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Highlights of spring

Written by Chris Wardle, Gardens and Designed Landscapes Manager – Aberdeen and Angus
Close-up of lilac crocuses with yellow centres.
For many, the change of season at the spring equinox – when days start to lengthen and the earth seems to be stirring – heralds the time when we can all start to plan, look forward and dream. Trees and shrubs start to burst their buds and young leaves appear, creating a haze of colours in subtle hues like smoke in the breeze.
Close-up of a branch with leaves just about to emerge.
Buds and leaves are just starting to emerge on trees and shrubs

Spring plants have to be some of my absolute favourites. While looking for inspiration of what to write about, I went to my back catalogue of old magazines that I keep for reference and something struck me – there are more copies of spring magazines than any other. My hoarding must be telling me something.

The countdown to spring can sometimes be frustratingly long and we have to thank the plucky little stars that are the first crocuses. These tiny little bulbs pack a punch of colour way above their size and when planted en masse can amaze and delight. I first saw some mass plantings of crocuses in Aberdeen’s Duthie Park – these are distant relatives of the native crocus which hails from the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco. A few years ago I was lucky enough to see them for myself in the foothills of Mount Toubkal on the plateau outside Marrakesh. I also met the Berber people who harvest their greatest treasure – the stigma, which is where saffron, known as the most expensive spice in the world, is derived from.

Snow-capped mountains in the distance, with a field of purple crocuses in the foreground.
Crocuses growing wild in Morocco

Many other early bulbs are forced from the ground by the rising temperatures, and later on daffodils form a crescendo of colour which if teamed with azaleas and rhododendrons can create the most incredible and garish combinations. Enough to raise the spirits of the stony-hearted!

Daffodils in front of Brodie Castle in springtime
Daffodils at Brodie Castle

Fans of the countryside will be able to see all sorts of plants in our hedgerows and field edges. The wild primrose (Primula veris) has the ability to shine like a beacon on a warm spring day and as the season progresses there will be an abundance of wild garlic in the woodlands, filling the air with its heady scent. If you can find a spot where it grows in profusion, without too many animals around, you can pick small posies for the house or, better still, use it in soups, salads and stir fries.

Close-up of a yellow primrose.
The wild primrose (Primula veris)

For garden connoisseurs, there’s skill and artistry in putting together a spring display. The power of a single plant can be appreciated on its own, but careful thought has to be made to combine the blues, yellows and pinks of flowers to present a cohesive and attractive display. Take your time when planting out and consider how colours will work together. You can always use a colour wheel to help you plan how colours can contrast with or complement each other.

As well as all the riotous colours, we shouldn’t forget our sense of smell! I was once told that it’s like an awakening after a long winter, where the only smell is that of dense, rich soil and humus. There are delicate scents that waft in the breeze and jog us back to life. Some are heady, such as Daphne bholua ‘Jaqueline Postill’, which you can smell from a great distance due to its intensity. Others are subtle and delicately perfumed, catching you unaware, like Rhododendron ‘Praecox’ or Hamamelis mollis (witch hazel). Like a will-o’-the-wisp, they’ll pass you by, but their scent is incredible, if fleeting.

Close-up of a yellow, spiky-petalled flower.
Witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis)

You can seek out rare, special and out of the ordinary spring plants in all sorts of places. The Victorians and intrepid plant hunters over the last 250 years ventured all over the world and started the national obsession with filling our island with rare and exotic varieties. These can be found far and wide in national collections, private gardens and almost anywhere you care to look. Wild collected species of cuckoo flower (Cardamine sp.), fritillary (Fritillaria pallida) or spurge (Euphorbia polychroma) abound and add their own flavour of interest to the outdoors in springtime.

Small purple flowers on a stem, with green foliage below.
Cuckoo flower (Cardamine sp.)

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