Prepare for spring colours

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I have to admit, I don’t always think carefully before Googling pictures when describing plants to my students. So, needless to say (and probably obvious to the more IT aware) “spring bedding” came up with a lovely selection of ...well, bedding!

I was not looking for colourful duvet covers – but plants which we may use to liven up our gardens through the winter and, more particularly, in the spring.

Bedding plants are best described as plants used to provide temporary seasonal colour. Whilst most gardeners grow some form of summer bedding, the winter and spring garden is often left mostly unadorned.

Winter pansies are the most popular plants to provide a splash of colour through winter and spring. Primroses and polyanthus also play a part. Double daisies, Bellis, and winter cabbages, are available. These can all be bought in small pots or trays of half-a-dozen plants or so and are all great in containers or small beds. But they can be a bit pricey when it comes to larger areas. They can also look a little ‘out of keeping’, even twee, in mixed borders or in the more informal garden.

Wallflowers, once so-popular cottage garden favourites, are starting to creep back into favour. Versatile and undemanding, fabulously fragrant and long flowering, and tough enough to cope with even the poorest of soils, with a wonderful range of rich colour mixes, or individual shades from ivory white pale primrose yellow or creamy apricot, through to deep cultivars with names such as Vulcan and Fire King. Tall forms for the border, shorter ones for containers. Good as cut flowers, loved by early nectar seekers. They are also cheap! If you plan ahead, a packet of seed could cost £1.99 for 600 seeds.

Sown in early summer, outside, in rows as you would vegetables, they can be thinned out and grown into good bushy plants for planting out where you want them to flower in autumn. They can be purchased as ‘bare-root transplants’ in bunches of 10 or even 20 plants, at less than a quarter the price of pansies.

Traditionally planted beds may interplant the wallflowers with forget-me-nots for a base of blue, and under-plant with Darwin tulips for a grand finale. This may be too ‘Parks department’ for some gardens, but still don’t discount the cheerful effect that wallflowers will bring to your borders in spring.

Last week the RHS students planted mixed wallflowers in our rose bed. Well, not strictly just for roses, as it also contains a range of spring flowering bulbs, including snowdrops, chionodoxa and tulips, as well as a collection of Bearded Iris whose flowers precede the roses.

At a cost of well under £20 for the wallflowers, this is a small price for what I know will be a fantastic visual and fragrant start to next season.

n Manea School of Gardening is an RHS Approved Centre. RHS Courses taught at all levels.