Spring is blooming well underway
For me the herald of spring is not the bursting forth of tulips or crocus bulbs but the expanses of blossom in our hedgerows, accompanied by the life-affirming thrum of bees and birdsong.
Blossom on both ornamental and productive trees is a timely reminder of the beauty of some of the simplest yet toughest and most rewarding of garden plants. It’s surprising when you stop to notice how extraordinarily floriferous even the common horse chestnut is in spring, covered in huge plumes of white or pink flowers in May.
In our gardens some of the earliest blossom to appear might be blackthorn, if you have a mixed native hedge, or a bit later the humble crab apple. In the latter camp Malus ‘Evereste’, as its name suggests, produces a prolific display of clear white flowers. For a sumptuous bold display of colour Malus ‘Profusion’ offers fragrant reddish-purple flowers among bronze green new foliage. And with most varieties the season of interest extends later in the year with a Christmas bauble display of crab apples and flaming autumn foliage colour.
In the hawthorn family there are two colourful crackers – the rich postbox red of Crataegus laevigata Paul’s Scarlet and the double pink and white flowers of C. rosea flore pleno, ideal for most small gardens. Where space is very limited try the snowy mespilus Amelanchier laevis ‘Prince Charles’, covered in fragrant white flowers and capable of flourishing in a wide variety of soils.
Of course it is hard to talk about blossom without mentioning flowering cherries. Prunus Tai Haku, the great white cherry, is perhaps one of the most stunning, especially when planted as an allee lining a path or drive. It’s a vigorous spreading cherry with pure white flowers held profusely all over just as the new bronze foliage emerges in April. By contrast Prunus Royal Burgundy is covered in blousy double pink flowers set beautifully against rich plum foliage. In a very small space try Prunus mume Beni-Chidori; strictly a Japanese apricot tree it bears highly fragrant rich pink flowers, reminiscent of Rosa glauca, on bare branches in February to March.
If you seek more exotic flowers then the foxglove tree Paulownia tomentosa offers a very unusual bloom, though you’ll need some space as this is one of the fastest growing trees available and becomes very large unless pollarded every year for its large leaves. Perhaps the finest exotic spring blooms are those belonging to the Magnolia family, which usually but not always require acidic soil and a reasonably sheltered spot to thrive. Here my personal preference is to site Magnolias near water, especially those with a lax habit. Their oriental vibe and delicacy seem to suit a more meditative setting, and as an added bonus water reflects and therefore doubles the number of blooms on show and any falling petals float on the water creating a moving mosaic of colour. I also think richer colours, such as Magnolia Susan and Black Tulip, are the better option where a Magnolia is to be a focal point – their burgundy flowers show up well against a deep blue spring sky but also hold their own on overcast days when pale pinks and off-whites can look a little washed out.
Whatever your size of garden, welcome in spring with a fresh splash of blossom and both yourself and the birds and bees will be eternally grateful.