March plant of the month

Perky pulmonarias are such an amazing early spring plant, says horticulturist Russell Watkins

As a gardener you often get asked what your favourite plant is, and it makes me realise I’m quite fickle because this changes from month to month. However, one that always comes around from year to year is pulmonaria.

A combination of hues

One of my more recent acquisitions is Pulmonaria ‘Diana Clare’ AGM, which has been planted on the Winter Walk in among Helleborus × nigercors ‘Ice Breaker Fancy’, and the combination of the two work really well.

The Helleborus has a longer flowering period, starting around Christmas and continuing for several months. The Pulmonaria will then burst into new growth at this time of year and the silvery, heavily speckled foliage, is a perfect foil for the dark inky blue flowers that also have hues of purple. These then contrast well with the aging flowers of the hellebores that take on green shades.

There are several different varieties of pulmonarias in this area. I love the early flowers, most of which are varying shades of blue. They are a great source of nectar, often visited by early emerging bumblebees building up their strength after hibernating through the worst of the winter months. I also admire the foliage with its variations in size shape and degrees of spottiness. These distinctions lend themselves to varying planting combinations, looking especially good with ferns, hostas and grasses for a really textual green tapestry effect.

Helping it look its best

Sometimes at the height of a dry spell in late spring or early summer the foliage can suddenly look a bit sad and mildewy, but this is very easily resolved by cutting right back to ground level. Follow this with a good watering and a light feed, and new growth will quickly emerge - the plant will be looking its best within just a couple of weeks. A fantastic easy-going plant that looks good for most of the year.

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.