The curtain-raisers of spring are here

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THE signs are here. The colours white and yellow are brightening up the drab of winter. It is the first indication that spring is in its early stages.

Snowdrops and aconites are a welcome addition to the garden at this time of year. They can be used to add colour to beds, borders and rockeries but there is another area that they can be planted to great effect and this is a shrubbery.

This part of the garden can be rather bare and lacking appeal just now, especially if many of the shrubs are deciduous. These two late winter/early spring curtain-raisers will transform this type of planting until foliage emerges once the temperatures rise.

Both snowdrops and aconites can be planted between evergreen shrubs, as well as among and under shrubs that have dropped their leaves.

It may be strange, but this is the best time to be buying snowdrops! They are best when planted ‘in the green’, that is, the bulbs are lifted and sold with the leaves still attached. In this way they establish well, grow well and flower well, unlike purchasing and planting dry bulbs in autumn which may take some time to establish.

There are both single and double vareites of snowdrops but unless they are obtained from specialist growers, more often than not the singles are the most common. In catalogues and books they are often listed under their proper name galanthus.

When much of the ornamental garden is bare and dormant, winter aconites can give a splendid show of lemon-yellow flowers, one inch across with an attractive collar of dainty leaves and, growing only three to four inches high, they can provide vivid drifts of colour, if planted in groups.

Aconites, usually sold under the name eranthis, are, unlike snowdrops, not widely grown. Lots of gardens have snowdrops and it is one of the best-known spring flowers – not so the yellow aconite but they deserve to be more popular. The small tubers are widely available in catalogues, garden centres and other outlest in the autumn for planting from August to September.

Aconites come with a bonus – they will multiply readily as they produce an abundance of self-sown seedlings. By leaving the faded flower heads intact they will form a seedhead and when mature will scatter seeds around the mother plant. Because of their attractive leaves seedlings will not be confused with weeds.