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Alchemilla Mollis (Ladies Mantle), aquilegia, foxgloves, many hardy geraniums (cranesbills) such as Johnson's Blue, geums, irises, trollius, veronica all flower early. There are a number of clematis that flower early, especially the (large) clematis montana and there are also roses that start in May. Spicebush and Fothergilla are two early-flowering shrubs that flower around April and May.
The other thing to think of is which plants give real vlaue for money by flowering for a long time, like fuchsias and cranesbills and osteospermum, especially if you choose the right variety.
Bunny, if you don't mind using biennials or short lived plants, you can buy plug plants of forget- me- nots, bellis daisies, violas, primroses etc in autumn, plant them then up they come in late spring putting colour in the garden. Oh and wallflowers - scent as well.
I know what you mean Bunny regarding an all season approach. Just an idea but for late Summer/ early Autumn flowers, have you thought about Rudbeckias?
I'm grew some mixed ones last year and once they got going they really did well and flowered well into October.
I've also seen some very cheap sweet william plants that will flower beautifully in the early Summer.
I've started some cappachino Rudbeckias from seed this year, from what I've learnt from here the bees really love them
I think sweet williams are easy to grow from seed but they grow very well from rooted cuttings and need no special treatment. They grow into busy plants. I've pulled some up and planted them and they have grown.
Quite often sweetwilliam are biannuals. Having said that I'm hoping for some flowers from the ones I sowed and planted out last year.
The Rudbeckia are great, mine lasted right through to the end of January this year. I grew Rustic Dwarf and previously Cheroke Sunset. Another plant that will give long months of colour is the Aquilegia, they can go on for ever and are a great link between spring and summer.
what about oriental poppies or peonies? they flower early summer and their flowers are delicate and gorgeous
I'm aiming for a year round nectar bar but late spring/early summer will be a bit of a gap. I'm planning to get apple cordons which would flower in spring, and possibly bird's foot trefoil and snakeshead fritillary for the lawn, when we've laid it.
How about some plants with catkins for February - I just read an article about these two, they rae both really pretty and on my wish list.
Salix chaenomeloides has catkins with little red caps on the end, height 12m and spread 5m.
Garrya elliptica James Roof - perfect for a north wall - it is evergreen 20cm catkins, the male is apparently the best for catkins.