March plant of the month: Chionodoxa

Just when you are beginning to think that winter will never end, a carpet of blue stars appears

Chionodoxa sardensisNative to the mountainsides of western Turkey, Chionodoxa sardensis is commonly called lesser glory-of-the-snow as this hardy little plant is one of the earliest to emerge, even if there is a covering of snow.

Full of charm, it grows to about 20cm (8in) tall with pendent, white centred, deep blue flowers. These are held on racemes bearing up to 12 blooms.
For the best effect, plant bulbs in groups of at least 15, or better still, in drifts. It needs well-drained soil, in full sun or partial shade. Fabulous in a sunny spot beneath deciduous trees and shrubs (including roses), it also provides a reliable injection of early colour in a rock garden. If they are happy in your chosen location, they will naturalise by bulb offsets (bulbils) or by self-seeding; carpeting the ground with blue stars.

Winning combinations

C. sardensis can be teamed with other bulbs such as snowdrops and crocuses for a lovely spring display in the borders, to spice up a lawn or in pots. Try planting in layers with Narcissus; plant at the normal depth, add soil up to their noses and then place Chionodoxa in between. Other effective companions include primulas, pulmonarias and hellebores.

In the Winter Garden, a sea of blue covers the ground beneath Acer griseum AGM making a striking contrast with the papery, chestnut-brown bark. Helleborus × hybridus dark purple-flowered and violet-blue Pulmonaria saccharata Argentea Group AGM harmonise in colour with the Chionodoxa, creating a pleasing display. In the Rock Gully, above the stream, it weaves its way around small trees including Nyssa and maples and through the emerging leaves of perennials such as geranium, Tiarella, irises and Geum.

This plant has a lot going for it and is a valuable addition to the spring garden. It needs next to no maintenance, it will pop up to delight you in spring, die down and disappear into its dormant state. Then, just when you are beginning to think that winter will never end, it will reappear. It is generally resistant to diseases and pests (including deer and rabbits) as well as a source of food for early butterflies and bees.

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