The cluster of purple crocus in the background suffered in rainy March, but whenever the clouds moved off, the little flowers hauled themselves upright and opened to enjoy any brief sunshine.
Corylopsis pauciflora is a regular March delight with its delicate yellow bells dangling like earrings from every twig.
Hellebores, blue Anemone blanda and the little cream stars of species tulip, Tulipa turkestanica are gradually filling in the space beneath.
Anemone blanda is just one of the small wood anemones I have scattered around the garden. The green flower of A. virescens isn't one of the most noticeable, but its ruffled little parasols are charming.
Willows are at their best in these early months when their catkins emerge in various colours. Always the first is black willow (Salix gracilistyla 'Melanostachys) The bamboo curtain behind it contributes to its pared-down oriental elegance.
As the flowers age, they go from furry black...
... to fuzzy grey. Both stages combine nicely with the red stems, and by the time they are grey the acid green of new leaves adds another complementary colour.
This is a plant I tried to turn into a lollipop by retaining only one long stem and clipping the top into a ball, but it resisted and eventually won the day. Now I let it do what it wants but confine it to a pot in hopes of controlling its spread. I just don't have room for the large specimen it would like to become.
Salix nakamura var. yezoalpina, a creeping willow, is slower to show signs of life. But over the 10 days between April 20 and 30, brown beads on the stems gradually burst open to reveal small cotton buds that then expand quite rapidly into chunky yellow candles surrounded by shiny green leaves.
Among the last to bloom is Salix helvetica, whose sea-green foliage will now make it a feature of the garden until the onset of winter. This is such a neat compact plant that I wonder why it hasn't become more popular. Probably the word "willow" makes people think of a huge weeping tree, which this relative definitely isn't.
As April comes to an end the sweet scent of Skimmia and Daphne infuse the air. The former is by our back steps, and the latter flanks the front path so that we can inhale their fragrance as we come and go.
Both the Daphne suffered broken twigs in 20016's winter snow and still look ragged. I've been reluctant to tackle re-shaping them as I've read that they don't respond kindly to pruning.
Almost the last Erythronium to open and to my eye the prettiest is 'White Beauty', looking like a miniature turk's cap lily. Behind it are the milky leaves of a Brunnera, spangled with its tiny blue flowers like forget-me-nots.
Another spring white is Enkianthus perulatus, showing up well against the red background of the house.
Finally, thanks to a few really warm, sunny days, ever-reliable 'Spring Green' tulips have also opened, just as all the foliage in the back garden begins to fill all the bare spaces.