We have a mild & temperate climate in England and the effects of our northerly latitude are moderated by the warm Atlantic Gulf Stream which brings warm tropical water to the seas that surround the British Isles. This means that although the British Isles is located at similar latitudes as Moscow and Newfoundland we do not share the climate characteristics of either location!
Winters are generally quite benign and in the south of England we would regard -5 degrees C (23 degrees F) as a hard frost and about the minimum we would normally expect. Consequently there is something to enjoy in an English garden through most months of the year. With perhaps November and December being the low points when daylight is short and plants are generally dormant. As soon as we move into January life in the garden starts to stir and the very earliest of garden species start to make a show.
What plants can I see flowering in an English Spring?
In January and February you’ll often see frosty stems creating an architectural look in the garden. The combination of moist Atlantic air and low temperatures can make a very attractive scene in the garden and countryside as ice crytals grow on branches and stems to create a hoar frost. The first plants to flower at this time of year are snowdrops, aconites and hellebores and the winter scented shrubs such as Mahonia, Viburnum and Sarcococca.
The leaves of daffodils and narcissi start to emerge at the beginning of the year and they bloom in February and March. Parks gardens and public spaces all have beautiful shows of these hardy and delightful flowers. The native primrose which is also a valuable garden plant will flower continuously through the first months of the year. The flowers are a delicate shade of yellow which contrasts beautifully with the bright green rosette of leaves.
At this time of year the acid-loving Camellias will flower – there are different varieties some flowering later than others. This plant from China is very happy growing and thriving in our English gardens. There are a number of gardens particularly in the milder climes of Cornwall that specialise in camellias.
By the time we get into March and April more and more plants come to life and start to flower. The daffodils and narcissi continue and we add Dornicum, Pulmonaria and lily of the the valley. Early cherry trees start to flower as does Amelanchier or snowy mespilus. At this time the trees and hedges in the countryside will start to green up, but it will be May before all branches are clad in green leaves. April is also the season for tulips which take over as the daffodils start to fade. We also look forward to the flowering of the native British bluebell in April. These beautiful blue flowers proliferate in the beech woods of southern England creating carpets of blue under the still bare branches of the trees. On a warm and sunny day the bluebells create a delicate scent which only increases their allure. As the leaves on the beech trees open the bluebells complete their growing season and the leaves die away and disappear.
May is the month of the total greening of the England countryside – nothing looks finer than the English countryside at this time of year when every tree sports a different and lovely shade of green. This is the month in which the rhododedrons and azaleas flower producing an absolute riot of colour. April and May see the very first of the roses come into flower. Rosa Banksia Lutea and Rosa Canary bird are both yellow roses. Rose loving gardeners will choose either of these two species in order to get the earliest possible start on rose season!
Which are the best gardens to tour in the English Spring?
The classical time of year to tour English gardens is in the weeks following Chelsea Flower show and into June and July when roses bloom and herbaceous borders flourish. However you can enjoy the English garden early in the year if you choose carefully. Often you can see the framework of a garden much more clearly in the Spring and this can be of great interest to garden designers.
We would recommend a visit to Forde Abbey garden at pretty much any time of year. This is a stunning garden in an exceptional historic location. You’ll see snowdrops and crocuses in the early Spring with a 30,000 bulb tulip spectacular planned for May 2017.
Hidcote garden is rightfully world famous and its as lovely in the Spring when the magnolias are flowering as it in in the height of summer.
We always enjoy the Abbotsbury Sub-tropical garden in Dorset. Its located very close to the sea so can grow a wide range of quite tender plants that would otherwise succumb to winter frosts if grown further inland. You’ll see Magnolias, camellias and lots of spring colour from February right through to the end of April.
There are a number of gardens specialising in magnolias and the best of these are Exbury, Minterne, Bowood and again Abbotsbury.