Gardening: Horticultural horoscope

Each sign of the zodiac has its associated plants. Naila Green lays down the lore on staying in synch with the heavens

Forget 1 January. For gardeners, the year is about to begin. The spring equinox is almost upon us and, as the days lengthen, the adrenaline flows. Foretelling the gardening year ahead and making planting plans are closely linked. While modern horoscopes may not offer much help, in old astrology books horticulture was prominent, and each star sign had its associated plants.

Pisces (20 February to 20 March): Water lily, fig and willow are Pisces plants. Willows are choice in winter, with the glowing orange-scarlet stems of Salix alba `Britzensis'. In early spring, Salix helvetica has soft grey leaves, and silky grey and yellow catkins.

Aries (21 March to 20 April): Geranium, thistle, honeysuckle and witch hazel, all linked to Aries, tend not to flower this month, though on mild days the lilac-blue flowers of Geranium malviflorum and the maroon-black of G phaeum can appear. Thorns are also linked to Aries, the common hawthorn symbolising the onset of spring. Crataegus x lavallei is one of the best; it has spring blossom, and orange berries in winter.

Taurus (21 April to 21 May): Taurus plants are rose, poppy, violet, foxglove, vine, ash, cypress and apple. The climbing rose `Pompon de Paris' is especially early, and can be smothered with tiny pink flowers at the same time as ceanothus `Puget Blue'. Clumps of the smoky-purple violet, Viola labradorica `Purpurea', would complete the picture.

Gemini (22 May to 21 June): Lily of the valley, lavender, and nut trees are Gemini's plants. The sweet, lily-of-the-valley scent of Convallaria majalis `Fortin's Giant' fills the garden at this time. The French lavender, Lavandula stocchas, also flowers now, with tiny heads of fragrant purple flowers topped by rose-purple bracts.

Cancer (22 June to 22 July): Acanthus is a Cancer plant, the most imposing variety being Acanthus spinosus with its mauve-purple flower spikes and huge, dissected and arching leaves. It thrives on poor soil, plenty of sun, and good drainage. Also associated with this sign are wild flowers, and trees rich in sap.

Leo (23 July to 23 August): Leo plants include sunflower, marigold, dahlia, rosemary, orange, bay, and palm. Trachycarpus fortunei, the chusan palm, is a striking, hardy palm with large, divided, fan-like leaves and sprays of fragrant, creamy-yellow flowers. Dahlias are good plants for Leo, as late summer sees the start of their flowering. One of the most popular and fashionable is `Bishop of Llandaff', with bronze-green leaves and single, deep red flowers.

Virgo (24 August to 23 September): Virgo's plants are nut trees, and shrubs with small, brightly-coloured flowers. An edible, decorative nut tree is the purple-leaved filbert, Corylus maxima `Purpurea'. Purplish catkins with yellow anthers hang from bare branches in late winter.

Libra (24 September to 23 October): Blue flowers are linked with the sign of Libra, as are opulent roses, and vines. One of the more striking vines for the garden is Vitis coignetiae, which has large, heart-shaped leaves turning shades of crimson and scarlet in the autumn. Blue flowers are uncommon at this time of year, though in sheltered, south-facing positions the hardy plumbago, Ceracostigma willmottianum, will bloom with its vibrant blue flowers from August until the first severe frosts come to wither its crimson leaves.

Scorpio (24 October to 22 November): Scorpio includes all plants with dark red flowers, blackthorn, and nut trees. Dark red flowers are uncommon this month, though leaves in that shade are plentiful. Euonymus alatus has an abundance of red leaves followed by small purple and red fruit. Sedum maximum `Atropurpureum' has succulent, dark maroon foliage and red flower heads.

Sagittarius (23 November to 21 December): Plants for this star sign are pinks, lime, mulberry, ash, oak, and birch. The birch tree is welcome for its silvery bark. Even better than the common silver birch is the whitewashed Betula jacquemontii, which shimmers in the frosty, pale winter sunlight. Plant it at the end of the garden, as a focal point and because it will, in time, reach 15 metres (50ft) in height.

Capricorn (22 December to 21 January): Ivy is associated with Capricorn and, although common, Hedera helix `Goldheart' can look stunning with Cornus alba `Sibirica', its bright red stems shining out like laser beams. Other Capricorn plants include pansy, hemlock, pine, willow, elm and poplar.

Aquarius (22 January to 19 February): Fruit and nut trees are associated with Aquarius, but can look dull. Not so the winter-flowering cherry, Prunus subhirtella `Autumnalis'. Although it is unable to fruit, its frosty white flowers shine like stars during mild winters. The contorted hazel, Corylus avellana `Contorta', also unproductive, has twisted, bare stems with yellow catkins dangling like baubles on a Christmas tree.

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