Hedgerow bottom in spring with English bluebells and celandines

How To Choose Plants To Give You Spring Colour At the Bottom Of A Mixed Native Hedge

Add colour to a mixed native hedge with spring flowering plants

There is nothing lovelier than a native mixed hedge, and nothing better for providing a wildlife habitat, both food and housing. But in early spring it can look a bit colourless so why not plant some colour at the base.

Enrich the soil at the base first with some home-made compost or good quality multi-purpose peat-free compost. Plant about 30cm (12”) away from the base of the hedge so that the plants don’t become starved of light once the hedge bursts into leaf; even if they have stopped flowering the bulbs will still need to photosynthesise in order to build up the flower spike for the following year. Don’t forget to water regularly for the first couple of years even if there has been a shower, as the plants will be in the lea of the hedge and quite possibly won’t receive any rainfall. It is also a good idea to mulch in late winter/early spring with home-made compost or good quality peat-free compost and add some balanced fertiliser at the same time.

I have chosen small flowered and native plants to complement the nature of a mixed wildlife hedge, as large hybrids would look out of place. Water the plants well after planting.

Aconite, Winter (Eranthis hyemalis)

  • Bulb, perennial
  • Plant: autumn; in the green in spring
  • Flower: February – March
  • Flower colour: yellow
  • Soil: any, well drained, humus rich
  • Where to plant: under deciduous trees or shrubs, front of herbaceous borders, hedge bottoms
  • How to plant: 5cm (2”) deep
  • Food and water: keep just damp; feed after flowering with a high potash fertiliser, such as tomato food as this will encourage formation of flowers for next year
  • Aspect: sun, partial shade
  • Hardiness: hardy
  • Height: 8cm (3”)
  • Tips: they  tend to establish better if planted ‘in the green’ (growing) in spring; the sap can be an irritant

Anemone, Wood ( Anemone nemorosa)

  • Rhizome, perennial
  • Plant: autumn
  • Flower: March – April
  • Flower colour: white, pale lavender blue, palest pink
  • Soil: any, well drained, moisture retentive
  • Where to plant: under deciduous trees or shrubs, woodland garden, hedge bottom
  • How to plant: 3 - 4 times own depth
  • Food and water: keep just damp; feed after flowering with a high potash fertiliser, such as tomato food as this will encourage formation of flowers for next year
  • Aspect: partial shade
  • Hardiness: hardy
  • Height: 10cm (4”)
  • Tips: plant with primroses and aconites; mulch every couple of years with leaf mould; flower doesn’t open on dull cloudy days

Bluebells, English (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)

  • Bulb, perennial
  • Plant: bulbs in autumn; in the green in spring
  • Flower: April – May
  • Flower colour: blue
  • Soil: any, well drained, moisture retentive, humus rich
  • Where to plant: naturalised under deciduous trees, hedge bottoms
  • How to plant: 3- 4 times own depth
  • Food and water: keep just damp; feed after flowering with a high potash fertiliser, such as tomato food as this will encourage formation of flowers for next year
  • Aspect: partial shade
  • Hardiness: hardy
  • Height: 40cm (16”)
  • Tips: don’t plant Spanish bluebells as they are stronger than the English and hybridise with them so putting the English bluebell under threat

Bugloss (Ajuga reptans)

  • Perennial, evergreen
  • Plant: March - November
  • Flower: March - July
  • Flower colour: blue
  • Soil: any, well drained, moisture retentive
  • Where to plant: front of herbaceous border, containers, damp ground under trees
  • How to plant: dig in organic matter when planting
  • Food and water: keep just damp; feed with a balanced controlled release fertiliser in spring
  • Aspect: sun, partial sun, shade
  • Hardiness: hardy
  • Height: 15 x 60cm (6 x 24”)
  • Tips: excellent groundcover; if planting the purple leaved varieties in the shade they will lose their colour and revert back to green, so plant these in the sun

Celandine

  • Perennial
  • Plant: early spring
  • Flower: spring
  • Flower colour: yellow
  • Soil: any moisture rich, well drained
  • Where to plant: woodland garden, under hedge bottom
  • How to plant: dig in organic matter when planting
  • Food and water: keep just damp
  • Aspect: dappled shade
  • Hardiness: hardy
  • Height and spread: 10 x 10cm (4 x 4”)
  • Tips: plant the hybrids available from garden centres as the wild ones are quite invasive

Crocus

  • Bulb, perennial
  • Plant: autumn
  • Flower: February – April
  • Flower colour: gold, white, purple, lilac
  • Soil: any, well drained, moisture retentive
  • Where to plant: under deciduous trees or shrubs, naturalised in lawns, front of herbaceous borders, containers, rockeries
  • How to plant: 2 – 3 times own depth
  • Food and water: keep just damp; feed after flowering with a high potash fertiliser, such as tomato food as this will encourage formation of flowers for next year
  • Aspect: sun, partial shade
  • Hardiness: hardy
  • Height: 10cm (4”)
  • Tips: mice love them so may have to protect with chicken wire; if planted in the lawn wait until the foliage has died off before mowing

Daffodils, Wild (Narcissus pseudonarcissus; Wordsworths’ Daffodil)

  • Bulb, perennial
  • Plant: autumn
  • Flower: February - April
  • Flower colour: pale yellow
  • Soil: any well drained
  • Where to plant: naturalised under deciduous trees or hedge bottom, naturalised in lawns, herbaceous borders, containers, rockeries
  • How to plant: 2 – 3 times own depth
  • Food and water: keep just damp; feed after flowering with a high potash fertiliser, such as tomato food as this will encourage formation of flowers for next year
  • Aspect: sun, partial shade
  • Hardiness: hardy
  • Height: 15cm (6”)
  • Tips: throw bulbs down and plant where they fall for a more natural spread

Wild daffodils at Troutbeck Church, Lake District, Cumbria

Wild daffodils at Troutbeck Church, Lake District, Cumbria

Deadnettle (Lamium maculatum)

  • Perennial
  • Plant: spring, early summer
  • Flower: early summer
  • Flower colour: pink, purple, white
  • Soil: any, well drained, moisture retentive
  • Where to plant: hedge bottom
  • How to plant: incorporate organic matter when planting
  • Food and water: keep damp, feed with balanced fertiliser in early spring
  • Aspect: sun, partial shade
  • Hardiness: hardy
  • Height and spread: 45 x 45cm (18 x 18”)
  • Tips: cut back after flowering to encourage a new flush of growth and maybe more flowers in September

Lamium (Deadnettle)

Foxgloves (Digitalis)

  • Perennial, biennial (seeds grow the first year and flower the second)
  • Plant: spring, early summer
  • Flower: early summer
  • Flower colour: pink, purple, white, apricot
  • Soil: any, well drained, moisture retentive
  • Where to plant: hedge bottom
  • How to plant: incorporate organic matter when planting
  • Food and water: keep damp, feed with balanced fertiliser in early spring
  • Aspect: sun, partial shade
  • Hardiness: hardy
  • Height and spread: 90 x 45cm (36 x 18”)
  • Tips: plant native species 2 years running for a perpetual supply of plants

Digitalis (Foxglove) Dalmation Peach

Digitalis 'Dalmation Peach'

Geranium, Cranesbill

  • Perennial
  • Plant: spring, early summer
  • Flower: early summer to late autumn
  • Flower colour: pink, purple, white, burgundy, blue
  • Soil: any, well drained, moisture retentive
  • Where to plant: hedge bottom, herbaceous border
  • How to plant: incorporate organic matter when planting
  • Food and water: keep damp, feed with balanced fertiliser in early spring
  • Aspect: sun, partial shade
  • Hardiness: hardy
  • Height and spread: 45 x 60cm (18 x 24”)
  • Tips: ‘Johnson’s Blue’ looks like the wild one you see on roadside verges; macrorrhizum ‘Whiteness’ is evergreen and reaches a height of 30cm (12”); cantabrigiense ‘Karmina’ is carmine pink with evergreen foliage and reaches a height of 20cm (8”); cut them back after flowering for a flush of new growth and flowers in September

Geranium (Cranesbill)

Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)

  • Rhizome, perennial
  • Plant: dry rhizome in autumn; usually bought growing in spring
  • Flower: May
  • Flower colour: white, pink
  • Soil: any, well drained but permanently damp
  • Where to plant: under-plant shrubs, containers
  • How to plant: 5cm (2”) deep
  • Food and water: keep just damp; feed after flowering with a high potash fertiliser, such as tomato food as this will encourage formation of flowers for next year
  • Aspect: partial shade, will tolerate full shade but won’t produce as many flowers
  • Hardiness: hardy
  • Height: 25cm (10”)
  • Tips: highly fragrant; needs to be kept damp in summer; good cut flower; makes large patch

Omphaloides

  • Perennial
  • Plant: spring
  • Flower: spring
  • Flower colour: blue; blue with a white eye
  • Soil: any, well drained, moisture retentive, humus rich
  • Where to plant: herbaceous border, in front of hedge
  • How to plant: enrich the soil with humus-rich compost
  • Food and water: keep damp, top dress with a balanced fertiliser in early spring
  • Aspect: partial shade
  • Hardiness: hardy
  • Height and spread: 15 x 30cm (6 x 12”) to 30 x 45cm (12 x 18”)
  • Tips: looks like Forget-me-Nots

Primroses (Primula vulgaris)

  • Bedding, perennial
  • Plant: spring
  • Flower: March - April
  • Flower colour: pale yellow
  • Soil: any, well drained, moisture retentive, humus rich
  • Where to plant: under deciduous trees or shrubs; as part of a woodland garden; in a hedge bottom
  • How to plant: poor soil may have to be enriched with handful compost; if planting in containers use good quality multi-purpose compost
  • Food and water: keep just damp, if too wet will rot
  • Aspect: sun, partial shade
  • Hardiness: hardy
  • Height and spread: 15 x 30cm (6 x 12”)
  • Tips: can be grown from seed; deadheading essential otherwise they will stop flowering

Primula vulgaris (Common Primrose)

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis)

  • Bulb, perennial
  • Plant: bulbs in autumn; in the green in spring
  • Flower: February – April
  • Flower colour: white with green markings
  • Soil: any, well drained, moisture retentive
  • Where to plant: under deciduous trees and shrubs, front of herbaceous border, containers, rockeries, naturalise in lawns
  • How to plant: 4 times own depth
  • Food and water: keep just damp; feed after flowering with a high potash fertiliser, such as tomato food as this will encourage formation of flowers for next year
  • Aspect: partial shade
  • Hardiness: hardy
  • Height: 15cm (6”)
  • Tips: they  tend to establish better if planted ‘in the green’ (growing) in spring; some are honey scented; lots of varieties some of them double

Sweet Violets (Viola odorata)

  • Perennial
  • Plant: March - July
  • Flower: March - May
  • Flower colour: purple
  • Soil: acid – neutral, well drained, moisture retentive
  • Where to plant: woodland garden; hedgerow bottom
  • How to plant: dig in organic matter when planting
  • Food and water: water well for the first season after planting; keep damp; feed with a high potash fertiliser in early spring
  • Aspect: sun, partial sun, shade
  • Hardiness: hardy
  • Height: 10 x 50cm (8 x 20”)
  • Tips: will not flower as well in the shade as in full sun

Violets in the bottom of a hedgerow

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Angela Slater
Daughter of a farmer and market gardener so have always had a connection with the outdoors, whether it was keeping animals or producing fruit, vegetables and cut flowers. Along with my work at Hayes Garden World I also have a smallholding, mainly breeding rare breed pigs. I gained an HND and BSc in Conservation and Environmental Land Management, as a result I am an ardent environmentalist and have a keen interest in environmentally friendly gardening. In my time at Hayes I worked for several years in the Outdoor Plant and Houseplant areas