Reap rewards come Spring with a little Winter planning

Emma Townshend says start organising for next spring now and you could have a riot of colour and fragrance - indoors and out - from March right through to the end of May
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The Independent Online

Let me try to convince you to do something right now that, come next spring, you will be really pleased about. It's not just about planting bulbs, although that comes into it. I'm attempting to persuade you to do some winter planning for the spring colours of your garden. And, in particular, to plant some flowers just to cut, so you can bring the fragrance and hues into the house too.

"Bulb lasagne" is one approach. My friend Amanda is a volunteer at her local community garden, where the Gardeners' World presenter Joe Swift recently gave a talk advocating this spring solution. "You put the biggest bulbs - say, hyacinths - at the bottom," Amanda explains, "then tulips, daffodils, little crocuses, narcissi or grape hyacinths at the very top." Planting in this planned way could give you cheery bulbs from early March right through to the end of May, if you choose your packets right. Look for earliest-flowering narcissi and latest tulips for the longest span.

The only job you'll have to do is to cut back dead vegetation to let the next lot of bulbs through, because otherwise your display will be a real mess of dying daffs when you want your tulips to look their best. One solution is to camouflage any spare patches with something that will last all spring - which brings us to wallflowers.

Wallflowers are a controversial subject. They get used in public parks for what's called "spring bedding" - essentially, covering vast areas of empty soil with something that foolishly agrees to flower during winter months when any sensible plant would be asleep.

Wallflowers don't have the nicest leaves in the world, but they are green and bushy and the real payoff is the flowers: branching stems of cheerful reds, rusts, oranges and yellows, perfumed to put spring into your step. Buy a tray of single plants from any garden centre or DIY shop now, and space them about a foot apart. You can even go for a bargain pot with 20 or so little plants growing tightly clustered, if you make sure you separate them quickly so they get on with growing.

They are an acquired taste, but once you come around to the wallflower, you'll be a convert for life. "I was so stressed the other day," said my godmother, Barbara, "thinking I hadn't planted any wallflowers yet. Then I thought, 'Oh well, maybe not this year,' but this other voice was going, 'Oh my God, I haven't planted them.' I don't feel a functioning human being unless I'm growing some." So for Barbara, is it that delicious perfume? "It marks the passing of winter into spring. I just love whatever it is they remind me of."

Gardening can be about these Proustian motives, recreating the memory of a spring many years before. But it can also be about trying something really fresh. If you like the idea of having cut flowers in the house, what about unusual choices? Camassia esculenta for May to June, with two-foot blue starry spires; perhaps with Nectaroscordum siculum, even taller single green stems with a firework of tasteful green and burgundy at the top. Before you accuse me of choosing obscure things not available near you, I just bought packets of these in Sainsbury's.

But we are now back to the issue of cut flowers. If you've gardened for a few years, you probably already plant some bulbs in autumn, maybe doing window boxes and pots for outside a door. But planting for cutting is the ultimate luxury. When you buy your bulbs for containers, double up quantities so you can plant rows outside to cut and bring into the house. And think about different bulbs. Choose hyacinths - they don't look that great hunkering down in the flowerbeds, but as cut flowers in a blue-and-white jug, their chunky floral shapes fill the whole house with scent.

Finally, take a look for other hardy flowering plants in trays when you buy the wallflowers. Planting them now gives them a good start when spring finally warms the soil, and lets you begin planning your borders. And remember how gorgeous the old favourites are. Although my godmother's spring is all about the wallflowers, mine is without a doubt about Sweet Williams.

To read Emma Townshend's new blog, go to www.independent.co.uk/newleaf

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