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Friday, December 9, 2022

What to plant now for February colour

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F

ebruary never fails to surprise me. The arrival of spring feels earlier each year — indeed, there is evidence that shows it has crept forwards by about a month over the past 40 years.

Londoners are among the first in the country to experience the joy of winter’s wane when forgotten plants and flowers re-emerge. Below are some of the most interesting plants that wake at the first sign of warmth.

Daphne

This is the botanical name for a number of early-flowering evergreen shrubs, with heavily fragrant flowers. Generally compact in size, they are ideal for a small urban space.

Daphne odora is the most readily available, but with a little research and online digging, you’ll find my favourite, Daphne pontica, with creamy green flowers.

Plant in partial shade and clay soil somewhere you walk past regularly to make the most of the scent.

Mediterranean spurge

Above masses of teal leaves are the fluorescent green flowers of Mediterranean spurge (Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii).

It is ubiquitous in London due to its drought tolerance and ability to grow in the harshest conditions.

Winter Heliotrope

If Jurassic Park is more your thing, then the pink, alien-like flower spikes of the winter heliotrope (Petasites fragrans) are for you.

Endemic to the UK despite their unusual appearance, they are great for pollinators and emerge above a carpet of heart-shaped leaves.

They do best in slightly damp soil, but as long as there is plenty of organic matter available they’ll thrive.

What to buy

Now is your last chance to buy and plant bare-root trees and bushes such as apples, pears, plums or berries. Bare-root plants are great value for money but need planting immediately.

For organic-grown fruit trees check out walcotnursery.co.uk. Gooseberries and currants are your best bet for a shadier space.

What to do

Begin to think about sowing slow-growing plants such as chillies and aubergines, but if you’re using a windowsill hold off on anything else for at least a month.

Lack of light and cold outdoor temperatures will result in leggy plants that will struggle outside. Seeds are precious — sow once, sow right.

Where to go

If you need a colour fix, there is no better place than the Orchid Festival at Kew Gardens.

The psychedelic display is in a glasshouse so can be enjoyed on the wettest of days, until March 6.

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