As many readers will have gathered by now, I do not have a spring garden. I enjoy spring vicariously, by admiring the gardens of others: ones that open to the public at this time of year as well as those I pass by on my morning walks. I thrill to diaphanous display of frothy white blossoms on the avenue of Manchurian pears in the main street of our village every September. I rejoice in the smothered mounds of azalea blooms and the cheerful swathes of spring annuals in the gardens of my neighbours. Years ago, I decided to concentrate my garden plantings to those that bloom in summer and autumn, so at this time of year - when all these plants are cut back and yet to fill in - it looks rather ghastly.
However, in recent years, shame has made me plant a few things here and there for spring colour. These by no means amount to anything that could be termed a 'spring display' that anyone else would want to see, but they bring joy to me, and each year I try to improve things, by adding a new specimen or grouping together some spring bloomers in my garden to make a small picture. I've tended to select those that start to flower in winter and go on through spring, to give me the most value.
One way to have some spring flowers but to still have room for the later bloomers is to use pots. I have two dwarf milkwort shrubs, named as Polygala grandiflora 'Nana' (ht 1.2 m) when I bought them. They are growing in bright blue pots, which form a colourful contrast to the rich purple, pea-like flowers that appear in late winter and early spring. This plant enjoys a dry, sunny position. I am not sure if this is their correct name - the genus Polygala is large and confusing! Note that in some areas, certain species of Polygala are regarded as noxious weeds. I haven't had any problem with mine self-seeding so far, but clipping the plant back after flowering will reduce the risk, as well as making it more compact.
Another shrub I have added recently for flowers in late winter and spring is Buddleja salvifolia. This South African species has large trusses of tiny, honey-scented pale mauve blooms held above nicely textured silvery-green pointed leaves. To me it is a warm-climate substitute for lilac, which in general doesn't thrive in Sydney. My specimen has soared to around 3 m in just a few short years; even if cut back hard after flowering it will regrow to this height over summer. It isn't really recommended for small gardens but is a good screen where there is plenty of space. It grows next to an old Rondeletia, in bloom at the same time, with pink clusters of tiny tubular flowers of a similar texture to those of the Buddleja, and it is of a similar height.
The tree fuchsia, Fuchsia arborescens, from Mexico and Central America, flowers around the same time and also has clusters of diminutive blooms. It is quite unlike the usual Fuchsia hybrids, and can grow as tall as 5.5 m or more - but mine has never got higher than 2 m. Its rose-purple posies appear in winter and early spring, held above long, dark green leaves. I find it needs hard pruning after flowering, as it can get a bit straggly and woody over time. I have found that it flowers best when it receives a fair bit of sun. This year, I have noticed that the clustered lilac tubular flowers of Tulbaghia simmleri (a large-flowered relative of society garlic), also in bloom from winter to spring (pictured at the start of the blog), are rather similar in shape to those of the tree fuchsia, so I have decided to plant some of these beneath my specimen to form a pretty combination for next year.
A small, rambling shrub that I got from a cutting, years ago, provides a profusion of showy, magenta, four-petalled blooms that open from bright pink, pointed buds from late winter into spring. It winds its way through other plants and I have even seen it growing in hanging baskets and urns. It looks a bit like a miniature Tibouchina flower, and for a long time I didn't know what it was, but it is possibly Centradenia inaequilateralis 'Cascade' (ht 80 cm, wide spread). It is quite similar to another shrub I have, called Heterocentron macrostachyum (ht 1 m), which has a more upright form and more bronzy leaves. Both flower best in sunny spots. They (along with the genus Tibouchina) belong to the family Melastomataceae, and they hail from Mexico and Central America.
Beneath my Centradenia I have sweet violets, in various hues - these too flower from winter into spring. This year has been the first time I have had a good crop of blooms on the cute little dog violet (Viola riviniana 'Purpurea'), which I always thought was a Labrador violet (Viola labradorica). They are a vibrant shade of magenta-purple, and their dainty, deep olive-green leaves provide a good foil to the little flowers. I have generally had more success growing violets in open positions rather than in shade, even in quite dry spots, but this one will also grow in shade. It spreads madly, like all violets, but I love seeing their dainty flowers at this time of year. All the violets are blooming prolifically this spring, perhaps as a result of the recent rainfalls.
Marguerite daisies are back to my garden in recent times; their simple flowers seem to just shout 'Spring!', and they are in bloom for a long time from mid-late winter onwards. I like the single, old-fashioned ones the best and have never had much luck with the fancier cultivars. They do need to be replaced with a cutting every so often. They relish a dry, sunny position. They are natural partners for other Mediterranean-style spring flowers: lavender, Echium candicans, perennial wallflowers and perennial statice, all of which I have introduced into my garden in recent years.
I'd love to know what spring flowers are blooming in your garden!
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Check out our new look!