“Mollie’s” Iris

We are not really sure of the species or variety of this Iris. It is a striking tall bulbous Iris that flowers now at the end of April through to early May. This is much earlier than the Dutch Iris (Iris x hollandica) that tend to flower in late May into June.

Flower colour on 27 April 2022

The flowers start out yellow and white but as they age the white parts seem to turn blue. The flowers are held on strong straight stems and average about 80cm in height. Again much taller and more sturdy than a Dutch Iris. It holds well as a cut flower.

The same clump one week later on 4 May 2022

My guess is that they are from the Xiphium section of bulbous iris but are unlikely to be the Spanish Iris (Iris xiphium) which is said to flower in June. Any ideas welcome!

Without an identification we have given it the name Mollie’s Iris as we were given a clump of the bulbs by our former neighbour Mollie Barber. Many of our plants have an association with a person kind enough to share their beautiful plants or perhaps a garden or location where we purchased something on our travels. Such memories bring an extra dimension to a garden as it grows and develops each year.

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Time to just sit …

At this time of year there is so much to do all around the garden. There are seeds to sow, seedlings to prick out, small plants to harden off ready for planting out and lots of growing weeds to keep on top of.

BUT, it is equally important to just take a breath, grab a cup of tea and a piece of cake and just soak up the beauty all around us at this time of year.

There have been times this week with the sun out when I have felt I should reach for the camera and just capture the moment. Spring in all its glory.

Tulip of the day: Lasting Love

This lily flowered tulip has been one of my favourites over recent years. The rich deep burgundy red colour is really striking. The neat green foliage is fresh and spring green. Most importantly they are well behaved and the flowerheads stand straight on strong stems.

Tulip Lasting Love

Lasting Love is in full flower today (20th April) and soon will be joined in nearby tubs by the variety ‘Marilyn’ which is creamy white with a broad stripe of strawberry red.

Tulip ‘Marilyn’

Favourite Foxgloves

Native foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) grow freely around our garden and we love them. In general we are very happy to just allow them to grow and flower where they seed themselves and if they are in the wrong place they are easily moved or removed.

However, there are also some named varieties which add a real wow factor to a herbaceous border. Two of our favourites are ‘Elsey Kelsey’ (pictured above) and ‘Apricot Delight’.

Foxgloves are biennials and we would normally sow these around the time of the summer solstice and grow them on for planting out around the autumn equinox. The plants will then grow on and establish in the flower beds over winter to flower the following May and June. We find them very trouble free and not generally attacked by pests or diseases.

Elsey Kelsey (also known as Pam’s Choice) has huge long spikes of flower which reach 7-8 feet in our garden. The white flowers have densely speckled maroon throats and are loved by the bees who are constant visitors.

Foxglove Elsey Kelsey complementing a pale yellow climbing rose

Last year we planted Elsey Kelsey in front of a climbing pale yellow rose (Rose ‘The Pilgrim‘) which created a stunning combination.

Also in the same bed we used a combination of the Aquilegia ‘Blue Star’, the pale yellow Sisyrinchium striatum and a deep blue/purple lupin (probably ‘The Governor’) to extend the colour palette towards the front of the border.

Aquilegia ‘Blue Star’ and Sisyrinchium striatum

A second named variety of foxglove worth mentioning is ‘Apricot Delight’ (also known as ‘Sutton’s Apricot’). This is not quite as tall as Elsey Kelsey but has really dense spikes of pale apricot flowers. It still works well when combined with climbing roses (here shown with Rose ‘Constance Spry‘). In my view the pale pink and apricot sit beautifully together and are complemented by the brick red lupin ‘My Castle’.

Foxglove ‘Apricot Delight’

The Latin name for the genus Digitalis comes from the Latin digitus meaning ‘a finger’. Each individual flower on the spike resembles the finger of a glove. According to Seedaholic (where there is a wealth of fascinating titbits on a wide range of flowers) the English name of Foxglove does not come from foxes but from the phrase ‘folk’s gloves’ meaning belonging to the fairy folk. Another common name is fairy thimbles (British flowers names can be so enchanting!).

It is worth noting that the whole foxglove plant is extremely poisonous and it is worth wearing gloves when handling plants or seeds.

Blossom Watch 2022 – Plum ‘ Warwickshire Drooper’ (26 March 2022)

We have an old plum tree in the orchard with the charming name of ‘Warwickshire Drooper’. Being Warwickshire residents ourselves it is great to have a locally named variety.

The tree is certainly showing its age but this year seems to be flowering profusely and evenly across all branches. We have been thinking that it’s days are numbered but perhaps it is trying to prove us wrong. It has a lovely flavour and with a touch of cinnamon makes a scrumptious jam.

Slightly later into flower this year is a small Victoria plum (29 March 2022). We have planted this now so it has time to establish in the orchard before the Warwickshire Drooper finally has to be removed.

When I posted about the Apricot I thought we may have been about a week later than my previous records made in 2019. My 2019 record for Warwickshire Drooper was 27 March so we may well have caught up due to a spell of warm weather.

Driving through the Vale of Evesham last weekend the plum orchards were in full bloom and looking a picture. The blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) is also looking particulary good in the hedgerows this year. We have had a few weeks of fine weather without rain which has kept the blackthorn white and undamaged.


Blossom Watch 2022 Summary (First Blossom)

8 March – Apricot ‘Flavorcot’

26 March – Plum ‘Warwickshire Drooper’

29 March – Plum ‘Victoria’

A study in white

A monochromatic vase of white spring flowers this week including Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’, Magnolia stellata, Thalia multi-headed daffodils and Skimia. All plants currently in flower in our Warwickshire garden today (21 March 2022).

It is lovely to feel the spring sun on your face once again!

Ceramics: Seeking inspiration from nature and the garden

Over the last few years we have been having great fun exploring a new pastime, ceramics. Having spent a couple of years understanding and practicing the basics of building and glazing we are now beginning to have enough confidence to try out something more experimental. As with all experimentation this is sometimes successful but often not. However that is half the fun.

I think what I like most is the mix of art, engineering and science that goes into each piece you make. In addition to making something aesthetically pleasing you have to understand the mechanics of making it stand upright both during the build and firing. Finally the science around the glazes and the mix of oxides they contain is fascinating and often the outcome is unexpected.

Last autumn I came across this delightful group of mushrooms on a decaying piece of wood. These delicate groups are so transient and only last a few days so I felt there was an opportunity to capture this moment in time before they faded.

The resulting ceramic ‘mushroom-scape’ worked out rather well I think. The piece was hand crafted in crank stoneware clay to make it more robust for an outdoor piece. It was glazed in an Oatmeal glaze using different thicknesses of glaze to highlight the texture of the mushrooms and the ‘trunk’ base. I was particularly pleased how well the Oatmeal glaze reflected the colour of the real mushrooms.

The second set of pieces draw on seed heads from the garden. Nearest to the camera is a large nigella seed head and next to it an opium poppy seed head. Each stands about 5-7 inches high.

Something I learnt quite quickly is that to create both the look and a strong structure you have to mimic the way the plant itself constructs the seed head. This kind of work makes you look very closely into the detail of the form you are trying to build and this I find fascinating.

Both of these pieces are made using stoneware clay with the pieces shaped using various slump molds. The poppy seed head starts from two half spheres which are then joined and shaped. The nigella seed head is created from eight hollow teardrop shaped pieces that are joined at the edges to form the basic shape which is then refined.

Each of these pieces has been glazed with a Green Hue stoneware glaze with the addition of Tenmoku glaze. Tenmoku over Green Hue creates the lovely chestnut brown highlights.

Blossom Watch 2022: Apricot ‘Flavorcot’ (8 March 2022)

The Apricot is typically the first of our fruit trees to come into flower. It’s small blush pink blooms alongside deeper pink buds are lovely. Today (8 March 2022) is really the first day the flowers have opened this year. My last record in 2019 was for 27 February so we may be slightly later this year.

This particular Apricot tree has been on the move over recent years. Originally planted in the orchard it had to be dug up to make way for a wedding marquee. Due to covid-19 the wedding was delayed for a year so the tree has been in a temporary home all this time. It has however survived pretty well really.

This year we have decided not to put it back in the ground but plant it against a warm, sunny brick wall in a much larger pot.

Flavorcot has been specially bred to cope with the UK climate and is supposed to fruit more reliably because it is later flowering than many other Apricot varieties. Ours has clearly not read the script as it consistently flowers at the end of February and beginning of March.

It does seem to be very frost hardy and the blossom is not really damaged by the cold. However, there are fewer pollinating insects about at this time and we may have to tickle it with a soft paint brush this year to get a decent crop of fruit.

Much as I would love to have baskets of produce each year I still get a certain satisfaction from picking and eating a small number of sun ripened fruits straight from the tree. Heres hoping that it settles in well to its new position.

Narcissus ‘mystery variety’

A new one for us in the garden this year.  It is around 12 inches high and really very pretty with its lemon yellow flowers with darker yellow centres.  It is slightly ‘demure’ in the way the head is held. Almost shy and apologetic.

We bought these as ‘Pipit’ but they certainly don’t look the same. Pipit is lemon yellow with a white centre and as a Jonquilla shouldn’t be out this early (late Feb/ early March).

However these really are lovely. Any ideas on the variety?

End of month review – February 2022

For much of February this year we have not been able to get out in the garden but when the sun shines and the wind drops it is a lovely surprise to just wander around the garden and see what is emerging. There is a surprising amount in flower when you look closely.

The snowdrop walk in the top copse has been established by relocating snowdrops over the last few years.

This time of year is of course snowdrop time and once again they have given a spectacular show all around the garden. The different species flower at different times and provide a long season of interest in the cold winter months. Each year we split some clumps and move them ‘in the green’ to establish new areas for future years. This year we have recreated a bed near the orchard which had to be cleared last summer to make space for my daughter’s wedding marquee. Although I had to swallow hard at the time it has given me a chance to start something new. We have created a mass of snowdrops under the trees and placed two new specimen shrubs, an Elaeagnus x ebbingei MARYLAND ‘Abrela’ and a Nandina domestica which look great together even though the plants are still relatively small.

Cyclamen coum

Many of the February plants emerge in the woodland areas taking advantage of the daylight that exists before the trees come into leaf. The Cyclamen coum and the earliest crocus, narcissi and primulas all complement the snowdrops beautifully. The dark, almost black, leaves of Ophiopogon planiscapus also look great with the snowdrops and I might try and develop this combination more in future years.

Bergenia cordifolia

One of my favourites are the exquisite Iris reticulata which we grow in small bulb bowls outside over winter. We find that growing in terracotta bowls is more successful as they don’t seem to do well in our cold damp winter soil. This mid-blue variety is ‘Alida’. Looking at the catalogue it says it is fragrant but I haven’t been down on my hands and knees to sniff yet. They really are a harbinger of spring and warmer days to come.

Iris reticulata Alida

Another hardy plant that comes back without fail each year are the Hellebores. Although we have quite a few (!) we are always in the market for a few more when we take a trip out the the garden centre. Below is one of the latest, Helleborus orientalis ‘Hello White’. Unlike many of the others which have large blousy flowers this one is quite petite but with beautiful markings on the inner petals.

Helleborus orientalis ‘Hello White’

It is not all about bulbs and corms however. Our winter flowering cherry is still in bloom and the two Prunus incisa ‘Paean’ by the patio steps shine out on even the darkest day. Most importantly they can be enjoyed from the warmth of the lounge. Although these can grow quite vigorously during the summer we prune them back hard each year to maintain the neat shape either side of the steps.

Winter flowering cherry against a clear blue winter sky
Prunus incisa ‘Paean’

I started by indicating we had not got out in the garden much over February but looking back we have completed two major winter projects ready for the new year. The first of these is a long flower bed that runs through a small copse/shrubbery up towards the fruit cage and orchard. The new bed stretches from deep shade, through partial shade and into full sun at the orchard end. It will give us the chance to divide, move and repot much of the Hosta and fern collection and also introduce a wide range of large architectural plants at the sunny end. A really exciting project. Although we have plenty of garden to look after we just can’t resist a new opportunity to plant more plants!

A whole new flower bed dug over the winter providing woodland, part shade and full sun planting opportunities

The other winter project has been the dismantling and reconstruction of a second-hand glasshouse kindly offered to us by our neighbours. This took a couple of months to move, clean and repair but it has been sited in the vegetable patch and gives us plenty of space for bringing on new plants. The existing glasshouse, although in the sun 25 years ago when we put it up, is somewhat shaded now by neighbouring trees. This is in fact quite helpful in the hot summer months as it keeps the temperatures down but it is also helpful to now have a second glasshouse in full light.

This February review would not be complete without a mention of the wonderful Daphne odora . This slow growing shrub is close to the back door of the house and its scent is just wonderful. A deep breadth in each time we go out into the garden really lifts the spirits..

Daphne odora in full bloom giving off a heavenly scent in late winter.