‘In like a lion and out like a lamb’ - the old proverb about March is so often true, as we can start the month still in our winter coats and often end it digging out the summer clothes. It’s a month with great energy and new life teetering on the side lines, ready to step into the limelight.
If you are feeling that your garden isn’t quite making the impact you want it to, then an indispensable plant for this season is Euphorbia. The bright green foliage and almost luminous yellow bracts are a perfect foil to the fresh new bulbs that are beginning to poke through, and it is an easy plant to brighten up borders that are looking a bit bare.
There are a mind-boggling 2000 varieties to choose from, but here are a few varieties that are really good for this time of year:
Euphorbia characias ‘Wulfenii’, a great architectural plant for the middle to back of a border, it grows to 1.5m high and wide. The upright, evergreen, soft grey-green foliage produces balls of small bell-shaped, lime green flowers on their tips from February to June. This makes it a perfect backdrop for forget-me-knots, tulips or alliums, and when the flowers begin to fade they can be snipped off at the base to encourage new growth for next year; the narrow leaved foliage is then an excellent background for roses and peonies etc that are all beginning to bloom, as well as carrying on through the season to contrast and compliment late summer grasses. This Euphorbia likes a well-drained, sheltered position in sun to part shade and although it may lose vigour after 3-4 years, it will self-seed happily so you have a ready supply of plants.
If you have got a smaller space to fill, then Euphorbia polychrome is great for the front of a border. The citrus yellow flowers grow to about 60cm high and are a wonderful partner for blue toned miniature bulbs such as muscarii (grape hyacinths), Scilla or crocus. It is not particularly choosy about where it is planted and I think it looks amazing in dappled shade.
I am always on the search for plants to fill tricky spaces and Eupohorbia amygdaloides var robbiae (wood spurge) is ideal for dry shade, so perfect for naturalising under large trees. It is a great weed suppressor, as it spreads by underground runners, while the dark glossy foliage and lime green flower spikes are a wonderful contrast to other dry shade plants such as snow drops, cyclamen and Geranium pheum.
I hope this has helped you to choose some euphorbias for your garden - just a word of warning though: they have a white latex sap that is an irritant and can cause skin rashes or damage eyes, so always wear gloves when you are cutting or handling the plants!
Originally published in Focus magazine