The short dreary days of mid winter seem to offer little to temp us out into the garden and away from the fireside pleasures of armchair shopping for summer colour. We are seduced by photographs of captivating flowering bulb combinations, colour is the element of our gardens which we miss most during this predominantly brown season, but there is a lot more to the vibrant flowers we love than their colour alone.
Out of sight, out of mind?
While we are inside bemoaning the lack of light and sunshine, outside in our gardens the earth’s natural processes are carrying on as normal. Out of sight, out of mind and underground things are stirring and if we were to go digging around we would find that the spring flowering bulbs we planted last autumn are on the move. Under deciduous trees and shrubs where the soil temperature is very slightly less chilly and where the blackbirds have disturbed the decomposing leaves, the fresh green tips of Snowdrops are up and ready to go.
In the shelter of the hedge bottom or in the dappled shade of naked trees we will find the perfect home for Snowdrops, Winter Aconites, Wood Anemones and as the season progresses drifts of beautiful scented Bluebells.
The beginnings of a wild flower meadow
If we think of our gardens not as a collection of plants displayed in beds and borders but as a series of habitats, then that most ubiquitous garden feature the lawn is easy to see as an open and sunny meadow. If we get down on our hands and knees and look carefully at the native species it contains (the ones we like to call weeds!) the beginnings of a wild flower meadow can often be found.
Waves of vibrant colour
There are those gardeners whose need for evenly striped perfection creates disdain for daisy spangled turf but for any child, many grown ups too and most importantly our gardens’ pollinators, there can be few more glorious sights than a carpet of Crocuses gleaming with wide open petals beaming up at a clear blue spring sky. Add to them Siberian Squill, Wind Flowers, Grape Hyacinths, the more dainty Daffodils and Species Tulips and the effect is magical. Waves of vibrant colour shine for weeks on end with very little effort on our part, and if compared to the same impact from a planted border, some of the best value for money we can expect our gardens to give.
True, the lawn can’t be mown until several weeks after the flowers are gone, but rather than see this as a disadvantage maybe we should take the opportunity to loosen those controlling garden reigns a little, relax and allow nature back into our gardens. As the bulbs’ leaves die back then those ‘weeds’ so many of us despise take over as a nectar and pollen source. That scourge of so many fastidious gardeners the humble dandelion will quickly join the daisies in most lawns if allowed to stay and if more of us let go of our prejudices and see them as glowing golden beauties full of nutrition for bumble and solitary bees, with luck the bees will stay around to say thank you by pollinating our fruit trees and vegetables.
Plant diversity is the key
The summer flowering species we find in our lawns will depend to some extent on the type of soil we have. If it’s heavy clay then Buttercups with their golden chalice flowers, plantains and white clover are likely to be abundant, while on free draining, drier soils we might see more self heal, wild strawberries, speedwell and birds foot trefoil. Having evolved together they are perfectly attuned to the needs of our native bumble and solitary bees as well as honey bees which as we know need all the help we can give them.
Plant diversity is the key, different bees feed from and pollinate different flowers and rely on a continuity of species throughout spring and summer so the greater the range of pollinator friendly flowers we have in our gardens the more species of them we are able to help support. Even though it may be the main reason we choose them, there is a lot more to the bulbs we buy for our gardens than their colour alone. A few spring flowering bulbs may not save the planet on their own but they are a step in the right direction.