Gardening: Blazing a trail

SOLID GOLD: Alyssum is a favourite 
choice for rockeries and sunny walls.
SOLID GOLD: Alyssum is a favourite choice for rockeries and sunny walls.
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David Overend salutes the hard-working spring flowers that are enjoying their final burst of colour.

Daffodils are long gone and tulips have finally shed their petals, but there are still one or two spring-flowerers hanging on in there and producing a few final spurts of blooms.

People tend to forget or ignore many of those hardy, reliable plants that help make the early months of the year be brighter and better. And the more they perform, the less likely they are to be given the appreciation they deserve.

Until now; now is the time to celebrate two of the real stars of late spring – alyssum and perennial candytuft, both of which can – and do – bloom for months, preparing the way for the bigger, blowsier flowers of early summer.

Alyssum is a stalwart of just about every rockery; it’s also beloved of those gardeners with sunny walls that need clothing in a carpet of gold.

It flourishes in poor soil so is often allowed to run riot where other plants tend to fade fast, but there are miniature varieties (‘Compactum’, for example) that barely reach six inches in height.

Alyssum thrives in well-drained soils and plenty of sunshine, and even the most common variety, A saxatile, will flower from April well into June. When it has finished blooming, trim the stems – this will not only keep the plant tidy but help its longevity.

The delightful but vastly under-rated Iberis commutate, aka perennial candytuft, and also called I sempervirens may be small but it can provide a lot of pleasure; in fact, this member of the cabbage family (Brassicaceae) has the ability to begin as early as March and still be blooming well into June.

I sempervirens is a spreading evergreen which may reach 30cm in height but it tends to spread outwards rather than upwards, so it’s best to keep a eye on it if you plant it in a small rockery where its narrow, dark green leaves will gradually overpower many a more genteel plant.

The flowers tend to be pure white, and start out almost flat before gradually fattening out on top of short stems.

This is a little plant which loves the sun. It also likes moisture but not waterlogging, can tolerate most soils (in fact, poorer soils seem to suit it down to the ground) and is just as much at home in a container as it is in the open garden.

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