Plants We Can Enjoy Now
Spring bulbs are emerging so I do hope a cold spell doesn’t knock them back. When the ground is not frozen we can dig and prepare borders, plant bare rooted hedges while stock is still available and generally get well ahead before the soil warms up and plants start truly growing vigorously. Its a great chance to lay some good garden foundations. We’ve been fixing boundaries and laying edges. We do notice our gardens when the sun shines and the first thing we look for is flowers. I add a splash of instant colour by planting a few pots and containers around the garden with winter pansies, violas, Bellis daisies and perhaps a few primroses. These mix beautifully with small evergreens and herbs such as variegated or silver thyme and purple sage. I often under plant a few tulip bulbs in with the plants as an investment in a little later colour. Potted tulips are emerging in containers so you can still get them to plant on, even if you didn’t plant them in the autumn.
Hellebores are some of the first flowers I have enjoyed this January. They are absolutely the most wonderful plant for bees to feed on as they emerge from hibination when sustenance is imperative. I am lucky because these herbaceous perennials grow well in our limey soil. Niger is probably the most commonly grown. It has a simple innocent white flower about 1½“diameter. They are lovely planted under trees and along banks of streams and mixed with primulas and bluebells they look very natural. White hellebores grow beautifully along the waterside in the Botanic Gardens at Oxford followed later in the year by wild looking foxgloves.
I wouldn’t suggest planting different varieties of hellebores too close to each other if you wish them to retain their purity as you risk cross breeding. I have to declare whilst white varieties look very natural there are some really lovely new hybrid varieties. Winter Moonbeam and Winter Sun are 2 of of my favourites,Shining through the snow we have these delightful softly tinted flowers. I find hellebores grow well in my clay soil. I have them growing in dappled shade under my trees mixed with bluebell bulbs, primroses, ferns and hostas. The foliage provides good cover all year and the little flowers and delicate veined foliage also look beautiful in winter flower arrangements. Float the heads in a shallow icy bowl of water and use as a center piece for your dinner table.
Helleborus xericsmithii 'Winter Moonbeam'
Its flowers begin creamy white fade to pink and then a deeper red and are prolific like 'Winter Sun'. If that wasn't enough to win you over the foliage has a lovely marbling ingrained.
Helleborus xericsmithii 'Winter Sunshine'
Another new British plant that arrived in 2007
It has proved its worth in the garden. Beautiful flowers that also fade from cream to red with age on lush leathery evergreen foliage.
Looking over my garden I can see clusters of rose pink cyclamen corms under the trunk of my contorted willow tree and speckled patches of white snowdrops beneath my dark Prunus cerasifera ‘Nigra’. Further investigation exposes the green shoots of English blue bells just emerging. I am hoping in time they colonise underneath my hazel archway to make my own miniature bluebell wood.
The warmth has encouraged early flowers on some of our Spring alpines. We could soon be driving through the village of Tingwick admiring the cascading walls of purple aubrietia. I have a rather lovely rampant saxifraga with a gritty determination to win an Oscar for successful ground cover. It makes a warm blanket of crimson under my shrubs. Alpines will grow in thin rocky soils; they are hardy and can take plenty of water but do not like to sit in wet conditions. Alpine hill slopes drain the water away.
I can see tall electric yellow plumes on my Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ protruding above a broad shelf of holly like dark green foliage. My favourite shrub has not disappointed me this winter. All my sliver grey Garrya ellipticas 'James Roof' are shrouded in catkin tassels that hang like icicles. Two I grow like waterfalls unsupported against the wall of my house and another is one of my steadfast border evergreens. Jasminum nudiflorum (winter jasmine) will also grow supported against a wall and produces a pleasant splash of sunshine. It has sweet scented flowers in bursts of yellow. I am still looking out for my first forsythia and witchhazel.
Hamamelis (witch hazel) requires a fairly lime free soil so most villages around Buckingham may be too limey. In these instances it is often enterprising to plant such a worthy shrub that will not grow in your garden in a container where it may have the correct soil and you can still take pleasure in it.
I cannot finish without suggesting we plant more early clematis. Many look on the precipice of life, almost in flower though probably not due until April. These are often overlooked or missed altogether when gardeners choose their clematis, distracted by some of the large blousy blooms on some of the summer varieties. Several spring varieties have some very exquisite creamy white flowers as gentle and natural as white hellebores.
I would recommend investing in Clematis cartmanii ‘Early Sensation’ this spring. It has a profusion of fresh limey green sweet scented flowers against feathery evergreen foliage.