Spring-flowering woodland plants

Tamsin Westhorpe is on a mission to encourage gardeners to invest in some of her favourite February flowering, low growing plants. Here’s why...

Hellebores
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Few would announce the month of February as their favourite in the gardening calendar. However, it is a time when some very special plants appear in our gardens. There’s no denying that the plant of the month is the snowdrop with enthusiastic galanthophiles heading out to admire the subtle differences between each variety. A few years ago, I was invited to join a group of galanthophiles as they wandered around a garden on a chilly February day. For ever more I will describe February as the month in which people look at a garden with their bottoms in the air – with most of the interest so low to ground that honestly this is the only way to enjoy the plants properly!

Snowdrops

First to flower

It’s the woodland plants that flower before the deciduous trees come into leaf that are of such value now. The bright yellow flowers of the winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) are always the first to catch my eye. I’m a great believer in cutting herbaceous borders back in autumn if you have plants such as this in the border. Leave your borders uncut until now and you might miss these ground huggers or event worse, tread on them as you work.

In the borders at Stockton Bury garden where I garden I’m always pleased to discover Viola odorata and Hepatica nobilis in the borders. Both seem to thrive in a shady and very cold spot in the garden where little else copes. I have the pink form of Hepatica nobilis that displays its single flowers at the end of the month about 5cm from the ground. This is an excellent hardy plants and if you’ve shied away from hepaticas in the past this is a great starter plant for your collection. It’s also one that you can safely grow without an alpine house.

Aconites

Raised appreciation

Hellebores are a wonderful addition to any garden. The best place to plant these is in a raised bed and then partner them with snowdrops. At Stockton Bury we have the perfect spot. There is a raised garden that is viewed from a path below allowing you to look right into the eye of the hellebores and snowdrops. There’s no need to go bottoms up when these stunning plants are planted in raised beds. With the details on both snowdrops and hellebores being so intricate you really should take time to look closely at the flowers. To help with this closer inspection I choose to remove the leaves of the hellebores in the winter to allow the view of the flowers to be unhindered.

Hellebores

Fairy light flowers

My favourite of the flowers of February are the anemones. Anemone nemorosa ‘Vestal’ litters the banks of our dingle garden at the end of the month. Its pure white, double flowers sparkle like fairy lights along the grassy banks. This plant requires little if no care when planted in dappled shade, yet its offering is so rich.

All these small but important plants are of such great value and yet so many ‘summer’ gardeners miss them. If you are guilt of only stepping foot in a garden centre, nursery, or open garden after Easter, look what you’ve missed. Go and seek out these low growing companions and February will soon become a month to celebrate in the garden – you might even raise a glass to these triumphant plants. Bottoms up!

Tamsin Westhorpe

About Tamsin Westhorpe

Tamsin Westhorpe is well known as an editor, garden writer and lecturer. However, she prefers to be known as a gardener. She was previously Editor of The English Garden magazine and lecturer at Kingston Maurwood College in Dorset. Tamsin started her gardening career at the age of 16 working for her great uncle John Treasure of Burford House Gardens in Worcestershire. Alongside her freelance work and being a mother Tamsin runs Stockton Bury Gardens in Herefordshire with her uncles and is currently training to be an RHS judge.
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