What a great thing to be able to pause from ones labours and look around at what is happening both in nature and in the garden. Though the weather may be a bit iffy still it is generally getting warmer. In days gone by farmers would proverbially test the soil by sitting on it (trousers down) to see if it was ready for planting. These days such behaviour might raise eyebrows from the neighbours! Though nothing beats being a gardener when the sun is out and you can roll up your shirt sleeves.
The pace of change is incredible, already there are hosts of pale yellow daffodils like little lanterns throughout the grassy areas. These are the Lenten Lilies otherwise called Narcissus pseudonarcissus. These are native daffodils which are very useful for naturalising. They can often be found under hedges or in ditches where they will tolerate even brackish conditions, a useful addition to the garden armoury. When you are planning your bulb displays these can be supplemented by later varieties.
Incidentally, it is worth checking your potted bulbs to make sure they are coming up as they should be. Hyacinths, Tulips and Narcissus should all be showing good leaf and the hyacinths should be showing their flower spikes. If you have planted the tops of the pots with spring bedding such as wallflowers or violas make sure that the bulbs are not forcing them out of the compost. Hyacinths will do this especially. If they are, then just nestle then back next to the emerging bulb foliage.
Showing off amongst the daffodils are the crocus. No flower seems to welcome the sunshine more as the petals close on dull days and open when the sun shines. Many of the species crocus have a dull colour to the outer surface of the petals which camouflages them from birds. The larger flowers of Dutch varieties are altogether showier but by no means vulgar.
There are many more plants that have waited patiently to take advantage of the spring sunshine before the trees and shrubs get their leaves. Pulmonarias make superb ground cover. The common name of Lungwort refers to the spotted pattern on the leaves which was resembles the tissue of the organ and was believed in times past to cure lung problems. Breeders have taken advantage of this patterning to produce a range of cultivars such as ‘Opal’ that are as ornamental in leaf as in flower. The flowers come in blue, pink or white and look delightful amongst the leaves beneath trees and shrubs.
The ‘wood spurge’ (Euphorbia amygdaloides var Robbiae) which is another native has also seized it’s chance. This is an excellent plant for the more difficult areas including dry shade. It has glossy deep green leaves which reflect light in winter about a foot high and bright acid green flowers. This plant can be a bit of an aggressive spreader but is wonderful for smothering weeds. It will often spread quickly, sometimes the original plants will run out of steam and die off. This can be turned to an advantage as I often use it to colonise areas of poor drought prone soil. By the time it turns up its toes it has often improved the soil through the combined efforts of its roots and leaves which have shaded the soil and preserved organic matter thus making it a better environment for succession planting.
Look upward and there are flowers along the branches of early cherries such as Prunus ‘Kursar’ which has single pink flowers that are abundantly strung in clusters along the branches. It is an excellent and showy variety and a taste of things to come, though for now, perhaps just watching the transformation all around us is good enough.