February is a good time for new plant purchases as the garden centres are usually well stocked up and with spring just around the corner everyone is eager to get into the garden.
We tend to buy a new plant on impulse when we find a gem in flower, then get it home and look for a spot to plant it in. We don’t always choose its best location, though most plants can be transplanted at a later date.
Another aspect to consider is the relationship of the new plant to other plants around it. A garden display will have more impact if all the plants at their best can be brought together so that at any time of year there is always some corner that catches the eye.
We link bedding plants together for colour harmony and contrast, such as blue petunias with yellow marigolds when we plant up tubs, hanging baskets and flower beds. Rose beds are often planted in front of the taller shrub roses with climbing roses on a fence at the rear, as they will all give their best together in summer.
Heathers can also be grouped together in drifts and will flower from late winter with Erica carnea till autumn with the bright pink Calluna H E Beale. These associate very well with dwarf azaleas and the taller deciduous azaleas. Evergreen rhododendrons and camellias belong to this group in the same flowering season, but are best kept separate as they are bigger and could overpower the smaller bushes. I like to add dwarf pines amongst heathers and dwarf azaleas and if the low growing drift needs a bit of height I use the white stemmed birch, Betula jaquemontii.
Another plant to add height to the heathers and azaleas is the large flowered lilies growing five feet tall with exotic perfume. They all grow very well together and the lilies add interest at a time when the others are out of their flowering season.
Maritime locations may have a need for salt spray tolerant plants such as red hot pokers, senecio, cistus, escallonia, fuchsia, gorse, brooms and many shrub roses.
Herbaceous borders are in flower from early spring with the Doronicums till autumn with the Michaelmas daisies, so group together those plants with a similar flowering time. Iris, oriental poppies and pyrethrum all flower in early summer and create a great impact when grown together.
There is hardly any part of the garden that cannot be enhanced with bulbs. Where ever plants lose their leaves in winter there is scope to plant bulbs to flower, grow, then die down before the existing plants need the space. Both deciduous shrubs and herbaceous plants allow scope for snowdrops, crocus and aconites and if the shrub comes into leaf late then daffodils and early tulips can be used.
Yellow flowering forsythia looks great with the very early fosteriana tulip Red Emperor planted underneath it as they all flower together in most years.
Snowdrops are usually the first bulbs to flower in February. These can go anywhere in sun or shade and if you can put some under a south facing wall they will start to flower in late January in a mild winter like this year. They also look great planted in between a drift of the black grass Ophiopogon where the white flowers sit on top of the black foliage in complete contrast.
Crocus however will need full sun to open up the flowers in early spring. I grow these all over my garden, but they really add colour at ground level to my coloured stem border of cornus, kerria, willow and red stemmed maple.
My orchard of apples and plums has mass plantings of bluebells which create a woodland garden effect then die down as the fruit trees begin to grow.
Anemone blanda and chionodoxa can carpet the ground in blue flowers in late spring, then quickly die down in summer so they are the perfect match for planting underneath cyclamen hederifolium which emerges in late summer, flowers in early autumn, then retains its leaves over winter, but loses them in spring just when the other bulbs need the space.
The ultimate flower show in spring is the combination of tulips with pansies, Forget me nots and wallflower where you select for colour contrasts and height. Later on these bulbs can be planted in other parts of the garden.
Plant of the week
Camellia japonica Adolphe Audusson has blood red flowers in March and April. The bush can grow quite tall and prefers a woodland fringe location with light dappled shade, but will also be happy in full sun as long as it does not get early morning sunshine. This can destroy flower buds on a frosty morning. I grow one bush in the open and one against a west facing wall, but I make sure it never dries out. Another great Camellia is the pink variety Donation.
Painting of the month
Arthurs Plot is my fourth acrylic painting showing a City Road allotment plot. Two paintings are winter scenes and two summer views with this one getting the modern contemporary treatment, where I concentrate on a loose colour balance of attractive shapes and no attempt to show detail.
I hope to show this painting with many others at the Angus Open Studio event in late May.