Make space for these colourful cheerleaders of late spring
Planting muscari is easy, as it will grow anywhere
Apart from their startling blue colouration, muscari, or grape hyacinths, are often viewed as unremarkable spring-flowering bulbs, best used for underplanting more flamboyant tulips. But there’s more to muscari than meets the eye, with some fabulous colour variants and extraordinary flower structures.
From the 42 known species, only 27 are in general cultivation, with M. armeniacum, M. botryoides, M. comosum and M. latifolium among the most well established.
Breeders are now bringing in new colour breaks and selecting distinctive shades from existing varieties to swell the choice for gardeners.
Others species have interesting characteristics such as M. latifolium, which changes shade as the first flowers age to reveal two tones of blue.
Muscari grow naturally around the Mediterranean basin, into North Africa and through into central and south-western Asia, usually in well-drained soil, with winter moisture and a hot, dry summer a clue to how they’re best grown.
Planted in autumn with other spring bulbs they’re easy to grow, performing best in full sun to light shade, in most well-drained soils, except thin chalk ones and those too rich in nutrients.
Once happy, they’ll soon clump up, with some such as M.b armeniacum able to naturalise in gravel gardens, borders and short grassland. They’re also great in pots.
The astonishing sterile flower heads of the tassel flower M. comosum ‘Plumosum’ can be damaged by blustery, cold winds, so avoid planting them in an exposed position.
There are many plants whose flowers create impact en masse, but fewer whose individual blooms demand closer inspection, such as epimediums
Epimedium flowers possess fascinating detail, four petals sat within petals, the tips often elongated into arching, narrow points.
Colours vary too, from the tone of caramelised, spun sugar, through golden yellows to rich, translucent reds.
This group of herbaceous or semi-evergreen, woodland perennials mainly come from China, but also elsewhere in Asia and parts of the Mediterranean.
They live in damp woodlands, slowly colonising the ground through an intricate web of needle-like rhizomes.
Members of the berberis family, Berberidaceae, they really come into their own in spring, when the flush of fresh, new, shield shaped foliage is often intricately patterned or rimmed in earthy-red tones, eventually fading in most species by early summer to form weed-proof clumps of leaves. Some also flush with colour in late summer and autumn.
Airy sprays of flowers on long, thin stems appear among the emerging leaves – they look great with other woodland flowers such as primroses and anemones.
- Epimedium need shade or semi-shade and moisture at the start.
- Working compost into the planting holes, especially among tree or shrub roots, with an occasional watering, will really help.
- Once established, they’ll look after themselves, some even tolerating dry shade, such as E. warleyense, E. versicolor ‘Sulphureum’ and E. rubrum.
- By the new year, the foliage can look tatty, so trim with shears before new leaves and flowers appear.
Winter Evergreens are trusty plants that will make your garden look wonderful in winter
Although their presence is often overshadowed by the floral treats of summer, evergreens are important players in the appearance of the garden, providing welcome structure and a focal point for the more challenging times of year, particularly mid winter.
While hollies are seasonal favourites, there are other evergreen shrubs that can really add interest with the shape and colour of their foliage.
One of the most remarkable is the Chusan palm, Trachycarpus fortunei, which can withstand strong winds, frost and snow.
Once established, it will continue to make steady growth until it becomes an eye catching feature.
Site it carefully and give it enough space. Fatsia japonica is another big leaved, hardy shrub that’s ideal for creating a sub tropical effect and a useful partner for the Chusan palm, producing the biggest leaves in a sheltered position in semi-shade.
Many shrubs that revel in acid conditions are evergreen, particularly those in the heather family, Ericaceae, such as erica, calluna, rhododendron and leucothoe, which all make excellent partners for dwarf conifers and pines.
Leucothoe ‘Scarletta’ is particularly effective as its foliage turns beetroot-red in winter and is a good companion plant for pots and containers in association with winter pansies and foliage plants, such as heuchera.
Many evergreens, such as elaeagnus and aucuba, can be trained and clipped as hedges, useful for dry soils or shade.
In milder and coastal areas, try griselinia from New Zealand, which tolerates salt-laden winds and can be grown as a freestanding shrub, or used as a hedge.