Harbingers of spring

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Loropetalum chinense

One of my favourite books as a child was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis. I particularly loved the scene where the wintry grip over the landscape by the White Witch is lost and spring arrives. I always think of that when the day arrives in August each year in Sydney when we suddenly realise that winter has started to recede and spring is just around the corner. Some gardening writers call this particular time 'sprinter', a term I like. This past week, it seemed as if sprinter had entered my garden.

The signs I look for are the first blooms of certain plants. I don't have a lot of spring-flowering specimens, but I love the ones that I do grow. For some reason, most are old-fashioned sorts of plants that grew in my parents' Blue Mountains garden, giving them an even greater nostalgic appeal. The arrival of spring in that climate was always so welcome after very chilly winters, and I loved those early flowers.

Erigeron karvinskianus

The very first blooms on my many self-seeded clumps of Erigeron karvinskianus just shout 'spring' to me. I was aware of these tiny daisy flowers from a very early age, and used to pick bunches to leave out for the fairies I imagined inhabited our family garden. I know it is no better than a weed, but I cannot be without it and love how it softens the hard lines of stone paths and walls in my garden, just as it did in the garden of my childhood. Another favourite flower picked for my fairy bunches was forget-me-nots (another 'weed'!), and today I spied the first flower on the white form that self-seeds through my garden.

Nasturtium: Tropaeolum majus

Another self-seeder that I have always loved and which has just started to flower is the good old nasturtium. I enjoy seeing these ramble through bare patches in the garden and admire the hot colours of their bold blooms. Another plant I just could not live without!

Buds of Clivia miniata, Belgian hybrid

The first flowers on my big clumps of Clivia miniata have just started to open, and there are fat buds on the Belgian hybrid ones, which have larger, more richly coloured orange flowers than the basic form. These rhizomatous plants are invaluable for lighting up areas of dry shade under trees at this time of year.

White-flowered version of Iris japonica

Another rhizomatous plant that has its first flower now is Iris japonica, which is also a useful plant for dry shade, unlike most other irises, which need hot, sunny spots to do well. The bloom of the original species is pale blue but I also enjoy the white form pictured. Like Clivia, this plant makes a good clump and needs very little attention during the year.

Dark blue-flowered form of Eranthemum pulchellum

Amongst the early spring-flowering shrubs I grow, Loropetalum chinense (pictured at the start of the blog) thrills me each year with its curly, deep pink flowers, which have just started to open. I also adore the may bush (Spiraea cantonensis), which is covered with clusters of dainty white buds, about to unfurl any day now. Another favourite is the Acanthaceae shrub Eranthemum pulchellum, of which I am very fond, as it was one of the first plants I ever grew myself from a cutting. The flower is usually a soft blue, but a few years ago I was given a very dark blue form (pictured above), which is one of the best blues in the garden. It grows well in shade, another plus!

Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii

I look forward each year to the beginning of the very long 'blooming' period of the chartreuse bracts of Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii, the only perennial Euphorbia I really have much success with in my garden. The buds expand to large, domed heads. The colour of the bracts is stunning, and it looks brilliant with nearby flowers of blue or purple, or lime-gold foliage. It self-seeds gently, so there is usually a new plant coming on to replace those old ones that become very woody with time.

I'd love to know what plants in your garden signal that spring is nigh!