After the coldest winter since 1885 we experienced a mild February which has set us up nicely for early spring. Bulbs are shooting up everywhere and the buds of flowering shrubs and trees are getting plumper by the day. The glasshouses offer tropical scents and unusual flowers from around the globe. The tour begins in the tropical house where it is impossible to ignore the pendulous pink flowers of Medinilla magnifica (1), an aptly named plant indeed! M. magnifica is from the rainforests of Indonesia and is unusual in that it is an epiphytic shrub growing on other plants without taking any nutrients from them. On your way through the sub-tropical house be sure to look out for the Yesterday, today and tomorrow plant (Brunfelsia pauciflora) a plant who's flowers change colour as they mature. Also, look up! There are some flowers in the canopy.
Turn right as you leave the sub-tropical house and leave the terrace past the parrot cages and turn right, to the alpine yard. Here there are a number of plants awaking from winter slumber but the one we're after is our native Pasque flower, Pulsatilla vulgaris (2), situated in the planters under the cherry tree. The furry buds give way to bell shaped flowers of deep to pale purple. Leave the alpine yard and head to the west lawn where there is naturalised planting of crocus and daffodils. Follow Gerard Path along the edge of the lawn to the rock garden. To your left, in the winter border, you will see Narcissus 'Tete-a-Tete' (3) along with a number of late-winter flowering plants and winter stems. Enter the rock garden where the bed around the pond is home to the lilac flowered Primula denticulata (4). Follow Farrer Walk where you may be lucky enough to see some early flowering rhododendrons. Take the right fork on to the tarmac path. Turn left at the nursery gates and follow the path up. This path is flanked on both sides by planting, including the nodding snake heads of the native Fritillaria meleagris (5) and the low growing Anemone blanda (6). Hard to spot but a good close look will discover dainty deep purple flowers with prominent yellow stamens.
Come back up the garden through the woodland walk and enjoy the simple pleasure of the third native plant of the tour, Primula vulgaris (7). It may not be the showiest of plants but the cheery, pale yellow flowers act as a harbinger of the British spring year after year. Turn left and we finish our tour with the hanging yellow inflorescence of Stachyurus praecox (8). Why not view our spring bulb display in the lawn aviary?
Next month spring will be at its peak with flowering trees, shrubs and more bulbs.
The guide book, tree guide and a range of interpretation sheets can be viewed in the front entrance and purchased from Reception. Ask at the admission desk for a copy of this walkabout.