Thursday 12 December 2019

Why gardens can bring the light into all our lives

In a climate like Ireland's, primroses, crocuses and daffodils are a way of shedding a little sunshine on our cloud-filled existence.

Marie Staunton pictured with lemon and cream daffodils in her garden near Malahide. Picture: Frank McGrath
Marie Staunton pictured with lemon and cream daffodils in her garden near Malahide. Picture: Frank McGrath
Marie Staunton pictured with la Coronnilla in her garden near Malahide. Picture: Frank McGrath
Primrose in Marie Staunton's garden near Malahide. Picture: Frank Mc Grath
Egg yoke daffodils in Marie Staunton's garden

Marie Staunton

If the sun doesn't shine, then cheat by introducing the colour yellow into your garden. Daffodils are about as sunny a plant as you will find and the fact that quite a few of them are scented makes them a firm favourite with me.

They come in so many varieties that you will find it hard to choose just a few, but if you choose by flowering times, you could find yourself getting a good eight weeks of dazzlingly beautiful colour.

Cool blues make an ideal colour companion for yellow daffodils. I would use something simple like wood anemone or grape hyacinth as they won't overpower the yellow Narcissi, just compliment them beautifully.

If you have an acid soil and want to try the little Narcissi bulbocodium, then I am very jealous as they really are a wonderful little addition to a garden that has a lower pH than I have here.

Bulbs provide an opportunity to carpet the garden with such an array of flowers without the obvious bulk. Shrubs are invaluable, but bulbs set the tone from the very beginning of the season and if you put in the work in autumn, then the rewards will be yours.

I always think of bulbs and corms as an investment in the future. Not only are they an investment, but year on year, you will get a little dividend in the form of daughter bulbs or cormels.

There are very few things in life that are free so isn't it just lovely that you are getting a little something in return for your efforts.

Shrubs and trees are a little more difficult to accommodate in smaller gardens but raising the canopy of trees and some shrubs will allow you lots of room to under-plant with even more colour.

We have Forsythia here in the garden and it can get out of control, so to put manners on it we waited until the flowers had gone over and all the leaves were pushed out before pruning it hard.

And I do mean ruthlessly hard – otherwise it becomes a thicket of crossing branches that get wider and wider with little to offer outside the spring season. There is a smaller version of this sizeable shrub called Forsythia intermedia 'Nana' which will only get to around 90cm.

That might just suit your needs better and won't require the same level of pruning intervention to keep it in check.

Now, if you are looking for a plant that does beautifully and only needs a little shelter to help it achieve its full potential, then look no further than the Coronilla valentina subsp. glauca 'citrina'. If I had a penny for every time I have recommended this particular plant, I wouldn't be short of a bob or two.

It's the sort of plant that people would ring your doorbell just to find out its name, so if you want to keep it a secret, then be sure to plant it in the back garden instead.

Some plants appear to pull light into a garden and Cornus controversa 'Variegata' is one such plant. The new leaves that appear in March add freshness to a border; for all the world like a light has been switched on.

The real magic of this tree is its tiered shape and the delicate cream flowers that arrive in summertime. This is the time of the year that I relish most in the garden.

Everywhere you turn, there is something new and exciting to see. The little surprises that you forgot you planted last year along with the wallflowers and the tulips that are about to burst into flower make it all so worthwhile.

Primula are so versatile and long flowering that I couldn't imagine a garden without them. From the native primrose Primula vulgaris or Primula veris, better known as the cowslip, to the rather showy drumstick variety, they are without doubt the main attraction in a woodland garden at this time of the year.

Again, the beauty of these plants are their long season, Crocuses can be fleeting but these little beauties have a much longer flowering time which keeps a continuous stream of colour going in the garden for weeks rather than days.

They do seed but I find that I can easily divide them if the clump gets too big. I tend to prefer the native ones and mostly because I like the buttery yellow tones even though primroses can come in lots of lovely jewel colours I tend to think of spring in sunshine yellow.

Tidying away everything after they have stopped flowering can, in some instances, starve bulbs of all their nutrients for next year, so if you are a little too tidy, then it is always best to plant things around those bulbs to give them the time to die down at their own speed and without interference.

There are plenty of plants to choose from; Dicentra, Brunnera, Peony rose to name but a few, which take away beautifully from those fading spring bulbs.

Most spring bulbs are planted under deciduous trees and once the light levels are right for them, they perform beautifully. I use a combination of Hellebores and bulbs along with Cyclamen to get as much colour as I can into the garden for March and April.

The weather can change on a sixpence at this time of the year and colder temperatures and the odd flurry of snow will put a stop to your gallop. I tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to planting out summer bedding; you could lose the lot overnight if you aren't watching the weather forecast for frost.

The problem with sowing seeds too early is the lack of space to harden them off before they can fend for themselves outside. I tend to wait until the very last moment to sow seeds and hope for the best that the risk of frost has passed before I plant them out into their final position in the garden.

I'm glad that Easter is a bit later this year because I usually try and have certain jobs done in the garden by Good Friday and I know I'm just cheating by giving myself the extra time but life can't always be to a timetable.

Irish Independent Supplement

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