How to garden with very little time or money – top 10 spring plants

Posted By: Alexandra Campbell On: April 6th, 2014 In: Uncategorized

I’ve just discovered the advantage of being a lazy gardener. I don’t do as much gardening as I ought to, mainly because I’m short of time. And filling a major flowerbed with plants is expensive – our main bed is 39ft x 10ft, and was completely empty (except for three trees), after our garden re-design. The cheapest way of stocking it would have been to take cuttings and grow from seed, but that takes even more time (and a greenhouse, which we don’t have).

Ballerina tulips with lamium

Ballerina tulip and the blue-green leaves of Allium Purple Sensation with lamium – all have multiplied five-fold in just a few years

The cost of filling our empty bed with bought plants would have been between about £200 and £800, depending on what plants we chose. But, by accident rather than by design, I seem to have filled it with spring plants that have spread, mainly as a result of benign neglect. I did buy small quantities of irises, alliums, sedum and wallflowers. And I also re-planted day lilies, stipa gigantea and euphorbia from other areas of the garden. But the first spring after the re-design there was quite a bit of bare earth. This spring – three years later – the garden has done almost all the hard work for us.

The plants that have spread, giving me free plants with very little effort are:

1) Euphorbia – three different types.

Amygdaloides is a wonderful frothy mound of lime green, and has spread from two or three self-seeded seedlings to a sizeable drift across the entire bed. It’s even threating to take over, so this year we will thin it out and move it. But I haven’t had to touch it till now. Euphorbia Oblongata is an annual, and self-seeds itself helpfully everywhere so all we have had to do is take it out where we don’t want it. And Euphorbia wulfenii has added an elder-statesman-like gravitas to the euphorbia party – it’s less rampant and more architectural.

Euphorbia amygdaloides
Euphorbia amygdaloides var robbiae spreads vigorously around my garden – all I have to do is dig it out when it gets too vigorous.

 

2) Iris – in two types.

At the moment the narrow green of Siberian iris ‘Tropic Night”s leaves are adding shape and structure to the beds, as are the more distinctive broad swords of ‘Black Swan’, a bearded iris. Both have clumped up generously from just one or two plants, and although neither are flowering yet, their leaves are great in the mix.

Anemone blanda

Blue flowered anemone blanda has more than quadrupled in size in just two years, seen here with some Siberian iris.

3) Tulip Ballerina.

Many tulips don’t come back year after year (although there are some in my borders that were planted by my predecessor over ten years ago). Ballerina, however, has worked its socks off to fill our garden. I have bought two lots of 15 Ballerina tulips over ten years, and I now have over 150 flowering in the garden. Their elegant pointy orange flowers make a beautiful contrast to the sharp spring green foliage of the euphorbia and iris.

Ballerina tulips and lamium

Ballerina tulips, yellow lamium and the sword-like leaves of allium Purple Sensation.

4) Allium Purple Sensation.

I bought 15 of these two years ago and counted over 45 in the bed this morning. Once again, they are not flowering yet, but their huge green leaves cover a great deal of bare earth, where the dahlias will sprout later on in the year. Allium Christophii has also multiplied from three bulbs, planted by my predecessor, to several hundred in all areas of the garden. Their blue-green leaves make a good contrast to the other foliage.

5) Anemones:

I planted three anemone nemorosa last year, underneath the silver birch tree, and now I have a spread of charming white daisy-like flowers above feathery foliage. Similarly, a friend gave me a single blue-flowered anemone blanda two years ago, and it has now spread to cover a couple of square feet of border. Its cornflower-blue flowers also work very well with spring’s acid green foliage.

anemone nemorosa

A few anemone nemorosa planted last year have quickly spread to form a carpet – or, at the very least, a rug.

6) Muscari.

A dozen muscari bulbs have turned into a magnificent royal blue edging for our front path. It took about five years to go from about 12 to several hundred little bulbs. They are at their best at the moment, underplanting the roses, which have been pruned back.

muscari beside a stone path

About 24 muscari have turned into several hundred in just a few years. They line the front path, underplanting the roses.

7) Lamium.

I dug up a few strands from a friend’s garden (with her permission), and the lamium has now spread across every patch of bare earth under the trees, providing creamy-yellow flowers in spring and variegated leaf ground cover during the rest of the year. Almost too vigorous – some might consider it a weed, but it grows in places where nothing else does.

Wallflower Bowles Mauve and tulip ballerina

Wallflower ‘Bowles Mauve’ seems to work with everything from this Ballerina Tulip to the softer pinks later in the year. And it was a tiny plant which cost less than £5 last year.

8) And I have to do a shout out for Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ – it doesn’t clump up, but one modest-sized plant will quickly balloon into a major mound, and its vibrant purple flowers seem to keep going from March to November.

Have you got any recommendations for plants that I can just put in the garden and that will spread themselves without much effort on my part?

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5 Comments

  • Jen says:

    Love these ideas, thank you! A great resource to come back to 🙂 #LoveYourHome

    • Thank you. I’ve just read your post on garden ideas and I think they are great, too. I’ve been painting bits of broken roof slate as plant labels recently, in the hope that they won’t fade as much as conventional labels do. And, of course, it’s been a great winter for loose slates!

  • I need you in my life!! We moved in to our house before Christmas and the garden is in desperate need of TLC. I have no clue where to start. I find myself walking round garden centres with a very confused look on my face.

    • Oh, I know the feeling. I have just done a post about this on Garlic & Sapphire (see here) and the best advice I got was just to weed and mulch for the first year. It really gave me the opportunity to get close to the plants and develop some idea of what was going on. I found that until I knew a bit more about a) gardening and b) my own garden, then trips to the garden centre were hopeless, except to fill nice pots on the terrace. Keeping gardening books around the house helps, too – just read a few paragraphs before dropping off or while waiting for a kettle to boil. And don’t spend too much money until you know what you want. Let me know how it goes.

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