After a long winter, it’s time to get out and start preparing for spring

Gardens Editor Tiffany Danneff shares her top suggestions for new plants and seeds this growing season.

Lulled by recent blue skies, I was lured into the garden and forced myself to consider the borders. I have to confess that the beds have been horribly neglected. My excuse? That the house was swaddled in scaffolding from early August until November. Although the scaffolders kindly positioned their planks between the roses and shrubs, the work took its toll.

At first all seemed bearable, the little Bergenia ‘Abendglocken’, which I have been nursing for more than a year, survived unscathed under a wire cloche, but, as the weeks went by, carpenters were followed by painters and on and on went the march of heavy boots. It was simply less painful to turn a blind eye to the daily compaction of the clay brash we have here — and which I have spent 12 years improving — than keep running out to the garden with pathetic remonstrations.

‘It wasn’t until mid January that I summoned up the courage to face up to the horror’

It wasn’t until mid January that I summoned up the courage to face up to the horror. I began yanking at the skeins of couch grass that had taken advantage of No Weeding Autumn to insinuate themselves into the roses and asters and then began ripping out the strings of brambles that had pushed up from their hiding places by the house wall until, eventually, I revealed a sour floor of boot-smooth soil decorated with scrapings of paint, curlicues of lead and tan-coloured nuggets of polystyrene foam. I’m a chaotic gardener, never using a wheelbarrow to cart off the weeds, but hurling them behind me so they scatter the lawn. Instead of finishing one job, I’ll move onto another, so absorbed that often I carry on until the sun sets.

It was on tackling the overgrown mounds of lamb’s ears, Stachys byzantina ‘Silver Carpet’, that I relaxed and remembered why I garden. This giver of chilblains that punctures palms on thorns and threatens to scar the retina of the careless wields a powerful magic: close to the ground was the soft new leaf growth. Yes, I had let all go to pot, the ground might need tickling and a few inches of home-produced mulch, but here was hope.

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Stachys byzantina ‘Silver Carpet’, providing catharsis in its removal. Credit: Getty

That’s why, when all is dark and chill, gardeners remain upbeat: we’re planning our own surprises. I had been so despondent I hadn’t even ordered any new plants and seeds. A few emails asking for inspiration quickly put me right. Here, in no particular order, are some of the most alluring suggestions: ‘Have you grown Papaver ‘Amazing Grey’?’ asked the designer Angel Collins, who is keenly anticipating its first appearance in her Warwickshire garden. As you can see from the photograph, it is an amazing violet sort of grey, with tissue-papery petals.

From another designer, Mary Keen, came word of a beautiful airy mullein, with lemon-yellow flowers and a rust-coloured centre. She has some babies of this Verbascum roripifolium in her Oxfordshire greenhouse, which she grew from seed championed by the nurserywoman Derry Watkins ( Petra Hoyer Millar, who recently launched the excellent online garden news website The Dirt, cannot wait to see the deep-red bobble heads of Eryngium pandanifolium ‘Physic Purple’ appear in her borders. It’s another you can find at Special Plants near Bath, and makes 5ft–8ft in height, so is perfect for a tall border.

June-flowering Gladiolus tristis, the scents of which spread in the evening cool. Credit: Getty

The Chiltern Seeds catalogue is likewise filled with things it is impossible to say no to. Tilly Ware, who is making a garden in Suffolk, has ordered Lathyrus odoratus ‘Pandemonium’: ‘I love the flaked or stripy types of sweet pea such as ‘Nimbus’ or ‘Wiltshire Ripple’; this one is a lovely raspberry and is meant to be very vigorous.’ She has also succumbed to the creamy yellow June-flowering Gladiolus tristis, buying bulbs from Avon Bulbs. Its scent spreads in the evening cool.

In addition, she has ordered the spider chrysanthemums ‘Saratov Lilac’ and ‘Goshu Penta’ (a burnt orange) from the excellent Halls of Heddon (www.hallsof heddon. com), from where I have had wonderful martagon lilies and dahlias. Talking of which, Arthur Parkinson — an inspirational filler of pots and planters — is sowing D. variabilis ‘Bishop’s Children’. As he says, ‘it’s a jamboree of smile-inducing rocket-lolly primary colours’.

If that weren’t enough to inspire me, the designer Butter Wakefield tells me that she is already keenly anticipating a mixed mass of light and dark-pink cosmos — C. bipinnatus ‘Fizzy Rose Picotee’, ‘Double Dutch Rose’, ‘Double Click Rose Bonbon’, ‘Dazzler’ ‘and the gorgeous orange C. sulphureus ‘Bright Lights’.’ How’s that for hope?

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