The weather has been so glorious the last few weeks that my eyes have been drawn skywards – the glory of magnolias blossoming early against the clear blue skies of late March, the Clematis armandii (the species, and ‘Appleblossom’) in my garden tumbling down in fragrant profusion, the darkly purple new growth of Silver birch and the golden olives and reds of willows and dogwoods lighting up the country side.
In colder and wetter springs my eyes have drawn more to the ground, and to the details of foliage and flower emerging from the rubble of winter. And even in this warm, sunny and blue-skied Spring it’s been a joy to look at the small things growing on the banks of roads, the edges of borders, and some of the shade containers in my garden.
I have two old wooden barrels planted with Witch hazels (Hamemelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’, and H. x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’) which provide wonderful colour in late winter and early Spring. Underplanted with several different species, a profusion of foliage begins to grow, and this year, just as the last flowers of the Witch hazels have begun to wither and drop off to reveal the nascent nuts in the stems, the flowers have begun to emerge from the foliage beneath.
First are the violets – the native Sweet violet (Viola odorata) with dainty flowers and exquisite heart-shaped foliage, either fresh green or a rich green tinged with a purple edge. Soon the flowers of Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) open – the cultivar I have is the bewitching but unpromisingly named ‘Double Mud’. The flowers are attractive in themselves, but what makes this cultivar so special is the wonderful grey sheen on the outside of the petals, which are a glowing cream on the inside.
Rising above these are flowers of Erythronium ‘Pagoda’ – a cultivar of the North American Trout Lily. As the elegant long buds open out into the graceful nodding flowers I am reminded of nothing so much as the poise of a Degas ballet dancer.
In the other wooden tub I’ve planted the native European Erythronium – the dog-violet, Erythronium den-canis. These are not yet flowering (the spot is shadier), but have already thrown up there strange and mysteriously mottled foliage, which I think looks wonderful as a backdrop for the flowers and heart-shaped leaves of the Violets.