I think it’s safe to say that spring has finally sprung in Ireland. We’re seeing splashes of colour in the garden and hearing the buzz of insects as they flitter about. If you’re in the process of starting a flower garden from scratch or need to rejuvenate an existing one you might be interested in this series of blog posts. I’ve previously posted Creating a Garden the Easy Way and shared some really clever Gardening Hacks and now I’m going to do a series of posts highlighting my favourite plants of the moment. I’ll be focusing on easy-to-grow, readily available, inexpensive perennial plants of the season, with a final post on shrubs, which I’ll post in the Autumn when it’s the best time to plant them. I may be late with this first instalment but on the plus side some of the plants I mention here will soon be selling at a discount in garden centres!
Why bother with a garden at all? Well apart from the proven physical and mental health benefits of gardening, our gardens serve as oases for pollination insects in towns and cities. Just consider how small a bee is in comparison to the vast expansiveness of nectar deserts (aka tarmac, concrete and lawns) and you get a sense of just how difficult life must be for them. If we can get every garden growing some form of accessible nectar rich plants we can create a living highways for these vulnerable beasties.
I’m purposely only going to feature perennial plants that I personally find easy to grow and slug and disease resistant. For me annuals are such a waste of money, time and resources, unless you’re able to grow them from seeds sown directly in the ground. You may notice that a few spring stalwarts are missing from my list, like tulips. This is intentional. Although beautiful, I find tulips to be fussy buggers, if the weather’s too warm they open too wide and lose their glamour, if the weather is too wet or windy and they get destroyed, the shows over for another year. Plus the hybridise varieties (man-made varieties) tend to need replacing every year if you want a good show – what a waste!
Here’s my top 9 Super Spring Perennials
Cyclamens offer fantastically dramatic colour in the winter garden and are a favoured plant by all garden centres. The variety that you typically see in the shops is an non-hardy variety that will not typically return the following year, unless it’s protected. One variety is fully hardy and will come back year after year. It’s called cyclamen hederifolium and I’ve been hunting for one for ages and was lucky enough to find one this year in the garden centre at Powerscourt. If you look after this plant and don’t let it get too wet in the winter it’ll return year after year, spreading as it does. It’s a woodland plant so tends to like some shade in the summer. This could be provided by a nearby deciduous shrub or a herbaceous plant.
The very first plant to poke its head up in January or February in Ireland is the Snowdrop and I love seeing it emerge. There are hundreds of varieties and you can spend a fortune on some of them. They tend to grow in most conditions but do like some shade in the summer, so plants them where they’ll get shade from a deciduous shrub or a herbaceous plant. I like to sprinkle summer seeds over my spring bulbs so that I have interest in the spot left by the snowdrops when they’ve gone over and I’m less likely to dig up the bulbs in error. Unlike most bulbs snowdrops are best planted just after they’ve finished flowering. This year i wanted to bulk out my snowdrop display but really struggled to find any in the garden centres, but I eventually found some plants in Lidl for €1.39 each. When the flowers are finished, remove them so that the plant doesn’t waste energy making seed and puts its energy back into the bulb instead. Allow the leaves to die back naturally.
Following on a few weeks later from the snowdrop is the Snowflake. This is a more statuesque cousin to the snowflake and is a really great addition to the spring border. There is a spring variety and a summer variety, with the latter flowering from mid to late spring. The leaves of the snowflake last longer than that of other spring bulbs but it looks healthy for most of the time so can be a nice backdrop to summer flowering plants. Just remember to deadhead like the snowdrops. I’ve heard that slugs eat them but I’ve never had an issue in my garden, and I have lots of problems with slugs and snails. Best planted in full sun or partial shade.
Aubrieta is very quick to follow snowdrops and snowflakes in my garden and its purple blossoms provides a wonderful contrast to the typical yellow / white colour palette of spring. The flowers themselves are not particularly spectacular but the plant can create a vivid carpet of colour in spring. It is a plant that is very drought tolerant, but it’s also survived my water retentive clay soil, not to mention snowfalls. It’s meant to prefer a lime rich soil but it does very well in my neutral soil. It flowers best in full sun but does very well in partial shade in my garden. Just give it a prune after it’s flowered to tidy it up a bit.
Another favourite of mine is the Hellebore. As with snowdrops these come in a variety of styles but unusual ones can be hard to come by and because they take a long time to mature the plants can be quite expensive. The best value I’ve found for unusual hellebores was in the garden centre at Powerscourt where I paid €13 per plant. Hellebores are woodland plants so like to be shaded from the summer sun. The only problem I’ve had with hellebores is blackened leaves on occasion, which I remedy by removing the leaves and burning or composting in the brown bin. I wouldn’t compost these in my own composter but it doesn’t reach the temperatures required to kill the fungus, unlike municipal composters. If you google images of hellebores you’ll see the range of colour they can be bought in, just be careful not to plant different varieties too close to one another or they’ll cross fertilise and result in a muddy flower colour over time.
As we move into late spring we start to get even more colour, typically in the form of daffodils. Most of use are very familiar with the traditional all-yellow daffodil that comes out in March, but the range of colours and flowering times is huge. If you wanted to you could have daffodils flowering in your garden from November right through to April and in shades ranging from cream, through peach to orange. As with most spring bulbs daffodils are planted in their dried form in the Autumn. They won’t be available to buy yet but in Autumn, when they do, consider buying organic daffodil bulbs from Fruithill Farm in Co Cork. Plant them in a sunny spot twice as deep as the bulb height. I always plant the bulbs closer than recommended because I think it gives a neater display. As with snowdrops remove the flowers when they’ve gone over and let the leaves die back naturally.
Primroses feature heavily in my spring garden because they don’t get eaten by slugs! I have two varieties, the drumstick (see top image) and doubles, both of which multiply so easily that I always have some to give away every autumn. These are another woodland plant and would benefit from some summer shade but I struggle to provide this for all of my plants so some are in full sun all year and survive quite happily. Drumstick primroses tend to come in pink, blue-purple or white and the doubles could in a huge range of colours from white through to red. The only downside to the double primroses is their inaccessibility for pollinating insects. Double flowers aren’t great for pollinators as they can’t access the nectar.
Dicentra Spectablis give a huge amount of bang for its buck. It’s an elegant plant with arching flower stems bejewelled with heart-shaped dropped flowers. This plant emerges every spring, flowers and then slowly dies back over the summer so put it next to a plant that will enlarge over the summer to fill the blank spot. The only looking after this plant needs is protection from heavy showers, which can break the delicate stems. I do this by supporting the foliage with metal hoops before it starts to flower. I have the pink variety in my garden but you can get varieties with red or white flowers too. All varieties like partial shade.
If you want to find out more information on any of the plants here check out the Plant Finder tool on the RHS website
Check out the other posts in this series
- Creating an Ornamental Garden: Selecting Plants
- Creating an Ornamental Garden: Planning for Summer
- Creating an Ornamental Garden: Early Summer Colour
- Creating an Ornamental Garden: Mid Summer Colour
- Creating an Ornamental Garden: Late Summer Colour