"Harbingers of spring"

Certain flowers in my garden signal that spring is nigh!
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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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!

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!

 Reader Comments

1/9  Kerrie - 2104 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 14 August 2017

I just adore Nasturtiums! I have in my garden too. They are gorgeous, aren"t they! Deirdre

2/9  Jil - 5126 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 14 August 2017

It seems that so many of our native plants provide colourful blooms practically all year. Spring, for me, is the first waft of pittosporum, such an invasive weed tree but such glorious perfume! It invariably takes me back to my time in Sydney, early morning walks.Yes, native plants really start to bloom now; so beautiful. Deirdre

3/9  Rob - 3163 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 14 August 2017

Hi Diedre, daffodils, daffodils & more daffodils! We are lucky enough to have a country garden in South Gippsland (Vic) & about an acre of our steep hillside is covered in daffodils, interspersed with snowdrops from my grandmothers garden. It has to be spring! Rob. How wonderful to have those daffodils! Sadly they don"t grow well in Sydney unless planted from new bulbs each year. . Must be a glorious sight. Deirdre

4/9  Lloyd - 4060 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 14 August 2017

When we moved into our home in the western suburbs of Brisbane back in the mid-seventies we inherited seasonal displays of Fresias - not the elephantine hybrids now supplied, but the older, smaller, beautifully perfumed originals. They have now naturalised on the footpath under our yellow poinciana - best growth ever this year, with the first buds just opening now in mid-August. Spring is coming - with a vengeance! Freesias are so lovely; mine are not yet out. Hope to see the first flower soon and smell their delicious fragrance. Deirdre

5/9  Mary - 2089 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 14 August 2017

I have the pink May and you have the white; I have the white Loropetalum and you have the pink; I have the pink Erigeron and you have the white :) All the colour variations are so pretty! Deirdre

6/9  Barbara - 2580 (Zone:8-9 - Cool Temperate to Alpine) Monday, 14 August 2017

Here on the Southern Tablelands spring is a couple of corners and down the road a bit. But my snowflakes are in bloom, as are my beautiful little Thalia daffodils. The white flowers look even brighter against the deep purple of the large, highly perfumed violets which surround it. Very few leaves on the violet, but they"ll come. Soon I"ll have filled violet vases in every room. Such a shame that violet perfume contains a chemical which momentarily turns off our ability to smell. Thanks, Barbara. You reminded me of how my grandmother, in her Southern Tablelands garde, would pick bunches of violets for the house. Here violets begin flowering in winter and continue into spring. Deirdre

7/9  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Spring is certainly on its way! This year I have had a wonderful show of daffodils, which have not flowered for a couple of years. I am a fan of annuals and plant a variety of my favourites: Virginia stock are flowering, and Hartwegii lupins, schizanthus, assorted poppies and nemesia are growing well, with bulbs of freesias, snowflakes flowering, and Dutch iris forming buds. Sweetpeas, slow to grow at first are now reaching the top of their trellis, with the promise of many sweet blooms. Thanks, Margaret. I am interested that you have daffodils flowering! Those annuals all sound so pretty and springlike! Deirdre

8/9  Barbara - 2580 (Zone:8-9 - Cool Temperate to Alpine) Tuesday, 15 August 2017

I love violets, except for the feral white ones which seem to be competing with the daleks to take over the world. Gardeners might interested to know that, following WW1, the mothers of Toowoomba raised money to build a memorial to their fallen sons they sold bunches of 50 violets at 3d a bunch. The Mothers Memorial in Toowoomba, still there but moved from its original position, is the result.Such a lovely story, Barbara! Deirdre

9/9  Sue - 3136 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Friday, 18 August 2017

Melbourne is still rather wintery but the hellebores start to flower late in winter as do the jonquils. This week the daffodils are popping out with cheery faces to add some colour. There are buds forming on the plum, peach and apple trees and the nasturtiums have gone berserk. Ours is a very small garden because we downsized about 3 and a half years ago to somewhere relatively flat and manageable. The roses are showing new growth and promise and the poppies are healthy but no flowers yet. Sounds lovely, Sue! Deirdre

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