Wednesday 23 October 2019

Diarmuid Gavin: 'Tulips are reigning supreme and woodland bulbs are making their last push to flower'


Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve'
Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve'

Diarmuid Gavin

We are in the full throes of spring. The overture of snowdrops and aconites has finished, many daffodils are over, and tulips are reigning supreme, providing a dazzling first act with their colours cascading through beds, borders and containers.

Woodland bulbs are making their last push to flower before deciduous trees unfurl their foliage. This week I saw erythronium blooms start to open up and trilliums display their wonderful flowers. The Anemone blanda I planted last autumn underneath the birch trees have sprung to life. I took the precaution of soaking the dried-up tubers overnight before planting, and this seems to have been well worth the trouble as I gaze at the pretty carpet of white and blue daisy-like flowers.

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It's not just bulbs that are enjoying the sunshine. I took a walk in my local botanic gardens and enjoyed the many shrubs, trees and perennials that were in full blossom. While the bedding borders were crammed with a colourful display of pansies, tulips and wallflowers, it was the Perennial Wallflower (Erysimum mutabilis) that caught my eye in the herbaceous border. This is a bushy perennial that produces masses of spikes of mauve flowers, with a few orange flowers thrown in, and will keep this display going through to the summer. Erysimum 'Bowles's Mauve' (pictured right) is probably better known and will also give a long flowering display from early spring.

At Murphy and Wood garden centre in Cabinteely, Dublin - a small gem of a place which specialises in some unusual plants - I found another delight.

In between all the plant stands are display beds filled with beautiful plants, many about to burst with spring colour.

I spied a wonderful climbing plant in full flower. It's Hardenberghia violacae, known as the Happy Wanderer, and it was resplendent in violet, pea-like flowers so early in the year. This beauty hails from Australia and in its homeland will grow as an evergreen climber. In these parts, it will only survive winter outdoors in milder areas but you can grow it under glass from seed in spring and enjoy its flowers in early summer, or it would make a lovely conservatory plant.

Euphorbias aren't everyone's cup of tea but E. characias wulfennii does look dramatic in full flower now. This Mediterranean spurge will do very well in drought areas but as with all euphorbias, be careful handling them as the milky sap can burn hands and eyes.

Underneath the evergreen trees in deep shade, Brunnera macrophylla was covered with tiny bright blue flowers, which are a bit like forget-me-nots. It prefers moist rich soil so it's an ideal ground cover for a shady damp area. The cultivar 'Jack Frost' has beautiful silvery variegated leaves which can help brighten dark areas.

It was lovely to see some different spring flowering shrubs. Osmanthus delavayi is an evergreen shrub which has very dark small green leaves. At the moment it is covered in small white tubular flowers which have an outstanding fragrance. It's a good choice for a hedge as you can clip it formally or in its natural form the branches will arch gracefully. It will do well in sun or partial shade but for maximum flowers, a sunny position is best.

The cherry trees have started their display and are hard to beat for beauty. If you don't have room for a tree, I recommend the Pearl Bush, Exochorda 'The Bride'. This deciduous shrub is clothed in white blossoms and has a display to rival any cherry. It has graceful arching branches and will reward you with beautiful tinted foliage in the autumn.

Top Tip

Doronicum, or leopard's bane as it is commonly known, is covered in yellow daisy flowers. This is one of the first daisies to flower and prefers partial shade so could be a useful companion plant as shade-loving bulbs begin to die down.

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