Many town gardens acknowledge spring with a whimper: a few daffodils here, a few tulips there, some spring blossom dotting a fruit tree or two.
Paul Minter and his partner Michael Weldon, however, like to celebrate spring with a fanfare of vibrant flowers and foliage in their Leyton garden, on the northern tip of the Olympic Park.
'The trick to having a continuous roll-out of action, is to plant shrubs that bloom successively, over a long period'
Pots of tulips in rich, sultry shades line the paths, white-flowered comfrey froths around the base of silver birches, the damson and pear trees are in full blossom and self-seeders such as borage, lamium, forget-me-nots and aquilegias fill every nook and cranny.
“I want the joy of midsummer after a long winter,” says Minter, who, as a former costume designer and now an art teacher, appreciates the cheering effects of a garden full of life and colour early in the year. The trick to having a continuous roll-out of action, he explains, is to plant shrubs that bloom successively, over a long period.
“If all you do is run out to the garden centre on Easter weekend and buy what’s in flower, that’s all that will be in flower in your garden, right through the year. We discovered that Viburnum burkwoodii blooms two weeks before Viburnum juddii in spring, so if you plant those two, you’ll have a month’s worth of flower and perfume.
“Then there are the camellias that flower in succession if you plant carefully, though striped red and white Lavinia Maggi flowers her socks off for weeks. We also have raspberry-pink ribes, with their wonderful lime-green foliage, fothergillas, with their amazing catkins, flowering crab apples and rhododendrons and azaleas to follow. Peachy pink azaleas with bronze foliage look wonderful in terracotta pots.”
All these springtime attractions aren’t revealed at once; given a long, thin plot 17 years ago, Minter referred to previous set-design training to make four separate “rooms” down the garden, with a herringbone path down the middle acting as a connecting thread.
“When we moved here 17 years ago there was just a long strip of a lawn, and the only planting was against the fences. People would stand at the front door, see the whole of the garden laid out and say, ‘Gosh, what a big garden!’ and there was no reason to explore, no mystery. So we divided it up, making the lawn in the first section rectangular, front to back, and the lawn in the second section oval, and running side to side. The idea was to create as much variety as possible.”
A sharply clipped yew hedge with a central gap at the end of the first garden stops the eye and frames a spectacular outsize urn that looks centuries old. In fact, says Minter, it’s reconstituted stone by Haddonstone and cost just a few hundred pounds; the lichen that has accumulated makes it look ancient.
The garden grows more informal as it reaches the back, culminating in a huge lime tree that dictated, says Minter, a woodland garden, because of the shade cast.
“Nothing would grow beneath it, however hard we tried, so we made a raised bed, and now aconites, hellebores, anemones and bluebells thrive and have seeded themselves outside the bed. What is vital is to water the raised bed during the dormant season. I like to pack it all in and enjoy the springtime sizzle. No bare soil permitted.”
Visit Paul Minter and Michael Weldon’s garde: 29 April or 27 May
The garden, at 64 Thornhill Road, E10 5LL, is open under the National Gardens Scheme on Sunday, 29 April, 1pm-5pm, and Sunday, 27 May, 2pm-5pm.
Loseley Park Show: 20-21 April
The handsome hand-thrown terracotta pots that Paul Minter (see above) chooses for his tulips are from Whichford Pottery, not just because they look good but because, he says, they always come through frosts unscathed.
Even Whichford's seconds are better than most other pots, which is a good reason to visit Loseley Park's Spring Garden Show on Friday 20 April or Saturday April 21, 10am-5pm.
Whichford will be selling a large selection of decorative pots, including its very good seconds, in the Stable Yard; entrance to Stable Yard itself is free.
You can also pre-order from the Whichford catalogue by calling 01608 684416 or emailing email@example.com. Visit www.whichfordpottery.com.
Gardening problems? Email our RHS expert at: firstname.lastname@example.org.