The transition from winter into spring is a great opportunity to really show off the bones of a garden with an early-flowering shrub layer. These plants can blend into the background the rest of the year, or, with select evergreen foliage plants, add lush texture, that will light up the early garden with height and structure.

Mahonia x lindsayae Cantab

Osmanthus delavayi

For structure year-round, especially in sites with imperfect soil or light, Mahonia and close cousin Berberis are exceptional plants, offering great, largely evergreen, texture and excellent wildlife interest. Mahonia aquifolium, Oregon grape, is a spring-flowering variety with fragrant yellow flowers followed by blue fruit. Berberis valdiviana is an exceptional large shrub or small tree with dark green evergreen foliage and, in spring, long dangling racemes of yellow flowers. It comes from the Valdivian temperate rainforest in Chile, a climate very similar to that which covered parts of Ireland before the incursion of roads and agriculture.

Another fine evergreen shrub or small tree which will thrive in most soils in sun or shade is Osmanthus delavayi. It features small dark green leaves on eventually pendulous stems which in spring are covered in very fragrant small white trumpet flowers. Often grown as a low dome-shaped shrub, they can even be clipped as a hedge, but if left can form a small weeping tree.

Cercis canadensis Forest Pansy

Acer palmatum Katsura

Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’, the North American Redbud, is a small deciduous tree of rounded habit. Similar in size and habit to Japanese maples, in spring tiny pale pink flowers cover the bare wood before the leaves emerge. The leaves themselves are large and heart-shaped, purple in sun and greener in shade. They are lovely in autumn, also. Flowers are best on established plants in sun and trees like to root deep and be left alone once planted.

It’s still a little early for Japanese maples (Acer spp.), but the earliest is always Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’, its orange-yellow leaves appearing with the first stretch of the days – sometimes too early for their own good. They’ll soon be followed by dozens of other selections, but in early March they are the star.

If you can grow Acers, another choice shrub for a partially shaded aspect is Stachyurus praecox and S. chinensis. These are small to medium deciduous shrubs which in spring produce chains of small yellow flowers on bare wood which in the morning light is exceptional.

Prunus incisa Paean

Prunus incisa Kojo-no-mai

The showiest of the spring-flowering trees must be the cherries. Classic selections like Prunus ‘Shirotae’ and P. ‘Tai Haku’ give that much celebrated flat-topped silhouette and are unbeatable early in the year. There is also a dwarf cherry for borders or small gardens – it even makes a good pot specimen or and excellent bonsai. Prunus incisa comes in a variety of flower forms, flowers on bare wood, has great structure, and autumn colour. They are slow-growing, eventually forming a medium sized shrub or diminutive tree and can be accommodated anywhere.

Pulmonaria Blue Ensign

Lathyrus vernus Alboroseus

Having a shrub or tree layer, especially a deciduous one, also opens up ground story to a wealth of spring-flowering perennial options. Plants like Pulmonaria, Omphalodes, Pachyphragma, Lunaria, Lathyrus, the list goes on. These early-flowering plants enjoy sun in the early season before the trees leaf out, and are happy in shade for the rest of the year.

Edgeworthia chrysantha

Edgeworthia Red Dragon

Edgeworthia chrysantha, named for Irish botanist Michael Pakenham Edgeoworth and his sister, novelist, Maria Edgeworth, is a more exotic looking choice and happier in a full sun site. Its clusters of yellow flowers on bare wood in late winter are fabulously fragrant in the emerging heat of the early sun and fabulous placed near a door or somewhere you’ll regularly pass. We will have the rare red-flowered variety, E. ‘Red Dragon’, available when we open.


February – October:

Wednesday – Saturday 10am – 5pm

Open Sundays 12am – 5pm

Monday & Tuesday closed


Mount Venus Nursery
Walled Garden
Mutton Lane
Dublin 16

Phone: 01 4933813

[email protected]

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