Helen's monthly choice - March 2019

I know the weather can still turn nasty and there will still be some pretty hard frosts on their way, but the days are getting noticeably longer and the sun feels a little stronger. The plants that kick the season off are already raring to go, breaking out of bud or pushing their way through the surface of the soil, so help get them off to a flying start by giving all the beds a generous mulch of composted manure.

March is a great time to move things around, so if anything has outgrown its allotted space or needs to be divided, do it now. Planting is also on the list of monthly chores, so if you need to fill any gaps, or have potted plants that should be in the ground, then get them in now. It will give them a chance to settle in before the temperatures get too high.

Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii

Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii

If I had to make a list of my top 10 plants, this would definitely be on it. It’s great for adding structure and colour to the border and it settles easily into most planting schemes. Described by Gertrude Jekyll as 'one of the grandest plants', it is still incredibly sought after by the best garden designers today. The sulphur-coloured flower heads contrast beautifully with the grey-green foliage and will usually last for several months. It will also cope quite well with drought once established.

Akebia quinata

The luxuriantly coloured flowers, which have a spicy, vanilla-like scent are a delight, as is the fresh green, prettily lobed foliage that often remains on the plant throughout the winter in milder regions. It’s a big climber once established, but if you have room for it, it is definitely worth having. Try to plant it on a large pergola as the flowers are best admired from below - and the foliage looks sublime with the sun filtering through.

Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’

Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’

It’s a whizz at filling difficult shady spots beneath trees and shrubs and it will provide a low maintenance carpet of dark green leaves and spring flowers. Not only is this little plant vigorous, but it is one of the first lungworts into flower each spring. To me, it’s much more appealing than those with the spotted foliage, as the leaves provide a solid backdrop to the vibrant violet-blue flowers. It is also tolerant of most soils as long as they are not too dry or continuously wet.

Chaenomeles × superba 'Pink Lady'

Chaenomeles × superba 'Pink Lady'

This is a beautiful cultivar - and it’s perfect for training against a wall, where the bare, splayed branches can reveal their rich pink flowers (which appear earlier than many of its close cousins) to perfection. Alternatively it makes a rather unruly, but effective hedge or screen, where its thorny stems will help deter even the most single-minded intruder. A tough and undemanding shrub, it will grow just about anywhere, but it flowers best in full sun.

Helleborus × hybridus 'Double Ellen Purple'

Helleborus × hybridus 'Double Ellen Purple'

This is a tough and easy to grow plant that doesn't need much encouragement to put on a good show. It’s relatively new and there may be a little variation in the intensity of flower colour, but it is always rich and exotic looking and will add depth and substance to the spring garden. At its best in late winter and early spring, it makes super under-planting for deciduous shrubs that are still trying to produce a canopy.