The alluring Hepatica flowers from February to March and is the perfect spring jewel for any garden. Often found in the wild emerging through snow Hepaticas are part of the Ranunculaceae (Buttercup) family. For this reason they look similar to wood anemone with the characteristic three lobed leaves. The attractive small flowers are native to woodlands in Central and North Europe, Asia and North America.
The subtle flowers come in shades of white, purple, crimson, and blue. In Japan new double forms are being developed for cultivation. The European native species typically grow in dappled woodland and work well in your garden under trees and shrubs. H.americana and H.acutiloba were commonly used for medicinal purposes and were referred to as liverwort due to their leaf appearance. Try mixing them with other spring bulbs as companions and extending seasonal interest in your garden. They do not do well in highly competitive areas but good companions are hellebores, scilla, wood anemones and trilliums.
Ashwood Nurseries is a UK based plant nursery that specialises in this genus. They supply fresh seed and have won an impressive collection of RHS Gold Medals.
“The Himalayan Blue Poppy is at the top of every plant lover’s list.” Vita Sackville West.
The heavenly blue Himalayan poppy may be considered a superstar of the plant world. Collected from the mountainous Himalayas it has captured the attention of all who encounter it. It was first discovered in 1922 by the mountaineer George Leigh Mallory and a group of British explorers in the East Rongbuk Valley in Tibet. Then later collected by famous plant hunters like Frank Kingdom Ward, Ernest Henry Wilson and others. Including blue there are a variety of colours within the genus of Meconopsis such as red, yellow, white and purple. The name is derived from the Greek word mekon (poppy) and opsis (like) meaning poppy like.
This rare coloured plant has been described as temperamental and has proved challenging to grow by even the most highly skilled. In many cases people have viewed the plant as unattainable as it is a crowning achievement if you can successfully grow this plant in your garden. It will refuse to grow in hot climates with warm summers and low rainfall. In the Himalayas summers are wet and winters cold and dry. If you live in the North of England or Scotland where summers can be short and at times drizzly the poppy will thrive in these climatic conditions which are reminiscent of its home.
When growing from seed use fresh and properly stored seed. Place in a cool room or fridge for a few months to mimic a winter in the Himalayas to help trigger germination. It is best to sow the seed in Dec-Feb. Surface sow and only very lightly cover. They can then be left outside or in a greenhouse but remember to water from the base. Germination can take two weeks to several months. If you have a greenhouse with a heated bench the optimum temperature is ideally 150C. The key fact to remember if to never allow the surface to dry out. Once germination has occurred delicately prick out the small seedlings into individual pots and grow on. They like a nutrient rich soil and when mulching take extra care not to cover the crowns of the plants. If a hot summer occurs use overhead irrigation to ensure survival. Meconopsis thrive in dappled sunlight. Too much sun and they will get scorched leaves. This plant is challenging to master but with patience and the right climate you too can raise these tantalizing plants.
For more advice on which species to grow and further information:
The Meconopsis Group’s advice for first time growers
Blue Himalayan Poppies at Longwood Gardens
Early spring is when one plant in particular, the Hellebore, becomes the star of the show. More commonly known as the Lenten Rose hellebores are perennial which means the plant will come up year after year. They belong in the Ranunculaceae family with 15 species within the genus. Most of the modern new hybrids are crosses from Hellebore orientalis and John Massey of Ashwood Nurseries in the Midlands has created a number of award winning cultivars. They provide a splash of colour in the garden when everything else is waiting for warmer weather to return. Always trim the foliage down to the ground in the Autumn to avoid black spot and other diseases being carried in the leaves. They thrive in neutral or slightly alkaline soil especially when organic matter is incorporated into the soil. Position them in a shaded or partially shaded area where they will seed freely or multiple through division. Seed can be collected in June and sown fresh in seed trays which will start a new generation of hellebores for your garden. The petals are actually sepals (modified leaves) which means they stay on the plant for about two months providing a lasting display. To admire the detail of the inner sepal markings collect a few flowers and float them in a bowl of water indoors for everyone to enjoy.
The striking dwarf Iris reticulata flowers in February. It kicks off the bulb season beautifully and brings the hope of spring to any garden. These charming irises compete with snowdrops and crocuses as they all emerge around the same time. Originating from the Middle East they do best in well drained conditions where they experience a warm dry summer. The classic icy blue ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ was bred in 1955 by EB Anders, a former member of the RHS and joint Rock Garden Plant Committee. Iris leaves are long and narrow with flowers in purple, white,blue and a hint of yellow variations of colour and they are typically fragrant. They work well in troughs, under trees and even indoors in a shallow bowl. Dress the bulbs once planted with a layer of grit to keep slugs and snails off. Plant in Autumn – twice the depth of the bulb. Alan MCMurtrie, a Canadian Iris breeder, was fascinated by the bulb after a trip to Switzerland in 1979. He has achieved an outstanding job of breeding them and dedicated 30 years of his life doing so. It is thanks to Alan we now have breathtaking colours and patterns never seen before.
Some notable new hybrids to try are:
Iris ‘Velvet Smile’
Iris ‘Sea Green’
Iris ‘Spot On’
Alan McMurtrie (Breeder)
Scottish Rock Garden Club
One of the latest trends in horticulture are terrariums where you can create and assemble a miniature plant world to admire in your own home. A terrarium is a small glass case that allows you to grow plants with little effort or specialist skills. They act as a unique living space between indoors and outdoors. This is not a new concept as in 1800 Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward discovered he could grow a plant in a sealed glass bottle which would provide enough carbon dioxide and oxygen, plus moisture for it to survive. After this the Wardian case, a sealed portable mini greenhouse, was invented by Sir William Hooker. The Wardian case was used by many plant hunters to bring back live specimens of plants from far away places. They would arrive in perfect condition after being at sea for months. Terrariums act in the same way like mini greenhouses which can be decorated with coloured pebbles, moss, lichen and pine cones. When designing your terrarium select small plants and nestle them into a mix of soil and light grit for drainage. If the terrarium is sealed select plants which prefer high humidity such as orchids, ferns and venus fly traps and create a mini greenhouse. If the terrarium is not sealed you can select drier plant species such as cacti and succulents. Let your imagination run wild and create a miniature plant landscape for your home.
This elegant shrub provides superb interest and fragrance during the long winter months. Edgeworthia chrysantha, also referred to as the paperbush,starts to bloom in December when there is little interest in the garden. This genus is related to the Daphne, another sweetly fragrant winter flowering shrub. People describe the smell of Edgeworthia as similar to that of Gardenia. It is typically a 5ft by 5ft deciduous shrub with papery bark. In Japan they are known for using the bark to make high quality paper. It can be tricky to grow at times but is definitely worth the challenge ideally requiring good humus rich soil in a sheltered spot. If you can provide this it will thrive and it has been known to do well in gardens, even in severe winter frosts, if slightly protected. The shrub has been known to do well in a cool greenhouse in a pot but just remember to feed it regularly. It can be propagated by seed or semi ripe cuttings during the summer months. It looks good planted in combination with snowdrops, crocuses or early flowering hellebores.
Snowdrops are always greatly anticipated as they are the first flowers of the year after a long cold winter. Their graceful nodding white flowers carpet the landscape and look wonderful in any garden setting. They have carefully adapted to pierce through winter snow. Snowdrops originate from Europe and Western Asia and belong in theAmarylliaceae plant family. This small bulb is found in the genus Galanthus which in Latin or Greek translates to‘milk flower’. The flowers are so adored that they have a big following of enthusiasts called Galanthophiles who will pay large sums of money for just a few bulbs to add to their collection. Most Galanthophiles look for new snowdrops in graveyards or old gardens where they may have naturally hybridised. Other enthusiasts have set up breeding programmes to create new variations that do not exist. You may not have given snowdrops en masse much thought before, but look closely and you will see they have different distinctive features from flower markings, size and stem colour. Today there are hundreds of varieties available to grow. They can be propagated by seed easily but the most effective method of propagation is by division. Once the foliage and flowers begin to die back divide large clumps ‘in the green’ and distribute them around your garden. They can even be planted under trees and do best in humus rich soil that is well drained but doesn’t dry out in summer. They come up early in the year and are a welcome sight to see. Many public gardens have large displays and organise snowdrop festivals to attend.
Snowdrop Festival Scotland
Painswick Rococo Garden
Cambo Country House and Estate
Against winter’s bleak grey backdrop witch hazel is a welcome site in any garden. Witch hazel belongs in the genus Hamamelis and originate from North America, Asia, Japan and China. These stars of the show bloom when everything else is dull and dormant. They come in a range of dazzling colours from red and orange to bright sulphur yellow. Some varieties of this hardy shrub are fragrant and sweet in the cold winter air. Cut a few short stems and place in a vase to scent your home. The leaves typically turn red and yellow in the fall and are green during the growing season. The vast majority of Hamamelis are slow growing but will eventually reach around 3.5metres. If you need to prune only do so lightly being careful not to remove too much material. The ideal growing conditions are in a humus rich soil in full sun or partial shade. Try to incorporate organic matter withwell-rotted manure or compost into your soil. When locating them in your garden try grouping them in a sheltered position near a door or wall to contain the sweet fragrance. Native American Indians used the inner bark of the stem to ease bleeding and people today still use the oil to reduce bruising. They will bring a smile to your face on the coldest and dullest winter day and you will know that Spring is not far away.
We are currently experiencing a gin renaissance. In the past few years we have seen new and exciting botanical gins on the market. New gin bars popping up everywhere and weird and wonderful botanicals being drunk. Many are now infused in the style of cocktails. New gins are now boasting 20 odd botanicals with a traditional juniper base. These floral layers are adding to the taste and enjoyment of the beverage. Plan ahead for this summer and grow Borage flowers in your garden. This really easy to grow annual can be started from seed in the spring. The dazzling blue flower is edible and it holds its colour well. The flowers can float in your gin or Pimms glass. Or even try freezing the flowers which will give you an elegant ice cube. The flowers can also be added to salads or cakes as a floral garnish. If blue isn’t for you there are some seed suppliers where you can select pink or white flowers. Grab your trowel and get planting!