I first became aware of the benefits of companion planting in early apprenticeship times.
As an apprentice gardener we learned to make the best of spring flower displays as all wallflowers, daisies, polyanthus, myosotis and pansies always got an underplanting of tulip bulbs.
Different heights of tulips were important as you needed the taller Darwin hybrids to accompany the taller wallflower, but the smaller pansies and myosotis and other ground hugging bedding got the dwarf double tulips.
In summer the spring flowering bedding plants got replaced with summer flowering bedding plants all in flower together, and flower beds tended to be grouped together in well manicured lawns.
In spring our tutor Walter Gilmore arranged a trip to St. Andrews Botanic Gardens.
They had tall forsythia shrubs covered in a mass of golden yellow flowers and all underplanted with the fosteriana tulip, Red Emperor, also known as Mme lefebre which was also in full bloom.
These lessons stayed with me and I soon began to see many amateur and professional gardeners with great colourful gardens but very few had grouped plants together with the same flowering time.
There may have had very impressive plants in full bloom but all at different parts of the garden. I realised the value of grouping plants with the same flowering time together to create maximum impact.
Another lesson at bulb planting time was to plant daffodils and tulips in deep tubs with one layer below the other to maximise impact of flowers.
I have now applied these ideas with a whole range of plants. The layer style of companion planting is great with bulbs. I have a bed devoted to Oriental Lilies planted quite deep, which flower in mid summer, but this bed also has a layer of tulips planted above the lilies as well as a surface layer of grape hyacinths.
This way I get a spring display followed by a summer display.
However grape hyacinths can form a thick layer of bulbs so some periodic thinning is required to allow the tulips and lilies to push through.
Tall Oriental lilies are also fine amongst dwarf azaleas.
Beds of azaleas have little impact once the flowering is finished, but the lilies give a great show in summer.
Woodland fringe areas are also perfect places to create a spring display with snowdrops, wood anemones, crocus, aconites and narcissus provided the trees are deciduous.
The bulbs are happy to go dormant once the trees produce leaves and close the canopy. Aconites can smother the ground in late winter, but they are a great companion to Cyclamen hederifolium as they emerge just as the aconites die down.
Other good companions have been plants selected for the top of a wall where it can get a bit dry.
Senecio with grey foliage and yellow flowers is at its best as ground hugging Delosperma cooperii with purple flowers is in full flower.
These two also flower at the same time as Cistus and Erigerons.
My first tulips to flower is the Scarlet Baby coming out in March at the same time as a yellow saxifrage.
Then in April and May the yellow Doronicum Little Leo flowers with purple tulip Negrita and red Abba.
An unusual combination is to plant the orange Berberis darwinii beside your plum, pear and apple trees as the berberis is very attractive to bees which then help to pollinate the other trees.
On the allotment I plant lettuce between rows of freshly planted chrysanthemums and harvest them before the chrysanthemums need the space.
My climbing rose Dublin Bay with red flowers covers the wall, but at ground level I have
geraniums and some naturalised Californian poppies all flowering together.
Wee jobs to do this week
Outdoor fuchsias are now showing young buds starting to put on some growth. They have a habit of dieing back in various degrees depending on the severity of the winter. This year winter has been fairly mild though a bit wet so dieback is not too serious, but still cut back any shoot to remove dead ends and other shoots where the bushes have been growing beyond there allocated space, especially next to footpaths.