A pretty country garden filled with colorful early spring flowers

Early spring bulbs and flowers fill this pretty country garden with color and interest

garden beds in a spring garden with topiary and grasses
(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

The arrival of spring fills this pretty country garden with color from the many different spring bulbs and other early flowers that push their buds through the cold earth.

The owners, Mike and Jenny Spiller, never tire of the sight of jewel-like spring flowers surrounding their 19th century cottage.

Find out how they plan and plant their succession of spring bulbs and add some of their flower bed and border designs into your own backyard ideas.

primroses, hellebores and daffoldils planted in a garden border in spring

(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

The appearance of spring flowers, whether they are brightening beds and borders or naturalized within areas of long grass, signals an acceleration of growth in the garden after the dormant winter months.

Beds and borders brim with many varieties of daffodils, primroses, snake's head fritillary, hellebores, scilla, anemone, grape hyacinth and other spring bulbs

snake's head fritillary Fritillaria meleagris naturalized in grass in a spring garden

(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

Over the years, the couple has gained a reputation for stocking more unusual specimens. These include the hoop petticoat daffodil Narcissus bulbocodium, with its striking yellow petals. If you are wondering how to plant daffodil bulbs, there are literally thousands of varieties to choose from.

Narcissus bulbocodium planted in a spring garden

(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

Another unusual variety of spring flower they grow is the shimmering double celandine Ranunculus ficaria ‘Flore-Pleno’, or lesser celandine, which Jenny says is much less invasive than its single-flowered sister. 

In shadier areas they grow maroon-flowered Californian native Trillium chloropetalum, also known as giant trillium.

The upright maroon flowers of Trillium chloropetalum

(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

Mike and Jenny have gradually created the garden over the course of about 30 years. Over time, Jenny began adding bulbs, perennials, specimen trees and evergreen trees to complement existing shrubs.

She gradually dug more ‘island’ beds as her interest and knowledge deepened, bringing together interesting combinations of colors and textures. Grassy paths surrounding several island beds extend from a bird bath positioned near the centre of the plot.

’I didn’t know very much about gardening when we first moved here, and certainly didn’t know very many plants,’ explains Jenny, who has now been running the nursery Elworthy Cottage Plants for more than 20 years. 

A sundial set within a stone lined circular bed surrounded by island beds in a spring garden

(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

The couple has always set out to ensure the sloping garden enhances their cottage and blends seamlessly with the picturesque countryside beyond, and incorporate many sloping garden ideas within the design.

They have allowed spring bulbs, such as daffodil, snake's head fritillary and scilla, and plants like primroses to naturalize within the grass between the nursery and their garden, and they allow wildflowers to thrive around their boundaries – a wonderful wildlife garden idea.

primrose, snakeshead fritillary, scilla, wood anemone and celandine growing in long grass in spring garden

(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

While the garden consists of several different parts, these are unified through the use of devices such as evergreen topiary that have been clipped into geometric shapes, such as spheres, ovals and cuboids. 

A sinuous row of short topiary columns extends from the cottage, while parallel low hedges either side of a stepping stone path draw the eye towards the rolling hills beyond.

A series of short box column topiary in a spring garden

(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

When it comes to plant combinations for flower bed ideas, a great deal of thought goes into each of the island beds within the garden at Elworthy Cottage. 

But Jenny isn’t averse to allowing nature to contribute to the mix, which often leads to unusual and eye-catching juxtapositions that might not otherwise have existed. ‘Often things will just appear,’ she explains. 

dark pink early tulips, lungwort Pulmonaria officinalis and primrose in a spring garden

(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

Despite spending their working lives surrounded by plants, the amount of time Mike and Jenny have to spend on their own garden is limited. Therefore, over the years they’ve developed strategies to keep it looking tip top. 

They keep the edges of the island beds razor sharp, and garden path ideas include keeping grass paths neatly mown, to contrast with the luxuriant growth of the plants such as hardy geranium, geum, astrantia and crocosmia as the months roll on. 

garden beds in a spring garden with topiary and grasses

(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

They have learned how to grow ornamental grasses, such as pheasant’s tail, to provide long-lasting structure that complements clipped evergreens. 

Spring-flowering specimen trees, such as Magnolia stellata, also bring an additional layer of beautiful colour and texture to a border.

sloping bank planted with hellebores, daffodils and topiary box columns

(Image credit: Peter Chatterton)

They soon got to grips with how to grow hellebores, and the sloping bank above the cottage is rich in hellebores and daffodils, and heather provides a further injection of colour.

After more than three decades, the garden never loses its appeal for the Spillers. ’It’s just a place to lose yourself, where you can forget everything,’ says Jenny.

Sue Bradley
Contributing Editor

Sue Bradley writes about gardening, food and wildlife, and the fascinating people who are passionate about these subjects, for a variety of magazines. She served a newspaper apprenticeship and worked on local and regional titles in the West Country before becoming a freelance features writer. She’s a member of the Garden Media Guild and the Guild of Food Writers.