A Growing Concern: some last minute tips for a beautiful spring garden (even if you haven’t started yet)
Inigo gets some last minute tips to set us up for the season from Petersham Nurseries’ Horticulture Director Amanda Brame
- Amanda Brame
Often I’m informed that spring is one of the most difficult seasons to plan for, yet it is probably when most of us first start to think about our gardens. In an ideal world you will have already chosen and placed your order for spring bulbs way back last summer, and then planted out during last autumn, and by now they’ve already started to pop up above the winter snow. But if this isn’t you, don’t be put off. You can still have a beautiful spring garden, even at this late stage. At your local garden centre you will find plenty of pre-potted bulbs in containers full of daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and more – the list is endless. But there’s much more to a spring garden than flowers: from blossoming trees to pretty flowering shrubs, there are so many ways to brighten up your outdoor space. Here are a few simple ways to make it happen.
Define your needs
Understanding the aspect of your garden is a good place to start when planning your spring garden. Think about how you use the space and decide if a beautiful blossom tree in a spot you have identified might also be a good place to sit in the dappled shade later during summer. Sometimes spring shrubs can look a bit uninspiring once they have finished flowering, but they will look fabulous entwined with shrubby flowering clematis, and this makes for a display that will last all summer. Or perhaps all you want is an instant spring vibe: therefore simple groupings of pots or containers filled with spring flowers will suffice.
At Petersham Nurseries we welcome colour in all its glory, ushering in early spring with sorbet colours, soft shades of yellow and pink, and going darker and richer as the season progresses. We finish up, in late April/early May with the vibrant and crazy colourways of the fabulous tulips, especially the parrot varieties. But you don’t need to overthink this: instead take nature as a guide and you’ll find yourself following a similar scheme.
Spring and fragrance just seem to go hand in hand: making a positive decision to include scented varieties into your garden will immediately transform how you feel about it. Imagine the delicious spicy fragrance of shrubby daphne odora or the honey-like scent of clematis armandii resting against a sunny wall. Other fragrant plants to consider are sweetly scented viburnum carlesii and the pretty heady lilac bush syringa. Philadelphus – mock orange – is another must-have plant in the garden. Select a couple of successional varieties such as the tree-like “Virginal” or the much smaller hanging blooms of “Belle etoile” and you’ll have this wonderful scent filling your garden for months on end.
Spring flowering trees and shrubs will add great structure to your garden. At this point in the year, cherry trees generally dominate the scene and there’s plenty to choose from. The dark pink blossom of prunus “Kursar”, with its deep orange autumnal leaves, is a good all-seasonal choice or perhaps the pure white prunus avium “Plena” or pale pink Prunus “Pandora”, both of which are more suited to smaller gardens. Blooming later in spring are the crab apples – malus “Evereste” being a traditional favourite – but if you have room for only one specimen plant make it a magnolia. There are so many of these to choose from, ranging from dark purple to the palest of pinks and white and even the beautiful yellow flowered “Yellow bird”, which is mesmerising underplanted with masses of white scented white Narcissus Plenus.
Whatever tree or shrub you will be planting, give it the best possible start and dig a nice big hole, add plenty of compost or well-rotted manure and remember to stake trees and tie your tree securely to prevent wind rock, which can damage and delay developing roots from getting established.
Spring for containers
Always save a few bulbs and plants for containers – they add the finishing touches to the garden. Fill pots and urns with the long flowering narcissus “Bridal Crown” available now as container plants and try topping off with moss. Watch out though, as you might find the birds pinch a little for their nest making. Long troughs planted with an array of spring plants always add a little drama to the terrace. Plant densely with violas, primrose, polyanthus, primula, and hyacinth, adding trailing muehlenbeckia or ivy to bring a touch of green. These containers will flower for ages, particularly if you refresh when the odd plant fades away.
I’ve left this bit until last, not wanting to bog you down at the beginning but, like with anything else, preparation is key. If you can get outside as early as possible, when the weather is fine and the garden isn’t too wet, you will be getting ahead and you’ll definitely be pleased to have done it when the sun starts shining properly. Clear away any old leaves, or dying matter, cut down any late flowering perennials that are now looking scruffy. Remove all weeds, concentrating on getting the roots out if you can; it will leave you less work later on if you do. Add a generous layer of homemade or good quality compost over as much of the soil as possible, making sure to include any shrubs and roses too. If you left any dahlia tubers in the ground, you can still mound hill them with compost to protect the emerging shoots from the late frosts. You can still prune winter shrubs and trees now. Sooner rather than later is best, as you need to be mindful of any nesting birds. And don’t forget to order new spring bulbs at the end of next summer. If you want to be on time, next year, you should be planting them in November.
Images courtesy of Petersham Nurseries