Spring Gardening Ideas
Sue Adams has lived in SW France for 15 years and founded the website French Properties Direct. She is busy creating her second French garden and wants it to be eye catching, filled with interest and productive regardless of the season. Here she talks about the optimism and cheer to be found in the spring garden.
2020 was a difficult year and without doubt many people, both existing gardeners and converts, found solace in their own patch of earth, re-connecting with birds, insects and wider aspects of nature as never before.
Sue Adams - Enthusiastic gardener and writer
After months of cold it is always a delight to see the tiny green shoots of springtime and, to help transform the garden, here are some spring gardening ideas.
Green shoots and unfurling leaves
Following the tough little Snowdrops of January, Crocuses, Daffodils, Hellebores, Muscari and many other early spring flowering bulbs, shrubs and perennials burst into life. They take advantage of the wetter weather, the light available under deciduous trees and shrubs and the lengthening days to flower and set seed before the heat and drought of summer forces them into retreat.
At the same time buds on trees and shrubs begin to break and fuzzy halos of green appear to outline distant woodland. It is always a pleasure to bring a small branch of unfurling leaves into the warmth of the house and watch them gradually open.
A woodland garden in springtime
We created beds under two large trees; a walnut and a fig. Walnuts, in particular, are supposed to be difficult to plant under. They produce a chemical called juglone which can be toxic to other plants but I’ve found that, with plenty of mulch and some judicious watering, this bed has become a successful mini woodland garden. There’s an abundance of plant activity in the early months when the trees have no leaves to obscure light and, during the summer, they provide shade, protecting the plants beneath them. So these spring gardening ideas lead nicely into summer too!
In February and March these woodland beds are filled with hybrids of Oriental Hellebores, many of which have self-seeded. These continue to flower for weeks with the flowers gradually fading to a papery memory of the original. I leave the attractive seed heads on until early summer (which is why we have so many seedlings) and then throughout the rest of the year the dark leaves provide weed suppressing ground cover.
The Hellebores are interspersed with Daffodils (Tète a Tète seems to work particularly well), Aconites and Muscari in February, with Violets, early Tulips and Aquilegia appearing in March. We also have a couple of big clumps of Euphorbia Robbiae (a thug, which will take over given half a chance) and magnificent Acanthus Mollis with massive, dark green leaves to add height and structure. These beds have grown every year and have recently become difficult to weed so I have now laid flattish cobbles at strategic points, like stepping-stones across the beds, helping with the weeds and giving a little extra structure.
The solace of a sunny wall
Meanwhile, in sunnier spots in the garden against a south or west facing wall, for example, spring’s arrival is being announced by bees and other bugs noisily making the best of warmer days. Honeybees generally start to leave the hive when the temperature reaches 15°C but bumble bees, especially the buff-tailed bumble bee which is the one most commonly seen, have the ability to forage in much colder weather.
Floral Beauty and Scent
Flowering plants such as Ornamental Currants, Mimosa, Forsythia, Viburnum Bodnantense, Rosemary and even early Roses are all in bloom by the end of March. Rosa Banksia is particularly successful in sheltered places, forming enormous cascades of tiny (usually) yellow flowers. Early flowering shrubs need to be pruned, where necessary, after flowering as their flowers are produced on last year’s growth. Prune them at the back-end of the year and you are cutting off next spring’s flowers. Early flowers on deciduous shrubs tend to occur before the leaves and look sensational when framed by the bare twigs of February and March.
Then you have the scent! Many early spring flowers, like Cosmos or Dahlias for instance, are not showy so they tend to announce themselves by their scent. Early Jasmines, Mahonia, Daphne Odora (plant it by a path to catch the astounding perfume as you walk past) and Mimosa will gently scent the air on a chilly spring day.
As a final idea, design into your garden a favourite corner for your morning cup of coffee where you can sit in the spring sunshine and drink in the sights, sounds and scents. It really is great for the morale!
First published in the Feb-Apr 2021 issue of The Local Buzz
Images: Sue Adams and Shutterstock