The middle of February is perhaps the universal moment where gardeners across the country have decided that we have had enough of winter! We have enjoyed the cosy but gloomy burnt orange days of November, felt festive in December and brought frost encrusted holly berries indoors to adorn out tables; we have even got through January by embracing winter in its most bare and simple form. By February, we have had enough. But by February, we can finally begin in earnest to anticipate spring. And there is nothing that heralds spring more than an increase in daylight and an increase in colour which can mean only one thing: bulbs!
Perhaps the earliest of the bulbs but also the most unfairly overlooked and underrated are the clusters of white stars that assemble in drifts under hedges, below trees and throughout borders – the humble snowdrop. With certain varieties coming as early as late December and continuing the show right up until early March, there are few spring bulbs that will provide so much interest. Maybe the reason for which they slip off the agenda of many gardeners come bulb planting time in the autumn is as they are best bought and planted in the green – meaning the period in which they have finished flowering, have been dug up, and their leaves are still green. This is a considerably easier method than growing directly from a bulb, as they can take significantly more years to establish. However, the joy of the snowdrop is that once you have them you will always have them, with bulbs multiplying and clumps expanding year after year. There is no better way than to welcome in the new gardening year than with snowdrops.
Another understatedly glamourous edition to the perfect early spring garden is the dwarf iris. Once they have made an appearance in your spring display, it is guaranteed that you will never look back and they will become a permanent feature. Extremely easy to grow and perfect in pots on a tabletop or plant theatre so that they can be admired, these stunning yet dainty blooms have jewel-like colours and petal details almost resembling the wings of a butterfly. There are countless varieties that can be grown and numerous shades of turquoise, navy, magenta and even pale yellow, none of which will fail to instantly brighten any space in winter. As is true with most spring bulbs, these have the most impact en masse, however a pot packed to the brim outside a back door is no less effective. If lucky, you may have a few flowers by the end of January, but the dwarf irises tend to come out in full force in the slightly brighter days of February and early March. With the bulbs coming relatively cheaply and a myriad of styles which will suit any colour palette, dwarf irises are certainly perfect for any winter garden.
When most think of the common daffodil, they think of spring blossoms, March and Eastertime. But many don’t know that the genus Narcissus actually includes speciess that can be flowering even as early as before the New Year, meaning that if planted in succession there is a species that can be in flower every month from December to May. For example, Narcissus ‘January’ will come at the moment when you most need it in the garden, brightening the gloomy days. Minatare and decorative forms can be found in March and April, with larger and scented varieties coming in May. You will be lucky to spot a daffodil in January or early Feb, and it takes a bit of searching to find a variety that will flower in winter, but when you do it will be completely worth it, and will illuminate your winter garden and further anticipation for the months to come.
But don’t worry if you have yet to see the first signs of life in your winter garden, there is always next year when you can add to your bulb collection. Ensure to note down varieties from the gardens of friends and relatives or on any other garden visits. Yet that doesn’t mean that you must miss out on colour this winter, as a short walk in a park, woodland or in a garden open to the public on a sunny weekend will get anyone, be they a green fingered or not, excited for the glorious spring that is to come.