The flowering of the magnolia marks a turning point in our London garden. It’s a fleeting moment, the petals falling just as they appear to be reaching their prime, but it’s a magical moment all the same. Through the winter months our secluded plot is plunged into perpetual shade. The soil remains cold and wet, and there is little cheer. But with the magnolia comes the sun (or should that be the other way round?) and a host of jewel-like spring flowers.
The juxtaposition with Kerria japonica ‘Pleniflora’ is an awkward one. Blush pink magnolia blooms and brash yellow pompoms are hardly a match made in heaven, but I haven’t the heart to rip out either. Individually they are both splendid spring plants – straight forward and easy to grow. A match for the kerria in the yellow stakes is Caltha polypetala, the kingcup, or giant marsh marigold. This moisture-loving perennial rises early from the margins of our pond (or ‘the lake’ as Him Indoors describes it), appearing blissfully unaware that such a thing as winter ever occured. The kingcup’s golden flowers reflect wonderfully in the inky-black water.
Blue is such a welcome flower colour in spring and comes in many forms: scillas, hyacinths, brunneras, forget-me-nots and navelwort, (Omphalodes spp.). One of the best varieties of the latter is Omphalodes cappadocica ‘Cherry Ingram’, which has fresh green leaves and azure-blue flowers. Navelwort enjoys a rich, damp, woodsy soil, so is more or less happy in our garden, although yet to start seeding about.
Not quite blue, but a lovely warm purple is Anemone blanda (winter windflower). I planted a couple of clumps when they were already in growth in the spring of 2014, not expecting them to reappear from our soggy soil. They have, and in rude health, so I have popped in another six groups where I had a gap, selecting the sunniest spot I had available. Amongst the blooms are a few rogue white ones, which stop them looking too much like uniform bedding. How could anyone not be cheered by these porcelain-perfect little flowers?
All the blues and purples provide a perfect foil for daffodils, still going strong despite it being the middle of April. Those pictured below are a bargain-bucket purchase that I failed to label – a pity as they are very elegant and I would like more. I enjoy the way the petals twist slightly to suggest movement, but am less charmed by the trumpets, which juvenile snails seem to have found particularly delicious. Time to break out the slug pellets I think.
From now on our urban woodland garden will burgeon, foam and froth, the foliage of aquilegias, foxgloves, hostas and epimediums quickly disguising any fading bulb leaves. Yet it will never recover the fleeting vitality it possesses now. A moment to treasure.