Breathtakingly beautiful but all too brief, the first blossom is one of the highlights of the gardening year. Looking to add a blossom tree to your patch? Here are our tips on how to grow your own spring flowers, including cherry blossom, apple blossom, clematis and daphne...
As winter draws to a close, it is often the sight of a bumblebee lumbering past the window that alerts us to the imminent arrival of spring. On a fine late-winter’s day, when we are lured out into the garden to investigate further, we will find that the bulbs, hellebores and woodland flowers are attracting a variety of pollinators, but it is the blossom that provides them with maximum reward for minimum effort – and us with perhaps the greatest pleasure. Who hasn’t stood beneath a cherry tree in full flounce and gazed up in wonder, or stooped to inhale the intoxicating scent of a daphne?
The perfume of these early spring flowers has a distinctive quality, a piercing citrusy note that has evolved to carry readily through the crisp, cold air and is quite different from the heady scents of summer. If you can spare a twig or two to bring indoors, the warmth will intensify the fragrance. Witch hazel and mimosa are well known for this, but all blossom is fragrant, even if some of it is too subtle for our noses.
There’s room in every garden, large or small, for at least one or two of these early spring flowers and bulbs. Whether it’s the miniature beauty of a Prunus ‘Kojo-no-mai’ flowering in a pot, a Clematis napaulensis twining through the bare stems of a climbing rose or an eye-catching Edgeworthia chrysantha illuminating a woodland with its golden globe-like flowers, both your garden and its biodiversity will be enhanced by their presence. These are our favourite spring flowers to elevate your garden.
1. Japanese quince – Apple blossom
Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Moerloosei’, a cultivar of the Japanese quince, is also known as C. ‘Apple Blossom’ because of its remarkable resemblance to its namesake. It is equally happy growing in full sun or partial shade in most soils and, left to its own devices, will grow into a thorny tangle of branches. If pruned back after flowering, it can be trained into a neat shrub or makes an excellent wall shrub or hedge. The fruit can be used to make jelly.
2. Weeping cherry – Cherry blossom
Prunus x subhirtella ‘Pendula Rubra’ is an elegant dwarf weeping cherry, ideal for small gardens and container growing, reaching three metres in height and spread over 20 years. The carmine pink flowers are borne in profusion in March and April and are much loved by pollinators. Grow in full sun and in any soil other than shallow chalk. Pruning, where necessary, should only be done in summer to avoid silver leaf infection.
3. Evergreen daphne
Daphne bholua ‘Peter Smithers’ – with its stop-you-in-your-tracks piercing citrusy fragrance – is a daphne cultivar to grow close to the house, or next to the path leading to a door so that you can revel in its scent as often as possible. The flowers open from very dark buds to white flushed with red-purple and will be alive with the hum of bees. Best planted in spring in sun or partial shade and in humus-rich soil.
4. Nepal clematis
Clematis napaulensis is a climber that carries clusters of delicately fragrant, pale green bell-like flowers with dangling purple stamens. It all but disappears in summer, then returns to life in the autumn with lush new foliage, followed in November by flowers that bloom right through until March. Plant it deeply in a sheltered position in full sun or partial shade and in fertile soil. To disguise and support its stems when it is summer dormant, it can be grown alongside a deciduous climber.
Edgeworthia chrysantha ‘Grandiflora’ is a real eye-catcher. Shimmering silky white buds are carried on bare stems and open to reveal clusters of fragrant deep primrose-yellow flowers. A relative of the daphne, its scent is variously described as clove, honey and gardenia. This deciduous shrub is best planted in humus-rich soil in a sheltered corner or in a woodland garden to prevent the flowers being damaged by frost.
6. Chinese winter hazel
Corylopsis sinensis var. sinensis – also known as Chinese winter hazel – grows into a large open shrub and is a relative of the witch hazel. Numerous catkin-like racemes of fragrant yellow bell flowers are carried on the bare stems in early spring. It does well in a woodland setting where the flowers are protected from frost and prefers well-drained acid soil. Prune after flowering.
7. Cherry ‘Kojo-no-mai’ – Cherry blossom
Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’ is a charming miniature Japanese cherry whose name translates as ‘flight of the butterflies’ and it is indeed an entrancing sight when its bare zigzag stems are smothered in palest pink flowers. It is ideal for container growing or for a small garden, as it seldom grows more than two metres tall. ‘Kojo-no-mai’ will grow well anywhere other than shady north-facing spots – and in most soils. Use soil-based compost for container-grown specimens.
8. Early stachyurus
In early spring, a profusion of tiny pale-primrose bells dangle from the branches of Stachyurus praecox like strings of pearls. The bumblebees love them. A shrub with an open spreading habit, it needs space to be seen at its best. Prune it right back immediately after flowering to encourage the new growth that will carry next year’s flowers. It will then settle into a background role for the summer. It does best in neutral to acidic humus-rich soil in either sun or partial shade.
9. Japanese apricot
Prunus mume ‘Beni-chidori’ – also known as the Japanese apricot – is a dwarf tree much loved for its carmine pink, almond-scented flowers that cover the branches from late February and on through March. It is a compact tree, growing to two and a half metres, and is therefore suitable for container planting. It needs full sun and a sheltered position, and will grow in most soils except anything too damp or chalky. Although the occasional fruits are edible, they are not palatable.
10. White forsythia
Abeliophyllum distichum – better known as the white forsythia – is an altogether subtler shrub than its bright yellow relative. The fragrant star-shaped white flowers are borne in abundance on the bare branches in late winter and early spring. It has quite a lax, scrambling habit and should be cut back after flowering. It prefers full sun but will grow in partial shade and in most soils provided they are not too dry.
11. Delavay osmanthus
This large, spreading and slow-growing evergreen shrub bears masses of scented white flowers in April. It is unfussy, does well in shade and is reliable even on thin, chalky soils. It can be grown as a hedge or cloud pruned but in that case it should be cut in June to ensure future flowers. If you are planting particularly for fragrance, you may prefer its offspring, the honey and vanilla- scented O. x burkwoodii rather than O. delavayi, which some say smells of suntan lotion!
12. Coronilla valentina
A neat evergreen shrub with blue-green foliage, Coronilla valentina var. glauca ‘Citrina’ is covered in scented flowers from February until April – and sometimes again in the autumn. The pea-like lemon- yellow flowers have an attractive fruity fragrance. As it isn’t the hardiest of plants, it is one for milder areas and sheltered spots in full sun, but will grow in any soil provided it is free-draining.
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