingly they did.

Prunus 'Shirotae' over the path

The carpet of primroses under the oak trees is amazing this year: from a distance it covers the ground in a mantle of palest yellow. Now cowslips, Primula veris are appearing in the meadow. Ideally I would cut again before I leave the grass to grow, however their presence may make it impossible. I’ve also found the spotted leaves of orchids quite well advanced. The cowslips seem happy and seed freely on our rather dry, sandy soil.

Primula veris

In contrast to the subtlety of the wildflowers the vivid orange flowers of Berberis stenophylla ‘Etna’ hang like jewels along the branches and create a superb combination with the fresh lime bracts of Euphorbia characias. I wish I could claim responsibility for this stunning combination but actually I have to credit Mother Nature. She sowed the euphorbia seed in just the right place and even arranged the flowering stems artistically.

Berberis stenophylla 'Etna'

Nearby on the rock bank the inky spikes of Muscari latifolium are displayed against the sage green leaves of this wonderful grape hyacinth. This one does not seed and spread like Muscari armeniacum and its blooms are just captivating. Having said that I can never understand why gardeners have such an aversion to grape hyacinths spreading under shrubs, hedges and through beds and borders. There can be few more uplifting sights than a carpet of sapphire blue in spring.

Muscari latifolium

Epimedium ‘Amber Queen’ can be a frustration. This gorgeous shade loved produces delicate fine spikes carrying tiny round buds in early spring: these often fall casualty to frost and wither dashing hopes of a fine display. However the plant quickly produces spares and the intriguing blooms open delicately poised on wiry stems. In a shady spot they appear almost like tiny oriental lanterns above the new spring foliage of the plant.

Epimedium 'amber queen'

Of course my other favourite spring lantern is the snake’s head fritillary, Fritillaria meleagris. For some reason I have failed growing these in pots in recent years. I have a few in the garden, but here the soil is rather dry for them to flourish. This year those I planted in pots have flourished, so I can admire the bewitching chequerboard blooms at close quarters. I have to say that one of my finest specimens is blooming on the compost heap, but those in a bowl alongside the caramel leaves of Heucherella ‘Sweet Tea’ are also particularly fine.

Fritillaria meleagris

I love blue Anemone blanda and have had a few growing under shrubs in the beds. This year these too have done well and seem at last to be spreading. One brave individual even put up a single blue flower amidst the grass on the bank. I have filled a couple of ceramic bowls with them and have them on the terrace. They look just wonderful. I’ll divide them into chunks and plant them in the open ground when they finish flowering; I think this is really the way to get them going if you lose them when you plant the tubers straight into the ground.

Anemone blanda

Some of the large flowered tulips are already blooming; this year they are at least a month earlier than last year. The species tulips are usually a little earlier and they are at their best. Another happy accident in the garden is a group of the delightful Tulipa clusiana ‘Lady Jane’. Pencil thin pink buds are carried on blue-green stems with narrow leaves. These have erupted through a clump of pink and blue pulmonaria; a combination I shall plant intentionally in future.

Tulipa clusiana 'Lady Jane'

Amongst the red and lime shoots of Euphorbia ‘Fen’s Ruby’ the bright yellow buds of Tulipa sylvestris are carried on swan’s neck stems. Yellow tulips are not usually my choice because there are so many yellow narcissi around I feel it’s a waste to use the colour on tulips when there are so many alternatives. However Tulipa sylvestris is an exception: it is truly a spring treasure.

Tulipa sylvestris

Andy McIndoe

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