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How to create an illusion of fullness

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The first blooms of lungwort have appeared and will flower for weeks to come

The first blooms of lungwort have appeared and will flower for weeks to come

The first blooms of lungwort have appeared and will flower for weeks to come

It's ironic that the barest time of the garden year comes in late winter and early spring just before the great awakening, which, in this climate, is not complete until the middle of June for some species, such as smokebush and hibiscus.

Fallen leaves have rotted down or been blown or tidied away. The result is gaps, the bare soil between plants becoming very obvious and open to weed growth.

Although these areas can be relatively small, their prominent position lends them an importance beyond their size. By the same token, filling these small gaps can create an illusion of fullness that helps to make the entire border appear much better furnished at this time of year.

There are lots of plants to choose from for the role of front filler. Ideally, the plant should be low-growing so it doesn't obscure any plants behind. It should be ground-hugging and capable of spreading slowly to fill space and it should be, preferably, evergreen.

If it flowers well, and most do, it will bring its own contribution at some stage of the growing season. In fact, the star of the fillers just now is in flower - the first blooms of lungwort or pulmonaria have appeared and will flower for weeks to come. Pick a few stems with snowdrops for a diminutive, but utterly charming floral display indoors.

The evergreen, or purple, elephant ears, or bergenia, with its large, rounded, leathery leaves has flowers from early spring in shades of pink or purple-pink and there are white forms too. Its large leaves are durable and very good at suppressing weeds and it forms a good-sized clump over a few years and is also shade-tolerant.

London pride makes a small rosette of evergreen leaves, held close to the soil and over time spreading slowly outwards in a mat of rosettes. These are tightly held and very good at suppressing weeds for such a small plant. The rosettes send up frothy flowerheads or slender stems. This one is also shade-tolerant.

Celmisia makes tall rosettes of grey, evergreen leaves. Over time it makes a tight clump but covers a close area. It has tall white daisies in summer but is really grown for its lovely silvery leaves, which are especially noteworthy in winter.

Lamb's ear is another good silvery plant, more of spreader this one, it will cover quite a sizeable spot if there is space, and sends up attractive silvery spikes with purple flowers.

The grassy foliage of the sea-pink, or thrift, is bright and cheery in winter and has a presence much greater than its size. The pink pompom flowers appear in early summer, but the tight mass of foliage is just as valuable for winter.

Two plants, not evergreen, but carrying withered foliage that serves the same filling function, are lady's mantle and dwarf knotweed or Persicaria affinis.

Bugle or ajuga has good winter foliage, tolerating some shade, and is available in purple forms. You can find heuchera in a bewildering range of colours from marmalade to lemon-green to pewter.

Several kinds of that old favourite, geranium, are suitable but the best, which is semi-evergreen, is Geranium macrorhizum. This is brilliant at suppressing weeds and flowers nicely in summer.

There are lots of other kinds, such as Euphorbia myrsinites with blue-green fleshy leaves and echeveria, with fleshy rosettes and showy orange flowers.

Any of these plants can be planted at this time of year, and it is surprising just how effective they are right away.

Sunday Independent