This time of year reminds me of that Wind in the Willows quote: “Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing.”
February is a great time for taking a long hard look at your garden in preparation for nature to explode and shout out its colourful longings.
Asking some simple questions with some gardening principles in hand will help you create a stunning Spring garden.
Garden Focal Points
In the Winter and early Spring a garden is obviously paired down to its structural bones. Then Spring starts to become restless and shoots start to push up from the earth. If you have some solid points of focus in your garden it can make the new Spring growth that much more delicate and magical.
Large pots at the end of a path, interestingly shaped hedges screening or dividing different areas and water features like perfect circular bird baths sunken into the middle of a low lying perennial bed replacing the sky.
Also you can create woodland paths through your shady areas so that you are encouraged to enter into these parts of your garden.
You can use bark chips or shingles edged with wooden planks to bend into curves. You can also think about mowing your lawn selectively this year, letting some areas grown long and mowing paths can take different routes each year.
They obviously come into their own in Spring. Tulips are my favourite because they are so unashamedly colourful and their temporal nature makes them more precious to behold. If you are lucky they will continue year on year but be prepared to have to top them up each Autumn. It is not too late to buy English bluebells and Snowdrops ‘in the green’.
‘In the green’ means that they have finished flowering this year but you are able to purchase the whole plant, bulb and stem, which when planted will guarantee a good survival rate ready for next year’s display.
Crocus are fantastic scattered through the lawn and by the time you are ready to do your first mow of the season their blooms have faded and you can mow around and then eventually mow up their fading foliage.
If you have any space at all in corners and along the edges of paths think about Miscarii armeniacum, their miniature purple bunches of grape looking blooms will delight you. Plus it’s not too late to plant some Gladiolus and Ranunculous (the better behaved buttercups) around any water features you may have.
February is also the time to look at where you want colour to appear in your beds. If you keep a diary of sketches showing where the bulbs come up, then in Autumn you will know that you need more tall white Alliums on the left border and more pale orange tulips around the front of the house and so on.
Don’t forget to leave stakes in the middle of bare earth to remind you to plant Dahlias and Nerines in late Spring ready for late Summer.
You can now sow directly into your veg bed, all the hardy vegetables like spinach, lettuce, radishes and beetroot. Ideally with some protection you can even save hundreds of pounds and sow seeds for Geraniums, Bergenias and Antirrhinums. You can sow Poppy seeds, Nasturtiums and Forgot me nots straight into cleared areas of the beds directly outdoors.
Smaller shrubs and plants
If you don’t have acid soil why not plant up some big pots with acidic soil and plant Rhododendrons and Azaleas. They are the great trumpeters of Spring and once they have finished flowering they can be moved to a shady corner of the garden.
Other shrubs that have a good Spring presence are Hydrangea quercifolia and the 90cm Philadelphus Minature Snowflake.
A rare and very striking plant usually only used by designers is Amsonia hubrisctii. It has delicate white flowers in the spring with phosphorescent yellow foliage in the Autumn. Other plants for you to look up (Go to Google then click on ‘Images’) are Iris Acoma and Iris reticulate Harmony, the delicate Puschkinia scilloides, Sanguinary canadensis, yellow Trillium with its white marble foliage and miraculous ability to disappear by June and Anemone nemorosa.
Depending on the size of your garden you can make a tree calendar. This is making a list of all the months that you want your trees to shine as a main event. There are great trees for Spring and I have chosen smaller trees that should go well in even small gardens. Amelanchier Ballerina- coppery foliage and large white blossoms, this also ticks the October and November list with its bright orange and red foliage. Hawthorn Prunifolia has wonderfully large white blooms (and can be rounded to any shape you want). then of course the edible red berries in the Summer and Autumn.
The Rowans are of course delicate in the Soring and Sorbus vilmorins has crimson berries that turn almost white. There is a nice Cherry tree that is very compact and vertical called Prunus amanogawa.
The Weeping Silver Pear tree is both bright and silver in the Spring and with its weeping habit can become a feature tree in its own right throughout the season. As well as the small magnolias and Cornus Porlock you might want to think of the smaller apple trees such as Discovery on a small root stock or the upright Ballerina. Lastly there is the wonderful Cercis canadensis, Witch Hazels and traditional fragrant Syringa vulgarise.
Places to visit
February is a great time to explore woodland. The bare bones of the earth are at rest and the quality of the forest is still and waiting for Spring with some small delights emerging. Also the evergreens like Ivy, Yew and Holly come into their own. Try visiting Angmering Park Estate Trust, Petworth House Woods, Slindon and The Warrens.