Below is the list of our favourite plants in the garden in the first half of March 2017. The idea of recording a dozen favourite plants in the garden every fortnight came to me in mid-2016, so the whole year won’t be completed until around May 2017. I don’t tend to repeat plants that have featured in the previous fortnight, so it’s an attempt to show how there is always something new in the garden to tempt us out, whatever the weather. In early March many of winter’s flowers are at least starting to go past their best. But there are now waves of new flowers appearing quite regularly, headed by Narcissi, Pieris, Camellia, and other small bulbs. Spring is on its way, even if the weather sometimes lets the show down. This is the first fortnight of the year when one is spoiled for choice, and many fine flowering plants have missed the cut. The nadir of late November, in our gardening year, when flowers in the garden are few and far between now seems a very long time ago.
1: Rhododendron ‘Cilpinense‘ FCC. The First Class Certificate (FCC) gives a clue that this is a special plant. An early flowering, not too enormous (yet) rhododendron, which always flowers prolifically, and early – the second into bloom here, after R. ‘Christmas Cheer’. The buds are lovely, then the flowers open and gradually fade to white. Both bumble and honey bees absolutely adore it.
2: Narcissus ‘Jetfire‘ AGM. One of our earliest daffodil cultivars to be planted here, and still a lovely, early cyclamineus form. Mid-height, and with its distinctive orange trumpet, and slightly swept back perianth (petals).
3: Narcissus ‘February Gold‘ AGM. Another favourite cyclamineus form. Rarely in flower for February, but still a lovely golden yellow flower. Quite vigorous as well over the long term.
4: Narcissus ‘Brunswick’. Probably one of our very favourite early daffodils. Very tall, but remarkably weather resilient and having some of the longest lasting flowers of any daffodils. Sets some seed and is attractive to bumble bees. Very lovely glaucous foliage.
5: Narcissus ‘Ice Follies‘ AGM. Another one of our very favourite early season daffodils which is probably the most vigorous and floriferous form we grow here. Not perhaps the most elegant flower, but it associated well with many other spring flowers and colours, and is mid-height.
7: Galanthus ‘Washfield Warham’. One of the very latest of the snowdrops we grow to flower, and a very vigorous one too. Once other flowers start to emerge snowdrops seem to hold less appeal, but it’s surprising how they can still lift a scene under grey or gloomy skies. gradually managing to split it and move it around the garden. Noticeably larger flowers and leaves than the late G. nivalis forms from Pembrokeshire.
8: Scilla bithynica. A really lovely early spring bulb to take over from the snowdrops. Shorter and a paler blue than English bluebells, they’re very attractive to honey bees, and set lots of seed, so I’m not sure why they’re not more widely grown. The flowers last much longer than Chionodoxa – up to 6 weeks of impact in some years.
9: Chionodoxa forbesii ‘Pink Giant’. A very bold form, which gives a splash of interest as other very early bulbs are finishing flowering. Attracts hone bees, but I’m still uncertain whether it sets viable seeds, and the flowers rarely last for more than 10 days.
10: Iris reticulata. We’ve grown a couple of forms of iris reticulata for a few years, but probably won’t replace them since very few survive beyond the second year, and don’t seem to set seed. A shame, since they’re a lovely splash of intense blue.
11: Chionodoxa forbesii. Another early spring blue flower, to ass interest as the snowdrops finish. Seeds around vigorously, but you never seem to get very many flowers from all these new bulbs. Also fairly short lasting flowers.
12: Ribes sanguineum. An invaluable spring flowering currant. Both for its visual appeal, and also how attractive it is as a nectar and pollen source – particularly for early species bumblebee queens, beginning to forage and start their new colonies.