Marie Staunton: Euphorbia pumps colour
Give your garden a timely injection of colour by using euphorbia to complement bulbs
I'm always looking for colour combinations that will complement rather than detract. We haven't reached the time of the year when bright colours predominate, so colour is less flashy at the moment.
There is, however, a way of pumping up the colour by using euphorbia with spring and early summer-flowering bulbs. The lime green foliage of the euphorbia is an excellent foil for the tulips, and they complement each other beautifully.
The beauty of using a plant such as euphorbia is that, as the tulips go over, the foliage will help to disguise their recession. There are many varieties, so choose one that won't dominate, such as euphorbia polychrome. If you have small children, warn them about the dangers of picking the euphorbia, because the milky sap can cause skin irritation.
Have you heard of a plant called omphalodes? It has beautiful little blue or white flowers that float above the foliage in late spring, and it is easily divided to increase your plant numbers. It looks particularly good in a semi-shaded woodland border with primulas and tiny blue flowered chinadoxa.
If you are looking for inspiration, a trip over Easter to the National Botanic Gardens, or indeed to Farmleigh, will get you motivated to try new combinations.
I bought some 'White Honesty' seed, latin name Lunaria annua alba, last year and I'm kicking myself that I didn't raise some more plants, because as I look out of the window now, there is the most beautiful cluster of 'White Honesty'. Had I sown more seed, they would have made a great companion for the forget-me-nots. You can never have too much of a good thing, especially when it's that cheap to produce.
Before we know it, the roses will be blooming and it will be a race against time to get everything done, but little and often is the only way to keep the garden in check. Weeding and feeding the lawn after the long winter will keep the grass nice and green, which to my mind sets off the flower beds beautifully.
If you can dead-head some of the spring bulbs as the flowers go over, it will take the bad look off them. The camellias will need a top dressing of a good-quality ericaceous compost to help them recover after all their hard work in the flowering department. Once out of flower, you can start feeding them again, but only up until August, so that they will be ready for flowering again next year.
These little jobs, taken care of now, before we get too busy, will make a big difference to how the plants perform next year. Once the forsythia flowers have gone over, you can prune out any stems that are too old or have gone a bit wild-looking. Spiraea can also be pruned back after flowering to keep it in check.
If you have a vegetable patch, you will be busy this month sowing kale, turnips, beetroot as well as leeks and carrots outside. One of my favourite gardeners when it comes to growing organic vegetables and fruits is Klaus Laitenberger, who will be giving a masterclass on Saturday May 3 in The Garden House, Malahide, Co Dublin, on growing veg organically in a poly-tunnel. If you are lucky, you might still manage to secure a place in his class – the contact number is 01-531 2020.
This is the first year we have grown asparagus in the garden, and they are all shooting up like little submarine periscopes out of the soil. Unfortunately, we will have to wait at least a year to try them as the plants have to be three years old before harvesting.
It's nice to try out different plants – without experimenting, life would be very boring altogether.
Did you watch the BBC4 programme on Great Dixter a couple of weeks ago? This is one of those gardens that thrived on being experimental. It was the family home of Christopher Lloyd, and his books and garden are an inspiration to anyone with an interest in plant combinations. If you haven't had a chance to visit Great Dixter house and gardens, put it on your to-do list – you won't be disappointed.
In the know
Now is the time to add a top dressing of ericaceous compost to camellias to help them recover
Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Question: Can you recommend some tall white flowering plants for a border that will get full sun?
Marie replies: I have a few favourites, and after seeing how beautiful the 'White Honesty' is this year, I can say, hand on heart, it is well worth growing. For later in the season, the obvious choice is Veronicastrum virginicum 'Album', which comes into its own in July/August. Selinum wallichianum, also known as milk parsley, is a fantastic white-flowering plant, giving both height and an airiness to borders.
Phlox of course is a winner in the flowering stakes, as is valerian; the white one is called Centranthus ruber 'Albus', and it is long-flowering and very easy to grow. It is a great seaside garden plant and manages well in poorer chalky soils. It isn't as tall as the other plants, but it's worth including.
Last but not least is Campanula latiloba 'Alba', with its beautiful bell-shaped flowers.