This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
The taste for hardy spring flowers is developing more rapidly than the taste for any other class of hardy flowers. The reasons for this are obvious. There is no difficulty experienced in keeping the garden well stocked with flowers during summer and autumn by means of either hardy or tender plants, but in spring we must fall back on the good old-fashioned floral gems of the season, if we would have any delight in our gardens at all during the cold months of spring. To assist in the cultivation of the growing taste for these early flowers, I would venture on making a selection of the best of the earlier and later species and varieties, including only such as are most beautiful and easy to manage in any garden.
This is the best of the genus to which it belongs. It grows to the height of about 1 foot - the stems being clothed with finely-cut leaves, and terminating in large, bright-yellow flowers, which open in March and April in ordinary seasons, but this season they are fully a month later than usual. Anemone apennina, a closely related form, if not a mere variety, begins to flower as vernalis ceases, and is therefore useful in prolonging the period of flowering in collections that are large enough to admit of two such closely related plants of almost identical features and colour.
Anemone Apennina is one of the most beautiful of spring flowers. It rises to the height of about 6 inches, including the flowers, which are a bright blue. It flowers sometimes as early as February, but only in mild seasons and in warm localities; more generally it appears in March. A fine companion to it is Anemone nemorosa, the white Wood Anemone, the double form of which is an excellent subject to grow largely for cut flowers, as it stands well when cut.
Anemone Fulgens cannot be surpassed for the brilliancy of its large starry flowers of dazzling crimson. As with most Anemones, the flowers are most profuse; and the plant thrives so generally well in gardens that it should become a popular favourite - indeed no garden should be. without a few of it. The Poppy Anemone, Anemone coronaria and the varieties, Anemone hortensis, the Garden Anemone, are also indispensable, while they are also the most easily cultivated of all spring flowers. Anemone pavonine (bright-red), Anemone Pulsatilla (purple), and Anemone sylvestris (white), are each beautiful, distinct, and worthy of attention where there is room for variety; but if only two or three may be grown, I would recommend fulgens, apennina, hortensis, coronaria, and nemorosa pleno as being the cream of the lot for spring flowering.
The double form of this is not one of the earliest of our spring flowers. Still in ordinary seasons it begins to open its fine golden-yellow flowers in April, and continues to display them during the following two or three months. It is a very gay if a somewhat common-looking plant, and is worthy of a place in every garden where gaiety is desired.
Eranthis Hyemalis., the Winter Aconite - one of the most common of spring flowers, and one of the earliest to appear. It is no unusual thing to see it pushing its flowers and leaves through the melting snow in February. It thrives everywhere - even in the smoky atmosphere of towns - and is therefore most valuable as a town garden-plant.
The Christmas Rose (Helleborus Niger) is too well known and admired to require recommendation. Some forms of it flower very early in the year, often in mild seasons throwing up flowers in November and December. Others, such as the variety called major, are somewhat later, while the flowers are larger and more beautiful in colour; but all are worthy of culture, and should be grown largely where considerable demand is made for cut flowers during the winter months. A few plants lifted and put in a cold frame before winter sets in will yield a fine crop of purely-coloured flowers, which are apt to be draggled and soiled when left to the full exposure of the weather.
All of these are worth growing more abundantly than they are. They are profuse and bright, and very early flowers. Only three colours are given by them - red, white, and blue. There are double forms of the first and last, and a double white is mentioned in books as having been in cultivation, but it no longer exists in gardens, if ever it did - although some_aver that they have met with it in this generation. The double blue occasionally throws up a few dirty-white flowers in autumn, which, so far as I can trace, appears to be the only ground that can be given for the alleged existence of the variety, in recent times at least. H. angulosa is a very fine and distinct species, differing from the triloba varieties in having larger flowers and foliage.
A very pretty and interesting plant, alike in flowers and leaves. The flowers, like those of nearly every member of the natural order to which it belongs (Papaveracece), are fugaceous. They are white, with a tint of pink suffusing the petals. The plant likes a moderately shady position, but otherwise is most easily accommodated both as regards soil and situation, adapting itself well to almost every variety of soil. The flowers appear in March and April.
A most beautiful and profuse-blooming plant, with persistent, somewhat hoary leaves and close decumbent habit, clothing itself with numerous clusters of small but innumerable bright golden-yellow flowers in April and the two succeeding months. There are several varieties, the best being either A. s. compactum or A. s. gem-onense. The former is the best adapted for the purposes of spring bedding.
Arabis Albida And A. Alpina are very profuse and showy white-flowering Rock Cresses, flowering in April, or earlier, according to the nature of the weather. They are closely matted in growth, and the flower-stems rarely exceed in the largest - which is the first named - more than 9 inches in height. They are plants requiring the simplest attentions in the matter of cultivation; but one point requisite to their being grown to perfection is, that they should be renewed annually, either by cuttings or division. When left to grow at will year after year, they become weak and patchy.