Swathes of bluebells, tulips and daffodils in a garden

Naturalised swathes of bluebells, tulips and daffodils herald the arrival of spring
Image: Lois GoBe

Would you love to bring your garden back to life with a joyful burst of scent and colour next spring? With a little organisation – a well-planned combination of spring bulbs, flowering shrubs, colourful perennials and instant-impact plug plants will help you replace your winter blues with some fantastic early colour.

Small garden? No problem. Here are some top tips to help you plan a spring display with real wow factor, even in the tiniest of outdoor spaces.

Planning your spring display

Spring flowering Azalea ‘Japanese Red’ from T&M

Don’t have acid soil? Plant the things you like in large containers instead.
Image: Spring flowering Azalea ‘Japanese Red’ from T&M 

The best way to start planning for the coming growing season is to begin with the plants you like. If they’ll grow in your soil – plant them. Other sources of inspiration include flower shows, gardens which are open to the public, and the parks and gardens you pass as you walk the dog or pick the kids up from school.

Think about plant colour, height, structure and density. And do remember that foliage plants, shrubs and small trees should also feature in your design, depending on how much space you have at your disposal. Consider your garden’s aspect, and the soil type you have at home.

Start with some spring architecture

Yellow forsythia plant in the winter

A bright splash of yellow forsythia is a welcome sight at the end of winter
Image: Vlad_art

Ornamental trees are architectural centrepieces for your garden – and they needn’t be big. In fact there’s a wealth of dwarf trees from which to choose, some of which are great to grow in large containers – the perfect solution for people with small gardens, patios, or even balconies.

An ornamental cherry, for example, produces a radiant display of blossom in April, followed by foliage all summer and, come the autumn, fiery red, gold, or orange leaves. Or what about a crab apple? You’ll get copious amounts of blossom from early spring plus golden fruits during the autumn which the birds will love to feast on.

Providing a welcome backdrop of evergreen foliage, Clematis urophylla ‘Winter Beauty’ flowers through the bleakest months of December, January and February to help launch your early spring display. A favourite for fences and trellises, an all season clematis collection will provide height and interest, all year round.

Shrubs are an important way to provide structure in your garden and provide shelter for tender and shade-loving plants. Choose varieties that flower during the winter and into the spring – like forsythia which produces golden blooms from February or March, followed by attractive green foliage. Alternatively, try a dense shrub like Camellia, a popular plant border mainstay offering a striking display and long-lasting flowers.

Add some spring foliage

Pieris japonica 'Debutante' from T&M

Pieris japonica ‘Debutante’ flowers from March to May
Image: Pieris japonica ‘Debutante’ from T&M

Evergreen foliage is a must for any garden because it gives you something to look at, even on the gloomiest of January days. But as the grey of winter gives way to bright and breezy spring, foliage plants really come into their own, giving your spring flowers a vibrant canvas to bloom against. Large, silvery leaves of plants like brunnera brighten up shady corners and make excellent ground cover when planted with striking architectural bulbs like spring alliums.

Try growing shrubs like Pieris japonica ‘Debutante’ in containers or borders – this hardy evergreen features pretty, ivory-white flowers from March until May. Alternatively, if you live in a milder area of the country, with its dramatic foliage, pittosporum is a great choice.

Choose a succession of spring bulbs

Crocus 'Yellow Mammoth' from T&M

Plant bulbs on masse for a striking show
Image: Crocus ‘Yellow Mammoth’ from T&M

Spring wouldn’t be quite the same without a plentiful show of brilliant spring bulbs, but we suggest that you think about successional planting so that when one bulb finishes blooming, another is ready to take its place. Snowdrops and crocuses are among the first to flower, followed, depending on the climate where you are, by daffodils, tulips, anemones and plenty more.

Stick to a colour scheme, or mix it up – either can work well, but typically around half a dozen complementary colours creates a dazzling display for a small garden, without overdoing it. Plant your bulbs in drifts of seven to twenty bulbs so that each variety has a strong presence. Do also bear in mind the plant height – generally, it makes sense to put taller stemmed bulbs behind lower growing ones – for example tulips behind crocuses and irises.

Most spring bulbs should be planted during September and October to bloom the following spring. For a quick recap on exactly when to plant and at what depth, see how to grow bulbs, corms and tubers. When your bulbs have finished blooming, allow the flowerhead to die off completely before deadheading as this gives the plant time to reabsorb all that goodness, ready for next year.

Finish with some spring flowers

Nurseryman's Choice Pansy 'Coolwave Collection' from T&M

Pansies are perfect for hanging baskets
Image: Nurseryman’s Choice Pansy ‘Coolwave Collection’ from T&M

Finally, complete your spring display with colourful flowers like violas, pansies and primroses, all of which offer that bright seasonal spectacle you’re looking for. They’re easy to grow in pots or in the front of your borders and are a wonderful way to add instant interest.

Pansies and violas are a popular way to bring early colour to your beds, borders, pots and hanging baskets. Buy them as plug plants for quick and easy results.

Coming in pale yellows through to riotous colour, primroses are a hard working perennial that bloom for months at a time, providing continuity as your late spring and early flowers begin to show through. Sow cheerful pansy seeds during the autumn to flower next spring, or buy garden-ready plants to put straight into the soil.

A spring garden is fun to plan and plant in autumn, gives you plenty to look forward to during the depths of winter and, when the new season finally arrives, you’ll be rewarded with a kaleidoscope of spring colours and scents that will prove well worth the wait.

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