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Nature still does it best!

Now that we can just see buds beginning to break on clematis, roses and one or two other early risers, I shall be on the look out for nature's spring display and wondering, as usual, why I cannot achieve such well-placed and colourful displays in my garden!

At present nature is only just getting its act together and we can see the first bright yellow lesser celandines, ranunculus ficaria, flowering on the woodland margins. These harbingers of spring can be a curse in the cultivated garden as they spread by very small, hard root tubers that cannot be seen in the soil because they are the same colour and they seem to survive the pressures of translocated herbicides such as glyphosate.

Yet in the less than ideal circumstances of a woodland or a hedge bottom, where they have to compete with other potential thuggish wild plants, they cannot become a nuisance. So they show themselves in small clusters, given us the occasional brilliant yellow splash of colour as we go past.

Their typically open-headed buttercup flowers are favoured by the first tentative bumblebees that stray from their over-wintering nests on warm winter days for a quick nectar fix.

Nature seems to produce yellow and blue flower combinations more than any other colour combination and the soft blue flowers of the common field speedwell, Veronica persica, complement the celandines flowers perfectly.

This potential garden weed, if that is how you see such plants, grows on the sunny edges of woodlands and on the sunny banks of ditches and hedge bottoms and so is often seen in combination with the lesser celandine.

The soft blue flowers may well be visited by early flying peacock butterflies for that quick nectar fix on warm, sunny, winter days. Able to seed itself rather prolifically, this speedwell can take over neglected lawns and border edges and so care must be taken when allowing this spring delight to cross the boundary between nature and the garden.

As if blue and yellow combinations were not enough excitement for one day, the white flowers of the wood anemone, Anemone nemorosa, pop their flowers up on long stalks to add to the spring display. They prefer the deeper shade of the woodland and so may only be seen against the yellow of the lesser celendine but what a delightful and delicate contribution they make to nature's spring flower festival.

They grow from small brown rhizomes and can seed themselves successfully in any shady corner of the garden. I grow a blue flowered species called Anemone blanda that likes the same conditions and, although the display is fleeting, it is worth the 12-month wait.Bumblebees delight in trying to settle on these flowers, often falling off, as their body weight bends the flower stalk.

Spring's inevitable march on presents us with another white flower that graces many of our local woodlands and its scent, if you can call it that, permeates the atmosphere for some distance around the clumps.

Of course, I am referring to wild garlic, often called Ramsons but botanically named as Allium ursinum. Its beautiful foliage, reminiscent of lily of the valley in appearance but not in scent, emerges in March with the flowers showing themselves from April. Small managed clumps in a shady corner can be delightful, giving you a supply of gently flavoured garlic foliage for soups and stews. Do not let it get too close to the house if you do not like the garlic aroma.

Our local favourite wild flower is the English bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, and here in the Huddersfield area we are graced with some of the best bluebell woodlands in Britain, carpeted with these stunning displays from mid-April onwards.

Their yellow-flowered companion is the dandelion, Taraxicum officinale, a curse in the cultivated garden but a beautiful yellow ring around the woodland margins, surrounding the blue carpet in the deeper shade of the woods.

I would not suggest that you have a dandelion border in your garden but the yellow flowers of the Leopards Bane, Doronicum, could provide a good substitute to complement the display of bluebells. These flowers are loved by honey bees and bumblebees both of which are essential for the pollination of flowers on our fruit trees and bushes. Isn't nature generous to us!

So, if you have a quiet corner of your garden, where you can let nature play its own game rather than the controlled and manicured game that we humans play, you might be surprised at the effect it has on the wildlife in your garden in spring and by the effect it has on you.

Remember that, unlike our crude way of planning and planting, nature only lets plants survive where they are happiest. We really should learn that lesson.
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Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Feb 27, 2007
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