Thursday, 23 March 2017

5 Must-Have Plants for Early Spring

Spring - a Time of Change

Spring is probably the time of most dramatic, glorious change in the garden. Whites of snow and frost, browns of mud and dead leaves are suddenly jewelled with rich, bright colour. Not only do early Spring flowers bring joy to us humans, they are also a vital nectar source for bees and other flying insects.

You'll notice I never grow 'double' flowered varieties of plants, purely because they make life too difficult for pollinators, either because the flowers are too complicated to be accessed by the insect, or the breeding process has removed the plants pollen and nectar producing organs.

Here's my Top Five Flowering Plants for Early Spring:


Hellebores (Helleborus hybridus)

These amazing perennials are commonly called the Lentern Rose. They have big tough leaves that are not attacked by slugs or snails. In the winter you can cut off all the leaves and in early spring the plant will throw up thick firm flower stems with fat buds that open into downwards facing cups. The petals are actually modified sepals, and come in a beautiful variety of colours from white to rich purple-black. They often have delicate spots, some have edges touched in a different colour, known as 'picote' (pic 1). 

Ashwood Nurseries Helleborus hybridus single white picote
Pic 1: Ashwood Nurseries Hellebous hybridus - Single Picote Photo by Pumpkin Becki
If you have different hellebores in your garden, they are likely to cross-pollinate, and the resulting seedlings will be your very own hybrid. The flowers last into May, and when pollinated, you'll be able to see the seed pods fattening and ripening over time.

They like a woodland/ semi-shaded position in the garden. They can survive dry or wetter conditions, but they don't really thrive. Once a plant is settled and growing well it won't appreciate being moved or divided, so make sure to give it a permanent location at it will bring you joy every winter/spring.

Ashwood Nurseries Helleborus hybridus Single Primrose Yellow
Ashwood Nurseries Helleborus hybridus - Single Primrose Yellow
Photo by Pumpkin Becki

Helleborus hybridus single pink
Helleborus hybridus - single pink
Photo by Pumpkin Becki

Crocus

I have two varieties of Crocus in the garden at the moment, both are spring flowering (rather than autumn). I have a small clump of buttermilk yellow ones, and several clumps of delicate lilac ones. I'm sorry, I can't tell you want they are called.
Cream Crocus
Creamy Yellow Crocus
Photo by Pumpkin Becki
I love the way they hold their flowers carefully shut until the sun hits them and they fall wide open, revealing vivid orange stamen.

Lilac Crocus
Pale lilac Crocus
Photo by Pumpkin Becki

Pulmonaria officinalis (aka Lungwort)

Another woodland perennial, the Pulmonaria is so surprisingly pretty. The emerald green leaves are decorated with silvery spots, and in spring, flower spikes explode into clusters of five petaled flowers in shades of pink, turning to rose, violet and then blue, as the plant changes the pH value within the petals from acidic to alkaline the longer they are open for.

Pulmonaria officinalis Lungwort
Pulmonaria officinalis (Lungwort)
Photo by Pumpkin Becki

The common name Lungwort is centuries old, and comes from when it was grown for its medicinal properties. It was believed that because the leaves resembled the human lungs, they must be healing for illnesses involving the chest and respiratory system.

Whether that is true or now, they are definitely a valuable food source for bees and moths.

Cyclamen

I have two varieties of these tubers in my Woodland Garden, Cyclamen hederifolium and Cyclamen coum. I have tucked them right up near the trunks of the Sycamore and Horse Chestnut trees.


Cyclamen coum
Cyclamen coum
Photo by Pumpkin Becki

The tuber should be planted quite shallow, so they are perfect in rooty soil where Spring bulbs couldn't be planted. Cyclamen coum flowers in the winter through to spring, and hederifolium flowers in late summer to autumn.

Primroses

This year my Primroses in the Woodland Garden have been in flower since Christmas - that's not right! It is one of the earliest plants to flower in the UK (just not quite Christmas-early)

I grow the native (UK) Primrose, Primula vulgaris, which forms mounds of buttery yellow flowers held just above deeply crinkled bottle green leaves. The flowers look delicate, but they withstand snow and frost, ready to soak up every drop of sunlight. They grow naturally in deciduous woodland, taking full advantage of the open canopy before the trees burst into leaf.

Primrose Primula vulgaris
Primrose - Primula vulgaris

Being native, and single flowered, they produce lots easily accessible nectar and pollen. Growing guides suggest that they are best in damp shade, but mine are in dry partial shade/full sun and they thrive and naturalise beautifully there.

Iris Reticulata

I was once told (by someone who alleged himself to be a horticulturalist) that Iris Reticulata were impossible to get to flower after the first year and that I would have to replace the bulbs. I'm glad I didn't believe him in the slightest, as I now have lovely naturalised clumps that come up and flower year on year.

Iris reticulata
Iris reticulata
Photo by Pumpkin Becki

Iris reticulata is a very dainty form, reaching around 15cm high, and flowering in early spring. The leaves are narrow and almost as tall as the flowers. Don't expect Iris reticulata to be big and blousey like a bearded iris, you have to keep your eyes peeled amongst the leaf litter to spot these little beauties. The flowers aren't very long lasting, but across the clump, bulbs will flower at slightly different times, which extends the show considerably. Bees love them!

So there you have it, my top five early spring flowering plants. I hope you love them as much as I do, or maybe you have your own favourites, let me know in the comments xx

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