Campanula – bell-like flowers signifying gratitude, faith and constancy

Campanulas are without doubt one of the most charming of cottage garden plants.  The taller species typically grown in gardens provide heads of loose open bell-like flowers in blue, white, purple and sometimes pink.  Some however have a low creeping habit and are very at home around the edge of a patio or tumbling over stones in a rockery.

There are over 500 species in the genera Campanula¹ and so it is going to be difficult to do the genus justice.  I will concentrate here on those that we grow in the gardens at Waverley or have used as cut flowers over the years (C. medium, C. persicifolia, C. latifolia, C. glomerata, C. pyramidalis and C. portenschlagiana).

Campanula medium - Longwood Gardens - DSC01098
Campanula medium (Photo credit:  Daderot [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons)
Origin

Campanulas mainly come from the temperate and sub-tropical regions of the northern hemisphere.  Many are native to Europe originating in the Mediterranean and eastwards to the Caucasus mountains.   Understanding where these plants come from and the conditions they enjoy in the wild, is critical to providing them with the conditions in which they will thrive in your own garden.

Cultivation

Some species of Campanula are annuals, whilst others are biennials or perennials.  Although species like C. medium may be perennial in some areas we tend to grow them as biennials so that we get fresh vigorous flowering plants each year.

Sowing from seed is very straight forward.  The seeds are very small and typically we would sow thinly onto the surface of moist compost in the spring and then cover the tray with cling film until the seeds germinate.  I usually remove the cling film as soon as the green shoots emerge to avoid any danger of damping off.  Try to avoid watering from the top as the seeds will easily be washed into the corner of your tray.

Once the seedlings have their first true leaves they can be pricked out into larger trays or modules and grown on.  They seem to transplant very successfully.  As we grow species like C. medium as biennials we prick them out into large modules where they stay until mid-September.  At this point the established plants are very easy to set out in groups around the garden where they over winter and flower in early summer.

The hardy perennial species eg. C. persicifolia are perhaps easier to propagate by division every few years.  I simply dig up a clump, separate out the new rosettes and pot them up into individual 9cm pots filled with a mix of perlite and multi-purpose compost.

All of our Campanulas do well throughout the garden when planted in full sun or partial shade.  As tall plants C. medium look very effective peeking out behind our low formal Lonicera nitida hedges and in front of the more informal woodland edge of the garden boundary .  Many writers recommend that they prefer a moist but well drained soil.

Pest and diseases

I have to say that we find all our Campanulas to be pretty resilient to pest and diseases.  It is reported that they are susceptible to slugs and snails but we have very little problem (perhaps they are attracted away by other more tasty morsels!).

It is also reported that they are prone to powdery mildew and rust diseases but again we have had little problem with these diseases on our plants.  In order to see the flowers at their best we do space the plants well apart and this may well allow plenty of air to circulate between them thus keeping these diseases at bay.

Flower initiation

Armitage and Laushman² report that Campanulas do not seem to need a period of cold treatment to start producing rosette leaves but do need a period of cold to initiate flowering.  C. persicifolia, for example, requires 12 weeks at or below 4°C to initiate flowering.  Treating sown plants as biennials seems to sit well with these findings.  Our spring sown plants of C. medium do not seem to flower in the year that they are sow.  However, planted out in mid-September and allowed to over winter in the cold flower beds they produce robust, upright, tall plants that flower over a long period.

DSCF2440 C. persicifolia
Campanula persicifolia

Armitage and Laushman also indicate that C. persicifolia is day neutral which means it flowers under both short or long days once the cold treatment requirements have been satisfied.  For other Campanula species long days are required for flowering after vernalisation.  (see: How plants use day length to decide when to flower (Photoperiodism) for more background on this).

It would appear that the new Champion series of Campanula medium does not require cold treatment which means they can be grown more effectively in greenhouse conditions.  This helps enormously if you are growing purely to produce cut flowers and want a longer season of production.

Cutting and conditioning

It is certainly our experience that the tall varieties of Campanula all make excellent cut flowers.  The inflorescence opens from the bottom providing a long period of interest in the vase and in the garden.

Typically you would cut when the bottom one or two flowers have coloured and are open.  We use a standard conditioning approach of cutting the flowers directly into cool, clean water containing ‘flower food’ to keep the water fresh and minimise bacterial development.

The stems often produce sap when cut so it is wise to keep them in a separate bucket from other flowers, rinsing the cut stems every 20 minutes or so until the sap stops flowing.

C. medium, C. persicifolia, C. latifolia and C. pyramidalis all offer a light, airy and open effect which is ideal for natural, country style arrangements and bouquets.  C. glomerata is perhaps more structural, upright and dense in form but its strong purple shade works well with bold colours like oranges and scarlets.

DSCF6322
Relaxed country style wedding bouquets in pink, blue and white including the bell-like flowers of Campanula medium (flowers by Honey Pot Flowers)

Whereas many of the Campanulas we grow are upright and need some support to produce quality blooms we have seen beautiful trailing forms on our travels in Croatia and Montenegro this year growing in very dry, well drained, rocky conditions on walls and buildings.  It is often very difficult to get good trailing colour for use in flower arrangements and this growing approach is well worth considering.

Campanula in the wild
Campanula (species unknown) growing naturally on limestone walls near Perast, Montenegro (Oct 2018)

Campanula medium (Canterbury Bells)

Originating from southern Europe¹ these large robust plants grow to 2 feet to 2 feet 6 inches in height.  They have a long flowering season starting in June and continue through to August.  As the flowers open consecutively from the bottom to the top they provide a long period of interest and colour.  They are quite heavy plants and although they have robust stems they do tend to need some support to stop them looking untidy.

We grown these from seed each year and treat them as biennials.  The RHS considers them to have a hardiness rating of H4 (Hardy through most of the UK (-10 to -5)).

We have grown two forms:  the cup and saucer varieties which have big robust flowers on strong stems and also the singles (which do not have the saucers).  We do find these rather ‘chunky’ in nature and are not really delicate enough for use in bouquets and small arrangements.

The ‘Champion’ series, however, that you typically get from your floristry wholesaler are a very different cut flower and we have used these extensively over the years.  Grown as an annual they can be brought through to flowering in around 15 weeks.  They are available in a range of colours from blue through white and to pink.

Campanula medium - Longwood Gardens - DSC01100
Campanula medium (Photo credit:  Daderot [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons)
Campanula persicifolia (the peach leaved campanula)

To my mind C. persicifolia is rather more attractive and delicate than C. medium.  This species is a perennial that is native to most of Europe and the Benelux countries eastwards towards Central and Southern Russia and North West Turkey³.  It seeds itself freely around our garden but is also easy to multiply by division (the latter technique particularly useful if you want to bulk up the delicate ‘alba’ form).

C. persicifolia has evergreen foliage and has been given the H7 hardiness rating by the RHS (Hardy in the severest European continental climates (< -20)).  In nature it grows in meadows, open woods and on the edge of forests.

As with C. medium the inflorescence opens from the bottom to the top.  This give a long period of flowering in the garden border.  Flowering can be extended still further by dead heading.  In this case you are not removing the whole flower spike but removing the individual dead flowers before they set seed.  You will find new flowers develop at the base of each flower stem.

DSCF2484 C. persicifolia alba
Campanula persicifolia ‘alba’

Campanula pyramidalis (the Chimney Bell Flower)

When grown well C. pyramidalis can grow up to 2 metres in height producing tall spikes of pyramid shapes flowers that are excellent for large flower arrangements.  Flowering from May until July, it is a short-lived perennial that, like C. medium, is often grown as a biennial.  It is native to southern Europe and the western Balkans¹.

Campanula pyramidalis (photo credit:  Thompson & Morgan – live feed from https://www.thompson-morgan.com/p/campanula-pyramidalis-mixed/8956TM )

Campanula glomerata (the clustered bellflower)

C. glomerata is a vigorous rhizomatous perennial that has a tendency to sucker.  The species is native to the North Temperate Zone of Eurasia, from Europe to Japan¹.  It grows to around 1-2 feet in height producing clusters of typically deep purple flowers on strong stems.  There is also a beautiful crisp white variety (see below).  The RHS website indicates that it is hardy in the severest European continental climates (< -20) (RHS hardiness rating H7).

DSCF2432 C. glomerata white
Campanula glomerata (white)

Campanula latifolia (the giant bellflower)

Very much more delicate than C. glomerata or C. medium, C. latifolia is one of my favourite Campanulas in the garden.  It seeds freely and seems to come back without problems year after year in a rather inhospitable spot in the garden.  We tried to move some seedlings to what we considered to be rather better soil and they just did not ‘do’.  The answer I think is that that actually like poor dry soil.

C. latifolia is again native to Europe extending to western Asia as far east as Kashmir.

DSCF2492 C. latifolia
Campanula latifolia

Campanula portenschlagiana (the wall bellflower)

Very different in form from the others mentioned in this article is C. portenschlagiana.  This is a very robust, low growing creeping plant that in our garden grows in minimal soil around the base of the house and patio steps.   It was at the house well before we arrived 25 years ago and I am sure will still be about when we finally leave.  It produces masses of blue flowers throughout the summer.

It is an alpine plant and requires a very well drained area in full sun to thrive.  We have found that is does not compete well with plants like Saxifraga x urbium (London Pride) which can easily swap this Campanula if not kept in check.

Campanula portenschlagiana 1
Campanula portenschlagiana (Photo credit:  Ghislain118 (AD) http://www.fleurs-des-montagnes.net [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons)
And finally some trivia …

Su Whale⁴ in her guide on cut flowers cites the following charming piece of flower trivia.  In Germany and in the Netherlands the Campanula flower is known as ‘Rapunzal Bellflower’ and supposedly was the inspiration behind Grimm’s fairy tale.

Further reading

¹  Wikipedia

² “Specialty Cut Flowers – the production of annuals, perennials, bulbs and woody plants for fresh and dried cut flowers” by Armitage and Laushman (ISBN 0-88192-579-9)

³ “Perennial – Volume 2” by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix (ISBN 0-330-29275-7)

⁴ “Cut flowers – a practical guide to their selection and care” by Su Whale (ISBN 978-0-9568713-0-5)

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Zinnia elegans – a hot climate plant from Mexico loving the 2018 UK heatwave

One flowering annual that has thoroughly enjoyed the hot weather this year has been the Zinna.  Whereas the Dahlias appear to have been delayed this year the Zinnias have produced tall, strong, clean plants with masses of excellent quality flowers.

Zinnia Lilliput Purple P1010994
Zinnia elegans ‘Lilliput Purple’

I must admit that in previous years my Zinnas have struggled and if you get a cool period they just seem to sulk.  In order to try and improve their chances in the future, even in cooler years, here are a few things to consider.

  • Grown from seed Zinnia will germinate in 3-5 days at 27-29°C and 5-7 days at 21-24°C.¹
  • The seedlings should be grown on with night time temperatures of 15-18°C and day time temperatures of 21°C.¹
  • Zinnas dislike root disturbance so ideally the seeds should be sown in individual modules to reduce disturbance at the planting out stage.
  • Plant out at a spacing of around 6 inches apart.  The denser the spacing the taller the plants.¹
  • Zinnas are quantitative short day plants (see How plants use day length to decide when to flower (Photoperiodism) ).  This means that they flower more rapidly under short days but eventually flower regardless of photoperiod.   Long days (greater than 12 hours) produce longer stems but delay flowering.  Similarly if you plant a succession of Zinnas after the longest day they will flower on shorter stems.¹
  • Benzakein⁴ emphasises the importance of pinching out the central flower bud when the plants are 18 inches tall to encourage the development of lower branches on the plant.
  • Zinnas do seem to be prone to powdery mildew particularly if growing in conditions where hot days are followed by cool damp nights.  Over watering can cause similar problems.
  • If you are growing for cutting, pick the flowers before the pollen matures.  If you can see fluffy, mature pollen the chances are the bees have done their job and the flower is now redundant and will wither to allow the seed to develop.
  • There seems to be a difference in view as to whether Zinnas like ‘flower food’ or not.  Beutler² states very clearly that they do not like floral preservative whilst Benzakein⁴ is an advocate of its use with Zinnas.
  •  Zinnas are long lasting in water but will wilt rapidly out of water and it is reported that they do not work well in corsages and buttonholes.²

In reality there is little that many of us can do about the great British weather and in some years different species will grow better than others.  Certainly Zinnas like it hot and starting to grow the seeds too early if you don’t have the facilities to keep them warm can reduce your chances of success.

Benary's Giant Wine
Zinna elegans ‘Benary’s Giant Wine’

Keep in mind that Zinnia elegans is a warm-hot climate plant native to Mexico growing in scrub and dry grassland.  Not every year will be suitable for them here in the UK but their bright vivid colours in late summer are certainly striking when conditions are right.

Half Hardy Annual

Origin:  Mexico

Height:  60-90cm

Flowering period:  July to October

Latin name:  Zinnia elegans (after botanist Johann Gottfried Zinn (1727-1759)) ¹

Family:  Asteraceae   (Tribe:  Heliantheae – Sunflowers)

Further reading

¹  “Specialty Cut Flowers” by Armitage and Laushman (ISBN:  0-88192-579-9)

²  “Garden to Vase” by Linda Beutler (ISBN: 978-0-88192-825-9)

³  “The Cutting Garden” by Sarah Raven (ISBN: 978-0-7112-3465-9)

⁴  “Cut Flower Garden” by Erin Benzakein and Julie Chai (ISBN: 978-1-4521-4576-1)

Liatris

As we move towards late July we see a whole range of new plants coming to the fore.  Many of these have their origin on prairie grasslands.  One such plant is Liatris (common names Gay Feather or Blazing Star) which has its origins in the eastern United States of America.

Liatris is a hardy perennial which produces a number of thin, upright spikes of flowers growing out of clumps of narrow, grass-like leaves.  Both the purple and white versions are currently looking good in the garden despite the hot dry weather.

White Liatris growing with white Limonium
White Liatris showing the grass like leaves growing with white Limonium in the background

Rather surprisingly perhaps, Liatris is a member of the Asteraceae (the daisy family).  The flower spikes open from the top downwards and so if being used for arranging need to be cut early before the top of the flower spike has begun to turn brown.  In the garden this is less important and the flowers bring colour to the border for much longer.  Liatris provides good, strong vertical interest in both the border and in floral arrangements.

The plants die back completely in the winter and so it is useful to mark their position to avoid disturbing them when preparing the beds for other plants over the winter months.  Propagation by division in the spring is very straight forward and you will bulk up your plants very quickly.  They seem to thrive best when grown in full sun in moisture retentive soil but even in the parched soil of 2018 they still seem to be surviving pretty well.

Purple Liatris opens initially from the top of the flower
Purple Liatris opens initially from the top of the flower

As a cut flower the Liatris has a long vase life if conditioned correctly.  Nothing special is required, simply cut in the early morning and condition in cool water with flower food.  It is particularly important to remove any leaves blow the water level as these will discolour the water.

Hardy Perennial

Latin name:  Liatris spicata

Height: 60cm – 90cm

Family:  Asteraceae

Origin:  Eastern USA

Flowering period:  July to September


Honey Pot Flowers are wedding and celebration florists based in Warwickshire in the United Kingdom specialising in natural, locally grown seasonal flowers. We grow many of our own flowers allowing us to offer something very different and uniquely personal.

Clematis in all its glory

Rather like old friends our clematis return each year and delight us. They have increased in number and size over the years and these long-lived plants quietly creep around the trees and shrubs and emerge reliably each year. We love collecting new varieties and luckily many have enjoyed the conditions in our garden.

It is a pure joy to suddenly come across that first bloom of the year from a clematis that has been quietly surviving over the winter. The large buds develop and then, there it is, the first perfect flower.

'Niobe' climbing amongst a white Philadephus
‘Niobe’ climbing amongst a white Philadephus

For other smaller flower varieties like C. montana it is the spectacular show provided by a large cloak of thousands of flowers in delicate pink that sit wonderfully amongst the white lilac tree and our purple leaved Prunus padus. You don’t seem to notice how far it has spread until it blooms. There is a danger that a strong clematis might well overwhelm a smaller tree but there is no doubt the effect is dramatic.

Clematis montana climbing amongst the red foliage of Prunus padus
Clematis montana climbing amongst the red foliage of Prunus padus

Distribution in nature

Britain has only one native species of clematis (C. vitalba (Old Man’s Beard)) but there are over 250 species¹ distributed mainly in tropical or temperate regions. Most are natives of the northern hemisphere with several native to Europe. As well as the very familiar large flowered hybrids that grace the garden centres there are a number of smaller flowered species that make highly desirable garden plants.

Clematis alpina - one of the earliest clematis in the garden flowering here in in April
Clematis alpina – one of the earliest clematis in the garden flowering here in in April

A member of the Ranunculaceae (the buttercup family), clematis come in a wide range of blue mauves to purples but also white through pink to shades of red, burgundy and also yellow. The petals of Clematis have been replaced by colourful sepals. Typically these are in fours or eight but some (eg. Clematis ‘Niobe’) have six. Through a careful choice of cultivars and species you can have clematis flowering in your garden from spring through to autumn.

Clematis are not commonly grown for their scent but we would not be without our C. x aromatica which climbs over our rope rose arches and provides a lovely waft of ‘vanilla’ scent across the garden in the evening. A strategically placed seat and a glass of wine are all you need to enjoy the experience to the full.

Clematis 'Daniel Daronda'
Clematis ‘Daniel Daronda’

Clematis in the garden

One of the essential benefits of clematis is that they exploit the vertical dimension of the garden. They climb over their hosts by using their leaf stems. Given an appropriate support, they can rapidly cover a trellis or other structural feature. Variety ‘Nelly Moser’ with its large pink flowers is also very comfortable growing against a north facing wall.

Clematis 'Nelly Moser'
Clematis ‘Nelly Moser’

Most of the clematis we have growing here at Waverley are deciduous however there is one, C. armandii, which is evergreen. This is a tough old plant and wants to survive. Its supporting tree was felled over ten years ago but even after a ruthless prune it still flowers every year and clambers through the remaining lower shrubs.

Evergreen Clematis armandii
Evergreen Clematis armandii

The most successful of our clematis are growing amongst other mature trees or shrubs and they climb their way up to the light. They don’t seem to mind the competition and many books indicate that the roots need to be kept shaded and cool. Where we have clematis growing up supports in more formal flower beds we make sure they are planted amongst herbaceous perennials to ensure that the root area and base of the plant is kept in the shade during the summer months.

The general advice is to plant pot grown clematis deep² so that if the plant is damaged or contracts wilt it will regrow new shoots again from under the surface. When preparing the planting hole for a new clematis you should include plenty of organic matter.

Clematis montana 'Tetrarose'
Clematis montana ‘Tetrarose’

There is a lot written about pruning clematis. For us the simple and easy to remember phrase “if it flowers before June do not prune” works well for us.

Cutting and conditioning

Clematis can make a wonderful addition to any floral design. Its trailing habit adds something not offered by many flowering plants suitable for cutting. Growing a stem that trails effectively does require some forward thinking otherwise you end up with a tangled mess to unravel. Some of our clematis grow across a rope arch and individual strands are allowed (encouraged) to hang down naturally in preparation for cutting.

As with most flowers they are best cut in the cool of the early morning and placed into cool water to condition for at least 24 hours. To get the best vase life cut into older wood.

The stems last well and can be effectively added to long table arrangements to trail down the front of a top table. We probably use the smaller C. montana more often for this kind of arrangement.

Trails of clematis montana
Arrangement with trails of clematis montana and asparagus fern

There is no doubt that Clematis add something very special and different to the garden. Many look delicate but they are really very tough and resilient plants if you give them conditions that they can thrive in. Choosing your varieties carefully can provide on-going interest throughout late spring and summer and into autumn.

Clematis 'Jersey Cream' creeping amongst a trellis of dark ivy leaves.
Clematis ‘Jersey Cream’ creeping amongst a trellis of dark ivy leaves.

Further reading

¹ “A comprehensive guide to Clematis” by Barry Fretwell (ISBN 0 00 414017 6)

² “Growing Clematis” by Nicholas Hall, Jane Newdick and Neil Sutherland (ISBN 1-85833-163-3)

Six on Saturday: Hostas

The recent warm and wet conditions here in Warwickshire have created a rich, lush feel to many parts of the garden.  The hostas in particular are looking wonderful at the moment.

Originating from China, Japan, the Korean peninsula and the Russian far east¹, these shade tolerant plants are often grown for their foliage alone although they do have attractive flowers later  in the year.  Interestingly, hostas are often grown as a vegetable in their native lands although I have not tried them myself (yet!).

I can take very little credit for these hostas.  My wife Carol has certainly got the knack of growing these and keeping them looking wonderful from year to year.  Managing the slug and snail population is always a challenge but we find that copper tape around the pots is particularly successful.

Every spring when the hostas begin to shoot we take a selection of the plants in pots, divide them and refresh the compost.  Any spare divisions are planted out in the flower garden.

Here are my six for this week.

P1010342

P1010341

P1010340

P1010338

P1010337

Hosta 'June'
Hosta ‘June’

Many of our hostas have been acquired or gifted to us over the years and we have lost track of most of the names unfortunately.  However they don’t need name tags to be treasured.  If you know any of the names please do let us know through the comments.

Family:  Asparagaceae

Toxicity:  Edible (although toxic to dogs, cats and horses)¹

Hardiness:  Full hardy


The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.


Honey Pot Flowers are wedding and celebration florists based in Warwickshire in the United Kingdom specialising in natural, locally grown seasonal flowers. We grow many of our own flowers allowing us to offer something very different and uniquely personal.

Camassia – the blue spires of May

May is a time for blue and white in the garden. The tall bluebell coloured spikes of Camassia leichtlinii can be relied upon to make a stunning show every year and have established themselves throughout the old rose garden.

A native of North America, these hardy perennials stand majestically some 3 feet high on strong sturdy stems. They grow well in damp, heavy, fertile ground in full sun or partial shade (damp ground seems to be a reoccurring theme in our garden (see Snake’s Head Fritillary) but this is not a challenge if you choose your plants wisely).

Companion planting

Camassia are able to establish themselves well in rough grassland as long as the moisture levels are right. In the last couple of years we have started to plant bulbs amongst an area of long grass and white cow parsley (Anthriscus syvestris) and I am delighted to see that they are establishing well. The blue and white should look wonderful together when they bulk up.

Camassia establishing well amongst the Cow Parsley
Camassia establishing well amongst the Cow Parsley

It is important to remember that the leaves should not be cut or strimmed until the bulbs die back naturally (about July) or the bulbs will not be able to build up effectively to over winter and multiply. The large bulbs (daffodil sized) do seem to move quite easily if you can plant them immediately.. Do not let them dry out.

In the herbaceous borders we have found Camassia works well when planted with tulips in contrasting colours surrounded and anchored to the ground with low growing forget-me-nots. Strictly speaking you could argue that Camassia and tulips need different growing conditions but they seem perfectly happy together.

Tulips Merlot, Marilyn and Pretty Woman amongst a sea of camassia
Tulips ‘Merlot’, ‘Marilyn’ and ‘Pretty Woman’ amongst a sea of Camassia

Cutting and conditioning

We have seen a trend towards a blue theme for wedding flowers this year ( Blues – this years’ wedding flower trend? ) and these flowers are certainly invaluable at this time of year. The complementary white ‘alba’ variety is also available.

The flower heads of Camassia open steadily from the bottom so you need to cut them early to get a long high quality flower stem. However, it is possible to pinch off the bottom-most flowers as they go over and use the remaining stem.

Conditioning is straight forward, simply cut and immediately place in cool water to condition for at least a couple of hours or overnight. Camassia are strongly geotropic so keep them upright and tied or they will soon bend upwards at the tips and look rather odd. Not a flower to be used horizontally in wide table arrangements.

One word of warning as we have found that the flowers do seem to stain other materials. We have an interesting blue pattern on a painted wall now!

Pest and diseases

From our experience they are not really attacked by slugs or other pests and remain relatively disease free. Good quality blooms are therefore easy to achieve if picked at the right time.

Hardiness: Fully hardy bulbous perennial

Origin: North America (Camassia quamash is reported by Anna Pavord to have been an important food plant for native Americans of the north west who dried the bulbs over their fires and stored them to eat in the winter ¹)

Family: Asparagaceae ²

Flowering time: May

Further reading

¹ “Bulb” by Anna Pavord (ISBN 978-1-84533-415-4)

² Royal Horticultural Society

Tulips 2018 – the results are in …

After the excitement of designing the spring colour scheme and planting out the tulips in the autumn we rarely reflect on how well each of the individual varieties worked out in practice.  So, this year things will be different!  The aim here is to record how they performed so that we can actually remember what did well when we come to sit down with the catalogues next year.

It is important to remember that our garden is just outside Warwick in the UK Midlands.  Further south flowering is likely to be earlier and towards the north of England and into Scotland flowering will be considerably later.  Equally because we are about as far away from the sea as you can get in England we are probably drier than the far west but wetter than the east.  This winter (2017/18) does appear to have been particularly wet here in Warwick.

Tulip Brown Sugar
Tulip Brown Sugar

Timing

We usually plan our tulips so that we will have as long a flowering period as possible thus allowing us to cut regularly for bouquets and other arrangements.  Typically we will see a steady progression from the very early, early , mid-season and late tulips flowering from mid-March through to May.

This year things haven’t worked out in quite such an orderly fashion.  As usual the Kaufmanniana tulips (Ice Stick) and Greigii tulips flowered first (Vanilla Cream) flowering around the 6 April.

Kaufmanniana Tulip Ice Stick
Kaufmanniana Tulip Ice Stick

The very cold spring followed by the blast of heat on 18th and 19th April brought most of the remaining tulips out at the same time (c. 20th April).  From a gardening perspective this created a wonderful explosion of colour but as a flower grower it meant that we had a glut of flowers with a very limited period for sales.  We appear to have lost the usual differentiation between early, mid-season and late this year.

Our photographic records from 2014 show that the Kaufmanniana tulips were in bloom on 31 March (as opposed to 6 April this year), the early Purissima tulips on 31 March also whilst the bulk of the mid-season tulips were flowering by 11 April (as opposed to 20 April this year).   Despite what has seemed a very cold season these records indicate that we have only really seen a lag of about 1 week on previous years.

Tulip Finola
Sold as Tulip Caravelle (but does not seem to match the catalogue description)

Stem Length

For each of the varieties we have measured a typical stem length and compared it with the projected height in the original Parkers catalogue.  As florists and flower growers the length of the stem, the quality of the bloom achieved and whether they are early, mid-season or late tulips is vital and will determine whether we plant the same variety again next year.

Our stem length measurements only provide an indication and are taken at a typical cutting stage of maturity.  In reality tulips continue to grow even after they have been cut.  This feature does make creating formal wedding bouquets with tulips particularly challenging.  If you prepare a bouquet the night before an event the tulips will have grown by morning undermining the design and shape.

 Variety Actual Height Expected Height
 Jan Reus 45cm 50cm
Ballerina 55cm 55cm
 Christmas Pearl 40cm 35cm
 Finola 30cm 40cm
 Brown Sugar 60cm 45cm
 Princess Irene 32cm 35cm
 Merlot 65cm 70cm
 Pretty Woman 55cm 40cm
 Marilyn 55cm 55cm
 La Belle Epoque 48cm 40cm
 Slawa 55cm 40cm
 Recreado 48cm 50cm
Tulip Princess Irene
Tulip Princess Irene

Overall, despite the cold spring and slow growth the tulips have pretty much all achieved the expected stem length.  Three varieties, Brown Sugar, Pretty Woman and Slawa, seem to have done particularly well and grown some way beyond the projected height.

For some reason Black Hero and Apricot Parrot don’t seem to have come up at all.

Longevity

Typically we would treat our tulips as annuals planting out new bulbs in the autumn and digging them up after flowering.  To get the longest stems many of the bulbs are pulled out of the ground when we harvest the flowers.

Greigii Tulip Vanilla Cream
Greigii Tulip Vanilla Cream

There are a few, however, that seem to be more perennial than the rest.  These include the Kaufmanniana and Greigii tulips and we have also retained a large clump of what we think is Jan Reus which seem to have established themselves well.

Tulip Jan Reus
Tulip Jan Reus

Quality

Very few of the varieties have suffered (in terms of bloom quality) from the cold, wind and rain.  We grow all of our tulips outdoors.

Tulip La Belle Epoque
Tulip La Belle Epoque

Storage and holding

Because the tulips have all come together we have had to hold some cut tulips so that they were available for later weddings.  To do this we cut and condition the flowers as usual and then wrap them tightly in brown paper to keep them straight.  They are then stored flat in a cool refrigerator (out of water) until needed.

When you get them out of the fridge they do tend to look pretty sad and floppy but you will be amazed how they perk up.  Simply re-cut the stems, re-wrap in brown paper to keep them straight and place in cool, fresh water to rehydrate overnight.  By the morning they will be turgid and fresh looking and ready to use.

Around the garden

The individual blooms are lovely but combining them with other complementary flowers in a garden setting really brings them to life (see Spring sunshine and tulips in full bloom for the full picture).


Honey Pot Flowers are wedding and celebration florists based in Warwickshire in the United Kingdom specialising in natural, locally grown seasonal flowers. We grow many of our own flowers allowing us to offer something very different and uniquely personal.