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Garden News: Down to Earth with Robert Barker

Don’t be disheartened: signs of spring are starting to appear, if you know where to look, says Cambridge garden designer Robert Barker

It is well known that February can be a difficult time for many. Winter has taken its toll and for some the year ahead can be a daunting prospect - but for most gardeners there has never been a better time to be optimistic.

The very early signs of spring are here and the smell of change hangs in the cool crisp air. From underneath the skeletons of perennials, which were left over winter, breathes new growth and the excitement at times is overwhelming. We need these signs of hope now more than ever and, although February can still feel like part of the winter grind, it is a time when we can pause and be present enough to witness these signs of very early spring colour.

As a design practice we do our best to make sure that our gardens provide interest throughout the year. In all honesty this can be a bit of a struggle in January - other than making sure there is lots of structure in the form of hedging, which I often mention in this column - but in February there is a whole heap of options, which perfectly bridge that gap between winter and spring.

Robert Barker, Robert Barker Design (27043323)
Robert Barker, Robert Barker Design (27043323)

Particular favourites are hellebores, daphne, hamamelis, viburnum, and of course snowdrops. I am aware there are people out there who aren’t fans of these bulbs - Galanthus - but personally I struggle to understand how anyone can object to the waves of white that brighten up sleeping borders and add a sense of magic to even the saddest of settings. Seeing them en masse at places such as Anglesey Abbey is a spirit-lifting gift if you still have a case of the winter blues.

Scent is also important at this time of year and plants such as sarcococca and daphnes, considered just green shrubs to the untrained eye, produce the most incredible fragrance in February. I remember first discovering this during my time as a student with the RHS. Outside on one grey and extremely cold February morning it was hard to actually see which plant was producing such an amazing smell, but like a cartoon dog I followed the waft and have been a fan ever since.

February might not be the most exciting month, but if you pause long enough you’ll be able to enjoy the burst of new life that is all around you: a spring clean for your spirit, from the ground up.

* See robertbarkerdesign.com for more.

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