Eranthis hyemalis, the winter aconite, appears in the garden in late January and February, making them an excellent choice to brighten up the dull days as we await the return of springtime. Their round buds can often be seen pushing up through snow covered borders although the flowers are sensitive to warmth, remaining tightly shut on cold days and only opening if the temperature reaches around 10C (50F). Winter aconites belong to the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae, and they are perfect for a damp, shady spot in the garden or under tress and shrubs before those overhead canopies leaf up.
Another of the first bursts of colour to appear in the garden is the crocus in shades of yellow, white, and purple. The ultimate low maintenance corm, they are a perennial from the Iridaceae family which multiply year on year and perform in most soil types, except very soggy soil. The yellow crocus is said to be symbolic of hope, foretelling spring’s arrival with its cheerful colour.
The summer snowflake, Leucojum aestivum, is not to be confused with the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis. Neither does it bloom in summer but normally in mid-spring. Snowflakes stand almost twice as tall as snowdrops and normally have more than one bell-shaped flower nodding from each stem. Snowflake petals are even, each with a lime green spot on the end, whereas snowdrops have helicopter-like propellers that are green only on the inner petals. Snowflake bulbs are happy to grow in sun or partial shade, preferring woodland conditions. They grow in clumps and return reliably year or year. Leucojum vernum, the spring snowflake is another to consider if you are looking for an even earlier blooming show.
Primula denticulata, known commonly as the drumstick primula, throws up a spherical ball of colour in whites, pinks, reds, and purples atop upright stems arising from a basal rosette of lime green leaves. The word ‘primula’ comes from Latin, meaning first and you should start to see these striking flowers in the garden from mid February. They enjoy moist soil in light shade and can easily be dug up and divided in late summer. They have gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.