Splashes of colour in the garden now lift the soul, enticing you that spring is just around the corner and all the associated hope and joy that it brings. But the months of February and March can be a tricky time to add colour and interest into the garden. The seedheads that were left uncut over winter for the wildlife may well have been pummelled by the unforgiving weather by now, and the berries devoured by the birds long ago. The daffodils and tulips are not quite at full throttle yet and the spring perennials are still a little way off.
So what can be planted to inject some cheer into the garden in late winter and early spring? These tried and tested choices are hardy stalwarts and must-haves in your garden.
Galanthus is such a valuable addition to the garden at this time of year. I never tire of the magic as they emerge from the harsh depths of winter to produce such intricate flower heads which gently nod in the biting cold winds. They are bewildering in their ability to be so hardy yet so delicate. They look at their best planted in large swathes – with snowdrops, more is most definitely more.
Galanthus nivalus is the common snowdrop, but there are a huge range of different varieties that generally flower between January and March. Plant them ‘in the green’ just after they have flowered, and to increase your own stock, lift the clumps up and divide them, carefully prising them apart by hand and planting in smaller groups. If you continue to do this, over the years you will have a dazzling white carpet of snowdrops.
Hellebores flowers from January right up until May and is so good at bringing cheer and colour into the garden in late winter and into spring. They come in an array of colours – rich plums, lime greens, off-whites and more – and can have single or more flamboyant double flower heads, often with speckled or veined markings.
The bold, palmate foliage is semi evergreen – it can sometimes be susceptible to leaf spot, a fungal disease, but simply cut the affected leaves right back (don’t put them on your compost). Hellebores does best in semi shade and is great at brightening up a border at this time of year.
A pretty tuberous perennial with varying shades of pink, purple or white petals, contrasting with their striking silver veined, dark green leaves. Cyclamen coum is the hardy variety – not to be muddled with the indoor variety Cyclamen persicum, which is considered a house plant in our climate and will not survive a Scottish winter outside.
Cyclamen coum Silver Group is especially striking, with its metallic-like leaves. They do well planted en masse under trees and shrubs.
4. Witch Hazel
Moving onto larger plants, Witch Hazel, Hamamelis, is a showstopper shrub for this time of year; nothing brightens up the garden on even the dullest day quite like it. On their bare branches appear distinctive, exotic fringed tassels of brightly coloured flowers in striking yellows, oranges and pinks, doused in a delicate sweet fragrance.
Best grown in an open space in full sun, they prefer slightly acidic or neutral soil. They do not like chalky soil but they can be grown in a pot as an alternative. If you have heavy clay soil, prepare the ground by adding plenty of organic matter and some grit to improve drainage. They look great underplanted with snowdrops or cyclamen.
5. Viburnum Tinus
Viburnum tinus is an evergreen shrub, which bears tightly packed clusters of pink buds opening to small white flowers from late winter to early spring. The fragrant blooms stand out against the backdrop of the glossy deep green leaves. The flowers are followed by a blue-black fruit, extending the interest of the shrub.
It naturally grows in a compact, rounded shape, so is good for structure even when it’s not in flower, and will be happy in full sun or partial shade. I like to grow them as standards with lollipop heads, planted in a line of 3, 5 or 7 depending on space, to draw the eye through the garden.
Katie runs Katie Reynolds Design which offers garden and interior design services across Aberdeenshire and the North East of Scotland. She is qualified in both sectors, having trained at KLC School of Design in London and the National Design Academy. Follow Katie for more inspiration on Instagram and Facebook.