Helleborus orientalis (Lenten Rose)

The fact that so few herbaceous plants are winter flowering makes the show of Helleborus orientalis around the Honey Pot Flowers garden particularly special at this time of year. With large flowers from dark aubergine through shades of pink to white, these flowers make you stop as you wander around the winter garden turning over the downward facing flowers to look at the exquisite markings on the ‘petals’.

Hellebores do not have petals in the normal sense of the word as their petals are really sepals (modified leaves that typically protect the flower bud).


To be honest once Hellebores have established they are very undemanding herbaceous perennials. They like areas of part-shade in our garden and seed themselves freely. When mature the plants do not like to be disturbed but careful transplanting of the seedlings (digging them up with soil so as to not expose the roots) allows you to distribute them throughout the garden.

You can also propagate larger plants by division in early spring if you have a particularly beautiful specimen that you want to bulk up. Your self-sown seedlings are unlikely to come true to colour (but half the fun is seeing how they will develop).

To show off the flowers at their best in the garden we usually remove the sad, dying leaves at soil level in January to expose the flowers. As well as exposing the flowers this helps reduce the spread of disease. The fresh new leaves will grow back again during the spring and look great throughout the summer.

Rich aubergine coloured Helleborus orientalis
Rich aubergine coloured Helleborus orientalis

Cutting and conditioning

With so few flowers around in the early months of the year, Hellebores are very valuable for winter arrangements. Because the flowers face downwards their full beauty may not be evident. For dinner table, coffee and side table arrangements simply taking the flowers and floating them in water face up in a clear crystal glass bowl can make a stunning display showing off all the varied colours and delicate markings.

table decoration of Hellebore flowers floating in water
Simple but effective table decoration of Hellebore flowers floating in water

It has to be said that many people find the conditioning of Hellebores a challenge. There seem to be a range of views on how this is best done.

Armitage and Lushman in “Speciality Cut Flowers” indicate that you can achieve 10-14 days in the vase. Stage of harvest seems to be particularly critical and they suggest for fresh flowers Hellebores should be cut when the stamens first become visible. For drying, flowers can be cut at anytime but particularly when the seed capsules become visible.

Sarah Raven in “The Cutting Garden” advocates putting the bottom inch of the stem in boiling water for 20 seconds and then plunging it into deep tepid water. With this treatment she indicates that the stems will stay fresh for 3 or 4 days (considerably less however than the vase life offered in Armitage and Lushman).

There also seems to be contradictory advice on the use of “flower food”. Comments from commercial growers in Armitage and Lushman indicate that “they have a wonderful long vase life, 10 days plus easy, and I give no special treatment other than Floralife”. In contrast Linda Beutler in “Garden to Vase” indicates that Hellesbore blooms do not tolerate floral preservative.

Most references indicate that Hellesbores do not last well in floral foam.

Our experience of using Hellesbores as cut flowers is that they are unpredictable. We have had most success when we have delayed cutting the flowers until the seed pods begin to develop. Cutting at this point the flowers are much more reliable and hold up well. Floret Farm’s “Cut Flower Garden” also recommends this approach and indicates that the flowers will last about 5-8 days in the vase.

It can be argued that using Hellesbores in ‘high stakes’ arrangements can be (is) risky. However, they are such charming flowers at a time of year when there is very little and it is well worth practising to perfect your conditioning technique.

Hellebores and tulips
Bouquet of purple Helleborus orientalis with tulips, cherry blossom and flowering currant. Helleborus foetidus provides a splash of fresh green at the bottom right of this picture .


As well as offering fresh cut stems, Hellebore flowers also dry well and can be used in buttonholes, corsages or wreaths. Gently covered with silica gel they will dry within 2 weeks and can then be stored in an air tight plastic box. They keep their colour well if kept in the dark and can be kept right through to the following Christmas to bring a different touch to Christmas wreaths.

Don’t be tempted to over dry them by leaving them in the silica gel for too long. They will simply suck up moisture when the are removed and will spoil quickly.

Christmas arrangement using dried Hellebore flowers, Helichrysum and Limonium
Christmas arrangement using dried Hellebore flowers, Helichrysum and Limonium

Other species in the garden

The majority of the Hellebores in the Waverley garden are Helleborus orientalis but we do also have occasional plants of the stinking Hellebore Helleborus foetidus. H. foetidus has smaller hanging bell shaped flowers on a tall stem that make a very useful fresh green addition to winter arrangements.

Hardy perennial

Origin: Greece and Turkey (ref: Wikipedia)

Family: Ranunculaceae

Hardiness: H7 (RHS hardiness rating – Hardy in the severest European continental climates (< -20)

Height: 40-45 cm

Flowering period: January to March

Derivation of scientific name:  According to Wikipedia and Witchipedia, the genus name Helleborus comes from the ancient Greek word elein, meaning “to injure” and bora, meaning “food”.

Toxicity:  Poisonous

Floriography:  Slander and scandal


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

“Specialty cut flowers” by Armitage and Lushman (ISBN 0-88192-579-9)

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

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


Snowdrops (Galanthus sp.)

There is one flower above all that signals the beginning of the new gardening year and the promise of great things to come. In the garden here at Waverley some varieties of snowdrops (Galanthus) begin to start to flower in early in December with others flowering right through the winter months and into March.

All snowdrops prefer cool, moist conditions in the spring followed by a dry summer dormancy in the shade. Planted in the right conditions about 4-5 inches deep, snowdrops seem to love the growing conditions here in Warwickshire.

Often seen as a symbol of purity and chastity these delicate looking flowers are really tough pushing through the winter soil and emerging like white pearls. Alternative names include ‘Fair maids of February’ and Candlemas Bells however the French name of Perce-Neige (snow piercers) seems particularly apt.

The love of these tiny flowers I think must run in the family with Carol’s uncle, snowdrop expert Colin Mason of Fieldgate Snowdrops, providing us with a number of varieties and species that have now established throughout the garden. It is a lovely thing that your individual garden plants can remind you so vividly of friends and relatives and the times that you have spent together.

Galanthus elwesii
Galanthus elwesii

Snowdrops and Snowflakes

Snowdrops (Galanthus) and Snowflakes (Leucojum) are closely related species. Whereas as Snowflakes have six equally sized petals, Snowdrops have three larger outer petals surrounding three smaller inner petals typically marked with green.

In addition to the snowdrops we have also been increasing the number of summer snowflakes (Leucojum aestivum) that we have around the Honey Pot Flowers garden. These flower much later (May to June) and because of their longer stems prove much more useful as cut flowers than the shorter snowdrops.

Summer Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum)
Summer Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum)

Leaf morphology

The arrangement of the paired leaves at the base of the snowdrop plant is helpful in identifying the different species. For example, in the common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) the two leaves are pressed flat together (applanate) whilst in Galanthus elwesii one leaf is clasped around the other (supervolute).

Galanthus nivalis leaf morphology (applanate)
Galanthus nivalis basal leaf morphology (applanate)
Galanthus elwesii leaf morphology (supervolute)
Galanthus elwesii basal leaf morphology (supervolute)


We find, if you have patience, that the snowdrops bulk up very effectively throughout the garden with little effort on our part. When the clumps get too dense we lift them when they are ‘in the green’, gently separate the bulbs and distribute them more widely throughout the garden. In particular we have started to develop a snowdrop walk through the copse at the north end of the garden providing a fresh splash of white on dull February days.

It is also possible to bulk up plants more rapidly through chipping, twinscaling and micropropogation. Galanthophile Colin Mason’s article on Galanthomania, Chipping and Twinscaling explores this in more detail.

Galanthus elwesii (Geoffrey Owen)
Galanthus elwesii (Geoffrey Owen)

Use as cut flowers

If you believe in such things it is worth noting some of the common folklore around snowdrops. In her book Snowdrops , Gail Harland reports that there is a country belief that it is unlucky to decorate a room with cut snowdrops and that these should not be brought into one’s house until after Candlemas Day (2 February).

Whereas this mythology, and the wider meaning associated with giving particular flowers (floriography), are less widely understood these days, it is worth bearing these aspects in mind when preparing bouquets and giving flowers. A bouquet of flowers, buttonhole or gift of flowers with inherent meaning is always a nice touch.

The short stem length of snowdrops really only makes them suitable for small posies and arrangements. We have found that they make charming place settings for dinner parties in tiny clear glass vases (but only after the 2 February of course!).

Snowdrop Table Place Setting
Snowdrop Table Place Setting

Hardy Perennial Bulb

Family: Amaryllidaceae (ref: Royal Horticultural Society)

Floriography: Purity and innocence

Origin: The common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) has a distribution from the Pyrenees to Balkans however there are also some 20 species of Galanthus in total occurring in a wide variety of habitats.

Further reading

“Snowdrop” by Gail Harland (ISBN 978-1-78023-492-2) – an interesting account about the biology of snowdrops, collecting and their appearance in poetry, art and music.

Sweet Peas (Lathyrus odoratus)

For us, January is the time to start sowing Sweet Peas.  They are quintessential cottage garden plants with their delicate frilly petals and delicious scent.  In our view a Sweet Pea is not worth growing if it does not have a good scent.

As a flower Sweet Peas evoke such memories for both us and our customers.  They remind me so much of visiting my Nan on the Kent coast where the blooms would be picked fresh from the garden, simply arranged in a vase and the scent allowed to permeate throughout the rooms of the house.  Equally we have found that our customers have also loved them over the years.  When we used to run a Country Market stall simple bunches of Sweet Peas would always be the first to go.

Sowing and growing sweet peas

There seems to be a lot of mystique around sowing sweet peas but we have always found them very easy to grow and needing no specialist equipment or seed treatment.  Although in the past we have soaked the seed overnight before sowing we have not found this necessary to get good germination.  Roger Parsons ( www.rpsweetpeas.com ) indicates that soaking or chipping the seed may in fact reduce germination.

We certainly have good success with the following approach:

  • Sow 3 or 4 seeds in January in standard 9cm pots of a mix of multi-purpose compost and perlite.
  • Water well and place on the kitchen window sill (this is usually around a constant 18°C-20°C).  Do not water again until the seedlings start to emerge.
  • You will typically see the first seedlings show themselves in about 7-14 days.
  • Once the seedlings have emerged we move them out into a cold, unheated greenhouse.  They are best grown on hard in plenty of light so that they do not get leggy.  If the temperature drops to below -5°C they may need some protection.
  • We keep the seedlings up high on the greenhouse staging so that there is less risk of mice and other rodents getting to them.
  • Once the plants have reached four leaves, pinch out the tops of all the plants so that they bush out.
  • In around mid-March, we harden off for a couple of weeks before planting out into the garden.  We have grown them up canes in the past but this requires a lot of attention to ensure the plants are tied in effectively.  More recently we have found that standard pea and bean netting works particularly well as long as you buy a decent quality that can be used again and again over a number of years.
  • You should create a deep well dug planting trench incorporating lots of well-rotted organic matter into the soil both to hold the moisture and feed the hungry plants through the season.
  • Plant out the whole pot of 3 or 4 plants together without disturbing the roots and water in well.  Each pot should be planted around 12 inches apart and the tendrils gently encouraged to take a grip of the netting.
  • The final stage for us (if we don’t want to have wasted all our hard work) it to run chicken wire around the base of the row to keep the rabbits at bay.

All you need to do now is stand back and watch them grow making sure that you keep them regularly watered and fed with a liquid feed every couple of weeks once they are flowering.   As soon as they start to flower pick them regularly (probably every day).  The more you pick the more flowers you will get.

It is possible to succession sow into March/April if you want to extend the flowering season.

Sweet Peas ready to pick
Sweet Peas growing vigorously and ready for picking in the Honey Pot Flowers garden

Varieties to grow

There are so many varieties to choose from that it is often difficult to know where to start if you have not grown them before.  Actually half the fun is experimenting with new varieties each year to see what you like.  For us, although colour and a long stem length are important, a sweet pea is not worth growing if it does not have a decent scent.

Roger Parsons offers a wide range and groups them into the following types:

Spencer & Summer Multiflora varieties  – the best types for exhibition and for cutting for the house.

Old Fashioned, Grandiflora & Semi-grandiflora varieties  – the best types for scent and garden decoration.

Early-flowering varieties –  for Winter and Spring flowers, including Early Multiflora type for cut flower production

Dwarf and Semi-dwarf varieties – for garden decoration when shorter plants are required

Very helpfully an indication of scent strength is also offered against each variety.

Varieties that we grew in 2017

  • Albutt blue (Pale whitish blue – Semi Grandiflora)
  • Cathy (Creamy white – Semi Grandiflora)
  • CCC (White  – Modern Grandiflora)
  • Jilly (Creamy white – Spencer)
  • John Gray (Pale pink  – Spencer)
  • Judith Wilkinson (Bold bright pink – Spencer)
  • Yvette Ann (Salmon pink – Spencer)
  • Just Julia (Mid blue – Spencer)
  • Naomi Nazareth (Pale blue – Spencer)
  • Matuccana (Dark red and blue – Modern Grandiflora)
  • Adorabel (Lavender/mauve – Modern Grandiflora)
  • Solitude (Lavender – Spencer)
  • Almost Black (Dark maroon – Modern Grandiflora)

Rather than buy costly new seed every year we allowed some plants to go to seed.  This was collected and stored in paper envelopes over the winter and we will be sowing these in the next few days.

Pale blue sweet peas with lime green Alchemilla
Pale blue sweet peas with lime green Alchemilla

Cutting, conditioning and arranging with Sweet Peas

It is fair to say that the vase life of sweet peas is rather shorter than many cottage garden flowers.  Having said that you will have so many to cut that you can easily provide the house with a constant supply of fresh, fragrant blooms for day after day throughout the summer.

For the longest vase life pick early in the morning when only the first bud on the flower is open.  Be careful not to bruise the delicate blooms.  Condition well for at least 2 hours and overnight if possible in deep clear water.  Refresh your vase water every 24 hours.    Some growers treat the flowers with Silver Nitrate to extend vase life but we have not tried this technique.

For us, it is the very fleeting nature of Sweet Peas that gives them their charm.  In arrangements exploit this simple charm creating uncluttered arrangements with delicate fillers like the lime green flowers of Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s mantle).

Most of all position your arrangements in the house so that you can to breathe in and enjoy that wonderful fragrance.

Further details

Hardy climbing annual

Origin:  Sicily, Cyprus, southern Italy and the Aegean Islands (ref: Wikipedia)

Latin name:  Lathyrus odoratus

Family: Papilionaceae (ref: RHS) – legumes, peas and beans family

Height:  6-8 feet

Flowering period:  Late spring to summer

Cut flowers:  Yes but have limited vase life.

2018 progress update

4 Jan 2018 – seeds sown

18 Jan 2018 – seeds germinated

23 Jan 2018 – seedlings moved to cold greenhouse to grow on in cool, light conditions

14 March 2018 – tips pinched out and staked

New Sweet Pea plants with the tips taken out and staked to stop tangling and possible damage (14 March 2018)
New Sweet Pea plants with the tips taken out and staked to stop tangling and possible damage (14 March 2018)

Schizostylis coccinea (Kaffir Lily)

These striking late season perennials add a wonderful splash of vibrant colour to the autumn garden.  In many respects they don’t fit the normal colour palette of burgundy, mauve and yellow so common in autumn flowering plants.  Instead the bright, almost iridescent, reds and pinks create a strong contrast when set against plants like New-England Asters in the flower border.

According to Anna Pavord in “The Bulb” these South African rhizomatous plants naturally grow in stream banks and damp meadows.  In the garden here at Waverley we have had very mixed success in getting them established.  Once established however they grow away strongly and even self seed freely.

Our most successful clumps grow in partial shade in a most challenging spot on the edge of the paved patio where there is little competition from other plants (perhaps slightly reminiscent of a stream edge as the soil beneath the patio remains damp throughout the year).

We have had less success in some of our flower beds where there is more competition from other plants and the soil is very damp all winter due to the heavy clay beneath the top soil.  Most writers seem to indicate that these plants prefer moist but well drained soil in full sun.  Once established the clumps need very little attention and come back strongly year after year starting in September and flowering through to the end of November (and beyond if you are lucky).

The bright scarlet and hot pink flowers with their neat cup shaped blooms make very good cut flowers and contrast particularly well with mauve and lilac. Even in late November the plants are still throwing up new fresh flower buds.

We have two main varieties growing in the garden currently (names unknown I’m afraid) but in Ludlow market earlier this year we came across ‘Pink Princess’ and just could not resist it (it happens I know!).  This is a delicate blush pink and we really hope that it settles in quickly as it will be a wonderful addition to the new flower garden.

In placing Schizostylis in the garden it is worth remembering that it does tumble forward so make sure it is not planted right on the edge of a flower border or it will get damaged by all the wheel barrows, mowers and feet brushing past it all the time on the path.

Hardy rhizomatous perennial

Origin:  South Africa

Latin name:  Schizostylis coccinea (also called Hesperantha coccinea).  The latin word Schizostylis reflects the cut or divided style in the flower and coccinea highlights the rich scarlet colour.

Family: Iridaceae (Iris family)

Hardiness:  H4 on the RHS hardiness scale (Hardy through most of the UK (-10 to -5))

Height:  45 – 60cm

Flowering period:  September to November

Cut flowers:  Yes

Conditioning:  Standard conditioning in cool clear water for at least 2 hours.


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

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

Himalayan Fairy Grass – what a wonderful name!

With a name like Himalayan Fairy Grass, Miscanthus nepalensis should be associated with a rich and intriguing folklore.  I have not managed to find anything specific on this grass but “The Fairy Mythology – Illustrative of the Romance and Superstition of Various Countries” by Thomas Keightley 1892 does make an interesting diversion on a wet afternoon.  It does make reference to the “enchanted gardens on the summit of the Himalaya”.  I leave the rest to your imagination.

Grasses are increasingly valuable plants for the garden and for use in floral arrangements.  Miscanthus nepalensis is exquisite with tall, delicate branching flower stems and pendant seed heads that turn a lovely bronze/gold colour in the autumn.  This bronze, light reflecting sheen makes an unusual addition to a floral arrangement providing movement and some natural bling. 

Large pendant flowers of Miscanthus nepalensis (Himalayan Fairy Grass)

Miscanthus nepalensis is a deciduous, perennial grass and grows to about 1.5 metres in our garden.  Ideally I think it needs space to look at its best allowing the stems to move freely in the wind and add the movement to a border that grasses do so well.  Its flowers, and the seed heads that follow, look good for a long period of time and are therefore good value plants.  Many writers advocate planting this grass in a gravel garden.

It is such a lovely plant that this year we have collected seed in the autumn in order to build up the numbers.  The blog from Barn House Garden indicates that it self seeds readily.  We have sown some seed immediately after collection and will sow again in late winter as Barn House Garden suggest to see which works best.  We will let you know whether we succeed!

Family:  Poaceae

Hardiness:  RHS hardiness rating H6 (hardy in all UK and northern europe -20°C to -15°C)

Origin:  West China, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal (ref:  RHS website)

Maintenance:  As a deciduous grass this should be cut back to ground level in late winter before the new shoots appear.


Persicaria: charming cut flowers and valuable cottage garden plants

Family:  Polygonaceae

The Knotweeds may not immediately spring to mind when selecting cut flowers but we have found them a valuable addition to both the cottage garden and to include within our country style flower arrangements.  Across the different species you can be rewarded with flowers from April right through to late October.

There are five main species that we grow in the Honey Pot Flowers garden here at Waverley.

Persicaria amplexicaulis (red bistort)

The latin name amplexicaulis means ‘clasping the stem’ and describes the characteristic fresh green stems of this herbaceous perennial.  Originating from China and the Himalayas, this clump forming plant seems to like the damp areas of our garden and lives very happily in part-shade.  It does get sun for a period in the afternoon.  The plant needs very little attention and stands well without support producing dusky, brick red flowers from July into late October and early November.  It dies back totally in the winter growing vigorously again in late spring and is excellent at choking out other weeds completely.

Persicaria amplexicaulis
Persicaria amplexicaulis (Mountain fleece or Red Bistort)

Persicaria bistorta (common bistort)

This is such a charming plant producing masses of baby pink spikes of flowers that are excellent for cutting.  According to botanical.com the name ‘bistorta’ refers to the twice twisted appearance of the rootstock.  This species originates from Europe and north and west Asia and seems to like relatively moist soils in our old rose garden.  It does spread quite rapidly but can easily be dug out and kept in check.

The flowers grow on long stems to about 60cm and are easy to cut in large numbers.  If using in bouquets it is probably wise to cut them before they get too fluffy and begin to drop their petals everywhere.  Cut young, they are strong and robust and will last well adding a wonderful pop of pink and different texture to any arrangement.  They go wonderfully with blue Camassia quamash which flowers at the same time.

Persicaria bistorta
Persicaria bistorta

Persicaria affinis (fleece flower)

A much smaller plant than P. bistorta and P. amplexicaulis, this species grows to a height of about 20-30cm and produces flowers throughout the summer from July onwards.  Originating again from the Himalayas it is very much a front of border plant producing a mass of pink/red flowers underpinned by evergreen foliage.  Whereas the two above are single colours the beauty of P. affinis is that it tends to have an attractive mix of pink and red on the same flower stem, the colours changing towards red as the flower matures.

This is probably not a flower for bouquets but it certainly makes a very pretty addition to a small flower girl posy and gives an excellent cottage garden feel to jam-jar arrangements.

Persicaria microcephala ‘Red Dragon’

If you are looking for interesting foliage in your arrangements and borders then ‘Red Dragon’ is certainly worth considering.  Grown I think mainly for the foliage it has burgundy/green/silver leaves with striking ‘arrow’ shaped markings.  The small white flowers contrast nicely with the deep red foliage.  Regarded by the RHS as slightly less hardy than the others listed here it is still able to cope with temperatures down to -10 °C to -15 °C.

We grow our ‘Red Dragon’ around the margins of the pond area in a very damp area where it creates an interesting contrast with the other green marginal plants.  It certainly protects its own space well against strong competition but equally is not a thug itself.

Persicaria microcephala 'Red Dragon'
Persicaria microcephala ‘Red Dragon’

Persicaria campanulata (lessor knotweed)

Again from the Himalayas, P. campanulata is not as showy as some of the other species listed here.  However, I rather like it as it creates a light airy effect in the garden producing many small clusters of pink flowers over dark green, heavily veined leaves.

If you are looking for a filler flower with foliage that will create a relaxed open feel to your bouquets and arrangements this is one to consider.  It cuts well and is long lasting if conditioned properly.

It is worth being aware that P. campanulata does grow quickly during the season and does need to be kept in check.  It grows to a height of about 1 metre and is certainly not a ‘neat & tidy’ plant.  It looks better if given space in a more natural setting.  Although it spreads rapidly it is easy to cut back and keep under control.  P. campanulata looks good around our pond area and suits that sort of watery, riverside look.

Cut flowers:  Yes, long lasting.  Liable to drop petals so try and pick younger flowers.

Conditioning:  Standard conditioning in cool clear water for at least 2 hours.

Hardiness:  Hardy herbaceous perennials (all the above are in the RHS H7 category (hardy in the severest European continental climates) except Persicaria microcephala ‘Red Dragon’ which is considered H5 (hardy in most places throughout the UK even in severe winters)).

Related weeds:  We do also have lots of the related weed Polygonum aviculare (common knotgrass) but this is not deep rooted and easily controllable if weeded out regularly (but don’t put any of the seeds onto the compost heap or you will have it everywhere!).

Further Reading:  Royal Horticultural Society hardiness rating

Tulips – planning and planting for 2018

The clocks may have changed and the nights are drawing in but there is still a great deal of planning and preparing to be done in the flower garden before the winter sets in.  Work done now will reward us in the spring.

There are so many tulip varieties available that you can almost create any colour effect or combination that you want.  What’s more, as a cut flower grower, choosing the right varieties can provide you with blooms from late March through April and into May.

Not only do tulips come in a stunning colour palette but there are a wide range of shapes and sizes including singles, doubles, lily types, fringed and parrots.  Anna Pavord in her book “Bulb” lists 15 divisions of tulips and provides a fascinating background to the history and development of each type.

Spoilt for choice

So where do you start when the choice seems to be endless?  Probably the three key things to think about are colour, height and flowering times.

Do you want muted complementary colours in a range of shades/tints or striking, contrasting colours to give impact on dull spring days?  Do you want to plant in flower borders with tall stemmed varieties at the back and shorter ones to the front or perhaps plant up tubs with some of the more dwarf varieties?  If you will be cutting for flower arranging you will probably want a stem length of upwards of 45cm and ideally 55-60cm.

Ideally you want to create a show that progresses smoothly through the season with one or more varieties flowering in the same period and look good together.  We have listed some of the varieties that we have used in the past in our Flower Library portfolio on Pinterest.  As well as some of the tulip varieties we have grown, the March and April flower libraries also show other flowers that are out at the same time and, when planted together with the tulips, create more interesting flower combinations of texture and form than simply using tulips alone.

If you are interested in cutting for the house or doing your own wedding flowers our selection of spring bouquet examples on Pinterest will also show how these might be put together for great effect.   If you are a grower and event florist and selecting flowers for next years’ weddings then you need to choose colours that are currently popular with brides.  Keep an eye on emerging trends.

Tulips and anemones
These orange tulips with a blush of red create a striking combination when set alongside seasonal anemones

Planting for 2018

One of the difficulties of writing a blog post about planting tulips is that we have no pictures yet of how our vision is going to turn out.  Next year when they flower we will post again on this!!

In anticipation these are some of the combinations that we are planting out at the moment across the garden:

Burgundy “Jan Reus” and orange “Ballerina” tulips together with “Blood Red” and “Fire King” wallflowers.

Orange lily type tulip “Ballerina” with “Princess Irene” and “Jenny

Tulip “Merlot“, with creamy white and strawberry red “Marilyn” and cardinal red  “Pretty Woman

Double apricot tulip “La Belle Epoque” with violet purple “Recreado“, red-purple “Slawa“, “Black Hero“, “Apricot Parrot” and burgundy “Jan Reus

Orange/brown “Cairo” tulips together with dark blue Bellevalia, crocus “Orange Monarch“, Crocus “Spring Beauty” topped with Viola “Honey Bee“.

Fragrant caramel apricot tulip “Brown Sugar” together with Crocus “Orange Monarch“, “Spring Beauty” and “Pickwick” mixed with white narcissus and topped with Viola “Sorbet Morpho“.

Lilac tulips “Aafke“, soft pink “Christmas Pearl“, deep purple “Caravelle” and double pink and white “Finola” together with narcissus “Misty Glen” and topped with Pansy “Matrix Cassis

Tulips in shades of pink
Tulips in shades of pink arranged with deep burgundy hellebores, white narcissus and flowering currant

Further information and tips

Perennial Hardy Bulb:  Planted in November tulips will certainly be hardy enough to come through the winter.  However, we have found that very few of the tulips come back with the same vigour in subsequent years and it is worth digging them up after flowering and planting a new set the next year.  Many small scale British growers of tulips have reported that replanting in the same area over a number of years can lead to catastrophic problems with tulip diseases.

Origin: Central Asia

Family: Liliaceae

Height:  35-60cm.  It has been our observation that in warmer winters our tulips tend to have short stems than if they experience a colder winter.

Flowering period:  March to early May

Planting:  We plant our tulips around November time.  If you plant too early then the bulbs may be more susceptible to disease.  Tulips like to be planted quite deeply (at least 4 inches) and in tubs you can plant in deep lasagna layers to get a success of flowers over a longer period of time if you choose your varieties carefully.  The squirrels also love to dig them up and we have found that spraying or dusting the bulbs with mammal repellent before covering works extremely well.

Cut flowers:  Yes, long lasting.    Something to remember here is that tulips continue to grow once arranged.  Beware that if you create a wedding bouquet the day before with tulips in it you may find that in the morning all the tulips have extended.

Conditioning:  Standard conditioning in cool clear water for at least 2 hours.  Keep the stems straight by wrapping bunches in paper as they can bend very rapidly.

Holding back:  It is possible if cut early to hold back tulips.  After conditioning, wrap in newspaper and place in a refrigerator.  Make sure that they do not freeze.  We have held tulips back like this for at least a couple of weeks when we have needed them for a later wedding.  When you want to revive them (they will look limp and uninviting at this point) place them in fresh water with flower food (in their wrapping) until they are turgid and looking fresh once again.

Early tulipsCF3045
Large orange and white Purissima tulips alongside Blood Red fragrant wallflowers

Further reading: 

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



Chincherinchee (Ornithogalum thyrsoides)

I don’t know why we haven’t grown this before.  Such a well behaved cut flower and looks beautiful.  Tall (40-60cm) strong waxy stems topped with crisp spikes of white flowers.  They have an excellent vase life and a good white flower is always useful in any floral arrangement.

We grew Chincherinchee for the first time this year.  Taking Anna Pavord’s advice in “Bulbs” that it should be considered half-hardy we planted the small bulbs in the spring in tubs in full sun.  They have flowered and flowered all the way from mid-summer.  They are still flowering now in late October.  What has surprised me is that they keep shooting up fresh new buds that look just as good as the ones earlier in the season.

Although some writers have indicated that the foliage can look a bit tatty we have not found this to be the case.  We have had no trouble with any pests and diseases.  The only thing we have had to be careful of is that they are strongly geotropic and if any stems fall a little they will quickly bend upwards at the tips making them more difficult to arrange.

We will take the bulbs inside as the frosts develop and it will be interesting to see how they survive the winter in a frost free shed.  Certainly something we will grow more of next year.  In light of the success of these I think we might also try Ornithogalum arabicum and Ornithogalum dubium next year.

Half Hardy bulb

Origin:  South Africa

Latin name:  Ornithogalum thyrsoides

Family: Asparagaceae (ref:  RHS website)

Height:  40-60cm in tubs of multi-purpose compost in full sun.

Flowering period:  June to October

Cut flowers:  Yes, long lasting

Conditioning:  Standard conditioning in cool clear water for at least 2 hours.

Further reading: 

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

“Speciality cut flowers” by Armitage and Lushman (ISBN 0-88192-579-9)



Michaelmas daisies in the autumn sunshine

Deep purple Michaelmas Daisies attract late season Comma butterflies in large numbers

An excellent late season perennial for the cut flower garden in a wide range of pink, white, lilac and purple shades.  The butterflies love these flowers in the late autumn sunshine.

Hardy Perennial

Latin name: We mainly grow Aster novibelgii, Aster novaeangliae, Aster pringlei an Aster x frikartii ‘Monch’

Origin:  Mainly North America

Family:  Asteraceae

Height:  Wide variety from small clump forming varieties up to 4-5 feet.  Tall varieties definitely need staking in our windy conditions.

Position:  We grow these in a sunny open position as part of a mixed perennial and annual border.

A striking October combination of Aster Novae-angleae and Rose ‘L’Aimant’

Cut flower:  Yes.  We use these widely in our September and October bouquets and also use Aster ‘Monch’ which flowers earlier in the year but also continues right into autumn.  All stand well after conditioning if picked young before the bees get to them.

Conditioning:  Standard conditioning in cool clear water for at least 2 hours.

This lilac clump forming Aster sits well with the strong colour of this Schizostylis

Suppliers: At this time of year one of the best places to see a wide range of Asters is the Picton Garden and Old Court Nurseries near Malvern.  They hold the NCCPG national collection of autumn flowering asters and it is a stunning show at the right time of year.

Their website www.autumnasters.co.uk provides a wide range of background information to help you choose and grow these lovely plants.

Aster pringlei