Snowdrops, hellebores, daffodils and lots of tulips: these are the plants that flower in sequence to bring my gardens to life each spring. But now that Tulipa sprengeri is coming into flower the end of spring has been signalled and I must look forward to the next group of theme plants to take the show forward into summer.
Theme plants in my perennial meadows are the key plants that dominate the schemes in their season and carry the banner forward. Together they grow happily together to create a coherent block of vegetation that functions as one of the design elements in the garden’s planting design.
At a larger scale within the context of the total garden landscape’s design, trees and shrubs can also play a leading role; functioning as theme plants in their peak seasons. In a small garden a single tree, such as a flowering cherry, might dominate when in flower, but on a larger scale we should not only use shrubs and trees as specimen plants, but rather like theme plants in a meadow planting. Three or more similar shrubs flowering at the same time will give any garden a strong visual impact and at the moment my collection of Viburnum shrubs dotted around the garden are all now coming into flower. In years to come when they have grown much larger this will be a moment to savour.
Currently, a specimen of climbing wisteria is dominating one corner of my own garden and beyond it a perennial meadow of yellow euphorbia flowers dotted with the pompons of ornamental onions. The other plants present are there to complement them as it is the Euphorbia pallustris and the Allium aflatunense that are the official theme plants in my plan.
Another theme that is also developing in this garden and one which will last far longer than any flowers is the decision to introduce different shrubs with purple foliage here and there throughout the plantings. They pick up the colour of the purple leaved hazel tree growing in my neighbour’s garden, but are in general much smaller growing deciduous species and cultivars: Acer, Berberis, Cercis, Pittosporum and Viburnum.
For summer it is easy to find worthy theme plants for garden planting schemes, but spring and autumn offer less in terms of plants that have strong enough characteristics to play a leading role. The ways to success are to leave room in schemes to plant enough of each theme plant in order for it to play its role effectively and at the same time to introduce complementary plants in smaller numbers to plug any gaps in your seasonal progression; for example, adding bulbs for spring and asters for autumn.
Now is the time to look for what is missing and start planting.