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.
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.
It was a beautiful crisp Sunday morning here and the ideal day to see what new things we could find at the garden centre!
Amongst other things we came home with these two beauties from the Helleborus Gold Collection Ice and Roses group. The two varieties are Picotee and the darker Rosali. Both have large striking blooms which are at least 2 inches across and seem to hold their heads up more than many other varieties do.
We don’t usually have trouble growing Hellebores and with any luck we should be able to enjoy these for many years to come.
Each year we try to extend the period of tulips in the garden by choosing a range of varieties that start flowering in late March and continue the show right through to late May. I reported in April on this year’s early tulips and now it is time to look at the successes and failures of the mid-season varieties – and there have certainly been both!
It has been a strange year so far with a very dry April followed now by a very wet May. The other problem has been that some of the varieties we ordered have proved to be the wrong thing and this has certainly upset the colour combinations and mixes that we had hoped to create.
One specific problem that we had was with a mass of bulbs that were supposed to be Menton Exotic. Menton Exotic is a peachy pink, double variety but what emerged to our horror were these bright yellow/orange blooms of a similar structure but very different colour.
We were given a complete refund but having nurtured them all winter protecting them from the mice, voles and squirrels they were a bit of a disappointment. In the right place, mixed with an appropriate mix of other shades they would have been lovely and we have in fact now grown to enjoy them after the initial shock. I have no idea what variety they are.
One of the real successes of this year was the variety Tulip ‘Lasting Love’. It is such a sumptuous colour and was a real pleasure to have in the garden. It has proved to be long lasting and well behaved despite the heavy rains of May this year.
‘Lasting Love’ works extremely well when backed with evergreen grey foliage. Here it is set off by a new Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Silver Ball’ which we planted last summer when we totally renovated this particular bed to make a ‘moon garden‘. As an aside we have been very pleased with how this Pittosporum variety has kept its shape and colour during the winter and is it growing away well again this spring.
A second combination that has worked well for us this year is ‘Havran’ and ‘Slawa’. Both tulips flowered together (sometimes a problem when you try new combinations) and were of a similar height and temperament. They were fresh and tidy for a long period and stood up well to the very strong winds and rain we had at one time.
In previous years we lost a lot of bulbs to the squirrels and mice when we planted them directly in the ground in November. This year we decided to grow more in large containers and protect them with a narrow gauge, strong wire mesh. This has worked really well and we have lost very few this year. Certainly something we will do again I think.
I have written earlier about tough little plants that herald in the new year by flowering in the early spring. Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica is new to us but it is certainly one that I would now add to the list.
There is no doubt that it is tiny (probably just a couple of inches in our garden in Warwickshire at the moment) but it emerged and started flowering in mid-February and is still in full flower (March 8). The flowers and foliage come through together and it certainly needs a place to itself in the garden where it will not be crowded by bigger neighbours. Given space however it is absolutely charming.
Each plant has two leaves that sit either side of a single flower stem with 6 to 10 starry flowers. The white flowers have a delicate blue line down each petal with yellow stamens in the centre. They are members of the family Hyacinthaceae and have a similar appearance to scilla.
Puschkinia originate from Turkey and Lebanon where they grow in grasslands made damp by melting snow at 1900-3700m. They are happy in sun or light shade and should be planted 2 inches deep and 4 inches apart (1).
They certainly appear to be fully hardy having made it through a cold, wet winter here in the UK Midlands. The planting recommendation is that they do not like the ground to get too dry. As we have not grown them before we planted them in two different places in the garden to see where they would fair best.
The first group is in a bed in the flower garden that is in part shade and gets quite wet and boggy in the winter however stays moist all summer. Secondly we planted them in an area in full sun that is much better drained however remains wet all winter but is much drier in the summer. Time will tell where they will naturalise best but it is rather satisfying to report that at the moment both sets have survived the winter and are flowering well.
(1) “Bulb” by Anna Pavord (ISBN 978 1 84533 415 4)
We have grown Ageratum houstonianum, the Mexican Paintbrush, for a number of years now. Originally we knew Ageratum as one of those short carpet bedding plants that you would see alongside red salvias and orange marigolds in council bedding schemes in the local park.
Some ten years ago we started up Honey Pot Flowers and were trying out new varieties to grow and include in our summer bouquets of British country flowers. We were introduced to the F1 variety ‘Blue Horizon’ which produces flowers on much longer, robust stems and holds extremely well as a cut flower. We have been growing it ever since.
This variety of Ageratum has large, dense flower heads of powder blue. It is not a colour that you find very often in the garden and so makes an interesting addition to both the flower borders and cut flower arrangements. Most importantly, once established it does seem to be a very well behaved plant, growing and flowering reliably throughout the summer.
It is a native of Central America and Mexico and it is worth noting that in some countries it is considered an invasive weed. We have certainly not found this to be a problem here in the UK climate.
I have just sown this year’s seeds (14th February). The tiny seeds are surface sown on a half tray of pre-watered, well drained multi-purpose compost. To ensure the seedlings do not damp off in their early days we mix the compost with a generous amount of perlite. I like to water the compost before sowing so that the tiny seeds do not get washed into the corner.
The half tray is covered with cling film to remove the need for any extra watering before the seedlings emerge. They will sit on a warmish kitchen windowsill now for a few weeks until the green shoots appear at which point we will slowly loosen the cover and acclimatise the small plants before removing the cling film altogether.
Looking at previous years’ records I will be pricking these out into larger trays in about five weeks time (towards the end of March), and will have planted them out into the garden by 6th May. They are not frost hardy so this would need to be adjusted to suit your own circumstances.
Our past records also indicate that we have been picking Ageratum for cutting by mid-June and they then continue to flower right through to the first frosts in the Autumn.
Over the years we have tried them in various parts of the garden but they do seem to grow best in full sun in soil that remains moist all the summer. Our garden soil can dry out rapidly in the height of the summer but there are areas in part shade that retain some moisture in the soil. The Ageratum also seem to thrive in these areas.
What we particularly like about Ageratum is how trouble free it is. It does not seem to be attacked by pests which is ideal if you want to grow good quality, clean stems for cutting, arranging and/or selling. In researching the plant this year I was surprised to find that it has its own secret defence mechanisms when it comes to fending off insects.
Ageratum has evolved a method of protecting itself from insects by producing a compound that interferes with the insect organ responsible for secreting juvenile hormone during growth and development. The chemical triggers the next moulting cycle prematurely and renders most insects sterile. Fascinating stuff!
August this year in the UK Midlands has been almost tropical; energy sapping temperatures, steamy humidity and torrential downpowers of rain. Despite the heat it has been clear that the garden is now entering a new vibrant phase. A new combination of late summer flowers is beginning to emerge and many of the repeat flowering roses are now creating a second flush of colour.
In my opinion one of the most elegant mid-summer bulbs is Gladiolus murielae (which we have always known as Acidanthera). Growing to around 1 metre in height these corms produce a succession of flowers over a number of weeks. Each white, six petalled flower is presented on a delicate arching stem and has a purple throat in the centre. Unlike many gladioli which produce one dramatic show, Acidanthera flowers open one at a time. Each flower has a lovely scent which makes them ideal for including as a cut flower in table arrangements brought into the house.
Acidanthera originates from Eastern Africa from Ethiopia and Somalia to Tanzania and Malawi. It grows on grass and on damp hills at 1200-2500m. Here in Warwickshire it rarely survives the winter in the garden and so we plant fresh, new corms each year. They are not expensive to buy and we have found the best approach is to plant them in groups of 5-8 corms in a medium sized pot of compost and start them off in the greenhouse. When the weather warms up and we can see gaps in the borders we plant out the whole pot without separating or disturbing the corms.
The foliage is very well behaved growing up straight and true and they seem to need very little staking. They really are such a lovely addition to the late summer border and something that I would highly recommend.
Rose ‘Arthur Bell’ is a delightfully fragrant yellow climbing rose. It is a floribunda type rose which has these delightful rose buds with a subtle red strip. Each of these buds opens to a rich yellow flower which then fades to pale yellow. This means that at any one time the rose has a range of delightful new rose buds and a mix of strong and pale yellow flowers on the same plant.
We have had this climbing rose for over 15 years and to be honest it was beginning to show its age. This year (in an attempt to give it one last chance) we pruned it back quite hard and gave it a good feed. It has responded extremely well producing a number of strong new shoots and is flowering well once again. It is an old friend and a firm favourite.
Ever since I began training as a Botanist and Plant Ecologist at University I have been fascinated by the intricate detail and sheer variation of different flowers. I found myself outside this week looking closely at flowers with the macro camera setting and thought that it would be nice to share a few close-ups as part of this week’s Six on Saturday.
The Lilac is looking and smelling wonderful this year and the mass of flowers is a spectacle in itself. However, when you look closely at single flowers you can see that behind the outward facing four petals is a very long tube. Only insects with a very long tongue will be able to reach down to the enticing nectar at the base of this flower.
Two: Perennial cornflowers
The perennial cornflower (Centaurea montana) is most common in the southerly mountain ranges of Europe. I find the highly dissected flower heads delicate and charming when you look at them closely. This particular variety (name long gone!) was purchased from Avondale Nursery and is absolutely gorgeous with its hint of dark lavender in the centre contrasting with the stark white surround.
Three: Dicentra spectabilis
Believe it or not this plant sits within the poppy family (Papaveraceae). The flower construction is very different. It is one of those flowers where you can have great fun with the children. If you turn the flower upside down and gently pull the pink side petals it looks just like a lady in a bath!
The jolly faces of the small viola are very striking but when you look closely you can appreciate the complex markings that make up this pattern and the direction markings that attract pollinating insects. The hairs around the top of the ‘mouth’ are also visible here and presumably ensure that pollinating insects are well brushed and positioned as they enter the centre of the flower.
Five: Long leafed waxflower
The long leafed waxflower (Philotheca myoporoides) is a native to south eastern Australia. Its aromatic evergreen foliage is supposed to smell of gin and tonic but I am not entirely convinced about that yet. At this time of year it is covered with these tiny white flowers which are about 1 cm across. The flowers are attractive en masse but each individual flower is beautiful in its own right. The stamens and buds are a very delicate apricot colour. The apricot stamens seem to be held in place by a tiny ring of white structures
Last but not least this week is Apple blossom which is so lovely when the orchard is in full bloom. Something to just stand back and admire. Each individual bud has a network of intricate pink veins that create that pink blush that is so characteristic of apple blossom.
There is no doubt that Wisteria can be one of the most spectacular flowering plants in the garden. Japanese Wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) can grow to 20-30 feet and is at its best from late April to June. It is a member of the pea family and produces a cascade of splendid fragrant blue flowers.
Despite the regular summer pruning back to 6 buds, our plants were getting rather large, tangled and out of hand so in February this year Carol undertook a major prune, removing some of the most wayward stems and cutting back to three buds. It has responded well and is producing a really good show of flowers. I really like the contrast of the blue wisteria with these Ronaldo and Grand Perfection tulips.
New plants can take up to ten years or more to flower so when buying a Wisteria it is well worth buying a plant that is already in bloom. In this way you know that you are going to get a plant that will perform for you in a relatively short space of time. The other crucial thing to think about is how you are going to support what will be a very heavy plant. Many train Wisteria on strong wires against a wall or house. Here we wanted to view it from all sides and so have grown it around a framework of arched steel rods. In around 15 years it has developed some substantial twisted stems that are a feature in their own right.
On the same supports we also grow Wisteria frutescens ‘Amethyst Falls’ which is a native species of North America. A little more compact than its oriental cousins, it tends to flower a little later and so continues the show into the early summer.
If you want an even taller wisteria then you could consider the Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis). This can grow to 40-60 feet and can be distinguished from the Japanese Wisteria by the fact that the stems twine in the opposite direction – that is anticlockwise rather than clockwise.
The flowering of the Wisteria in the garden is anticipated eagerly every year and rarely does it disappoint.
The tulips are at their most spectacular at the moment and I thought that it would be appropriate to celebrate them as part of Six on Saturday this week.
I have pulled together pictures of six combinations and mixtures that have worked particularly well for us this year. All were purchased from Parkers and planted in the autumn of 2019.
One: Ronaldo and Grand Perfection
Tulip Ronaldo came out slightly before Grand Perfection but the latter has now caught up and grown to a similar height.
Two: Pink Blend
This is one of Parker’s off-the-shelf mixtures so I am not entirely sure of the names of each of the varieties included.
Three: Purple Prince and Princess Irene
Princess Irene was much later and shorter than Purple Prince and initially we thought that this combination was not going to work very well. However they have now grown to a similar height and are looking lovely together in terracotta pots backed by a perennial planter of blue-grey foliage and purples.
Four: Merlot, Marilyn and Maytime
One of our own combinations that we have used over a number of years in the old rose garden.
Five: Van Eijk Mixed
Six: Apricot Pride and Stunning Apricot
These are two varieties that we have not tried before and they have proved to be lovely together sitting amongst the blue forget-me-nots.