Spring Surprises: garden plants of the month for February

Spring might be starting somewhat hesitantly, but with Spring Surprises like hazel, primula, rock cress and Aubrieta, you can actively bring on the season for spending time outdoors.

Early blooming and a second round
Spring Surprises like hazel (Corylus avellana Concorta’), rock cress (Arabis), primula and Aubrieta are perfect for those who can’t wait to bring their garden to life. Not only do they bloom early, but the latter two often provide a second round of flowering later in the year. And hazel offers an attractive green backdrop that changes colour in autumn in order to reveal the decorative twisting branches in winter. So these garden plants don’t just surprise in the spring, but all year round.

Introducing the Spring Surprises

Hazel may be familiar as an Easter decoration, but is not to be sniffed at as a complete plant either. The twisting bare branches are real eyecatchers when the rest of the garden is still bare. It flowers fairly spectacularly on bare wood with yellow festoons packed with flowers. And after flowering it treats you to soft, wavy leaves and – with a bit of luck – some tasty hazelnuts.

Primula is one of the earliest plants to flower in the garden, and quickly and easily offers a big helping of fun, from white and pastels through to hot pink, bright red and deep purple (and sometimes even two colours simultaneously). The sunny heart attracts the first insects of the year, who in turn get the rest of the garden going. This all-rounder can be used in containers, beds and rockeries.

Aubrieta is a strong ground-covering plant that also does well in containers. Alongside blue, it also comes in purple, lilac, violet, pink and white. They all like a fairly dry and warm spot, preferably in a rockery, around walls and between paving. Aubrieta stays low and grows sideways.

Rock cress likes to hang over a wall or nestle snugly in a rockery, and once it gets going it creates an attractive thick green carpet with a host of violet and pink flowers. These attract a lot of honeybees, bumblebees and insects: the best way to bring your garden to life in a natural way.

More spring surprises:
• The first blackbird singing its heart out in search of love.
• Waking up and finding that it really is a little bit light already.
• Seeing Nature awakening every day in green tips and new shoots.
• No, your eyes are not deceiving you, the first midges have started dancing.
• The first ducklings bravely paddling after their mother.

Early bloomers
All the Spring Surprises are early bloomers and have their roots in the continent of Europe. Rock cress comes from the Caucasus mountains, primula is an inhabitant of the Alps whilst Aubrieta particularly grows in southern Europe in mountainous regions between rocks and stones. And hazel has been around humans for centuries: not just for the nuts, but also because a host of spiritual properties are attributed to the plant.

Wise hazel
In the symbolism of plants rock cress represents nonchalance, because it survives so casually and effortlessly in difficult places. Primula’s very early flowering means that it symbolises a new beginning, growth and hope. And Aubrieta stands for austerity, since this plant has no need to be pampered. Out of the Spring Surprises, hazel offers the most folk tales. For a dowsing rod, magic wand or protective branches on the roof to ward off witches and other evildoers, hazel is what you need. In the Middle Ages it was one of the three holy trees that could not be cut down. The apple tree was spared for its beauty, the oak for its strength and the hazel for the wisdom that was attributed to it.

Blooming into spring
• All the Spring Surprises like a sunny spot, although they can tolerate some partial shade.
• For all three the soil must be well-draining and plants in containers or tubs need more water than those in beds.
• Give them some space when planting: Aubrieta, primula and rock cress need to be able to develop sideways, and hazel must be able to twist around.
• Hazel needs more food than the two ground-covering plants.
• Prune back rock cress and Aubrieta vigorously after flowering to encourage them to reflower. With primula and hazel only remove dead material. Overpruning will often take away hazel’s curls.

Spring tree!
There’s nothing to stop you from decorating your corkscrew hazel in the garden with ornamental eggs and other spring decorations. It looks great and it doesn’t bother the plant. If you prefer to keep it natural, hazel will style itself with yellow festoons. With their brightly coloured flowers, rock cress and primula are the perfect plants for brightening up dull corners and edges. Aubrieta should be styled ‘on the rocks’ and looks best in conjunction with grey and white stones. If you’re placing them in containers, classic earthenware – preferably slightly faded and weathered – is the best way to create a visual link to the place from which they originate: mountainous regions.

Garden Plant of the Month
Spring Surprises are the Garden Plants for February 2019. The ‘Garden Plant of the Month’ is an initiative from the Flower Council of Holland. Every month the Flower Council works with representatives of the floriculture sector to choose one or more plants which are particularly popular with consumers, or which are not (yet) particularly well-known but which have the potential to do well in the garden, on the patio or on the balcony.

For more information see: www.thejoyofplants.co.uk
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