Two of the most popular early flowering shrubs that one sees in spring are yellow Forsythia and Ribes sanguineum, the red flowering currant. Both of these are so bright that they are ‘in your face’ as you might say.

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The Forsythia is normally a rather brassy shade of yellow, although there are some with softer colouring but, these are less often seen.

To my mind, this is a shame for I much prefer the way that softer shades blend with other spring colours as opposed to jarring one’s senses. One of my favourite Forsythias is F. suspensa; this has a graceful somewhat weeping habit that is easy to train against a wall or fence with flowers that are a pale shade of yellow. I often feel that gardeners could be really creative with this plant allowing its branches to cascade over a support like a waterfall.

Its flowers are spaced further apart on the stems which make the overall effect less blobby than say, Forsythia X intermedia where the blossoms are squashed together in muddled bunches. This is especially apparent when it is pruned badly into a self-conscious dollop as is often seen in suburban front gardens! However, although I do not wish to grow bright yellow Forsythia in my garden, I have to admit that it is very useful as a cut flower. If some stems are cut anytime from the middle of January onwards and brought into gentle warmth, they will then open their cheery yellow blossoms much earlier than those in the garden so perhaps it is worth growing just for this reason?

Ribes sanguineum, much to its disadvantage, is often similarly pruned, and is most often seen in its reddest colouring, which is very bright and quite garish, but there are others that I think are worthy of a mention. There is a pale pink clone that is really quite lovely and a white flowering one that is stunning, one of the best is ‘White Icicle’. It is worth seeking some of these out if you really want your garden to be that little better than your nearest rivals. And there are other varieties of Ribes that could thrill the curious and keen gardener.

Sometimes it is not the plants with big, bold and blousy, blossoms that attract the most attention, especially at the beginning of the gardening year. Then it is those of a more demure nature that attract our interest. In the garden here we have been enjoying the jade-green flowers on a somewhat scandent shrub for many weeks, it is called Ribes laurifolium. It does not grow tall but, it does grow sideways, in other words it slouches and grows well for me on a north-facing low wall. Try to find a position as sheltered as possible for the laurel-like, evergreen foliage can scorch along the edges of the leaves in very cold winds.

Because of its habit, it needs help to look tidy so the regular tying in of its new shoots helps and with time it will achieve around a metre in height. I would suggest growing a group of three of these early beauties for maximum effect, especially if you want to see their red berries which later turn black as for this you will need both male and female plants. To make matters easier, there is an hermaphrodite form called R. laurifolium ‘Rosemoor’ that would appear to solve the problem.

However, whichever variety you grow, they are all good but, do be patient for they take time to settle down. As they flower very early it is worth seeking out some worthwhile companions for them. We have under-planted ours with some primrose coloured Hellebores whose colouring is extremely complimentary and I have just added some Pulmonarias, the bright blue flowered ‘Blue Ensign’ for contrast and the effect is mesmerising! Two other outstanding flowering currants are Ribes speciosum and R. menziesii, both of which display in the shape and texture of their foliage their close relationship to the gooseberry. Of the two R speciosum is by far the showiest but, still relatively discreet. It has an arching branch structure which lends it to being wall-trained but it grows equally well as a free standing bush, the flowers resemble miniature, scarlet fuchsia blossoms which in their Californian homeland are pollinated by hummingbirds but, in this country any old insect will do the job.

In our garden it produces lots of very small and very bristly gooseberries that have no useful purpose but, are decorative in a discreet way. This is a very spiny shrub and great care is needed when tying in to any trellis and although its normal flowering time is late spring, this year ours had flowers open in February but, this is a topsy-turvy year with many plants flowering outside their normal time.

A few years ago, I was travelling northwards and saw a sign for a plant nursery that I had not heard of, so of course, I stopped for you never quite know what you will find. For the life of me, I cannot remember exactly where or what their name was but, I was delighted to find one or two, maybe more, unusual plants for sale there, this is always a good sign for it probably means that the person or persons in charge is a keen plant propagator.

It was here where I met Ribes menziesii the canyon gooseberry for the first time. I have never seen this for sale anywhere else but I think that it is a very garden-worthy plant. Again, it’s Californian but, quite hardy in our climate, it can, if left unpruned, grow up to two metres (6 feet) tall and although the individual flowers are small, they are very showy. The fuchsia-shaped flowers are a clear chalky white and a rich maroon-purple and borne in late spring followed by fruit of the same colour which are also edible but the spines make picking them an unpleasant task.

A few days ago, I noticed that it had been cut back quite hard during a winter tidy-up. I shall take some cuttings when the new growth is firm enough, then I shall move the mother plant to a new spring walk we are planting.

My final currant is Ribes x gordonianum; this grows to two metres (6 feet) tall but, can be pruned as soon as it has finished flowering, as can they all, to keep it in check and to encourage new growth. It is a cross between R. Odoratum, itself a very good garden plant, and R. Sanguineum the ubiquitous flowering currant.

Its flowers are a strange two-tone affair and if you do not like orange, you probably won’t like this. But wait before you decide, for its flowers have petals that are a soft red on their outsides with soft yellow insides, their overall colouring rather resembles a well-ripened peach. There, dislike it if you dare!

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