Spring flowers under the trees

At this time of year woodland plants are racing to flower, attract pollinating insects and seed next year’s generation.  This all needs to happen before the trees begin to unfurl their leaves and take away the essential daylight that allows them to photosynthesize and flourish.

At the edge of a small deciduous copse at the north end of the old grass tennis court (now the flower garden) we have a delightful area that is looking at its best right now.  Unlike many summer flowers that have big showy blooms these spring flowers are typically more restrained.  It is important that you take the time to just stop and look closely at what is growing and flowering under your feet.

From a distance the most obvious flowers you see are the native primroses (Primula vulgaris).  Nestled amongst these are the small blue star-like flowers of the Chionodoxa.  These bulbs have taken some time to establish but now return reliably each year contrasting beautifully with the pale yellow primroses on the bank.

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Also present amongst the dry leaf litter close to the yew tree are the purple pink flowers of Cyclamen coum .  The foliage on these small plants I think is particularly lovely.

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Some years ago we planted the lungwort Pulmonaria ‘Sissinghurst White’.  As with the Cyclamen coum the characteristic white dots on the Pumonaria foliage adds additional interest.  I think it is fair to say however that it is not entirely happy in this situation. It certainly survives from year to year but really has not romped away as we would have liked.  Time to move it on to somewhere new perhaps.

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In contrast a plant that is extremely happy in this woodland area is the Wood Spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides).  We use lime green a lot throughout the garden to set off other plants and this area of wood spurge really shines out under the trees looking fresh and lush at this time of year.

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We are also delighted that the wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa) we planted a few years ago are now beginning to establish as well.  A member of the buttercup family these small plants are so charming.  Also known as wind flowers they move with such grace as the breeze blows through the trees.

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Last but not least are the daffodils and narcissus.  For me they just shout springtime and shine out even on a cold dull march day.

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The whole feeling of this area is only very transient but that is part of its charm.  As we move into April and May a new cast of characters will emerge.  The fresh green leaves of Anthriscus sylvestris (Cow Parsley) are already beginning to develop and very soon the woodland will be cloaked with a mass of frothy white flowers.   We have added a new area of martagon lilies.  So far so good, they have come up and are looking very promising.

As the grass begins to grow up and the tree leaves unfurl the smaller plants will seed and slowly die back returning to make us smile again next year.

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Narcissus – spring itself

Perhaps it is because Narcissus (Daffodils) are so common and easy to grow that we tend to overlook how interesting and different they are from many other plants.  Spring would certainly not be spring without them and their happy colours bring a breath of fresh air after a long grey, cold winter.

In researching for this article I was surprised to see just how many different species of Narcissus there are.  Anna Pavord ¹ indicates that there are over 50.  It has been equally fascinating to see how the different varieties that we have put in the garden over the years relate to each of these species.

Although we have our own native wild daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) in Britain, many of the species we grow in our gardens have a distribution centred on the Iberian peninsula with others stretching across France and into Italy and Greece.  They are very easy to establish in the English garden and come back reliably year after year.  Any investment in Narcissus bulbs will give you years of pleasure with very little trouble.

The majority of Narcissus are fully hardy and grow well in full sun or dappled shade.  Most daffodils like soil that is well drained but not too dry in the summer.  Although they look lovely in borders and large tubs they look particularly effective naturalised in grass.  One of my favourite parts of our garden in spring is the orchard where the daffodils have established themselves well at the base of each of the apple, plum, cherry and pear trees.  We have written previously about the orchard in an earlier blog (The Orchard – beautiful in spring, productive in autumn).

Spring daffodils throughout the orchard bring colour before the blossom breaks
Spring daffodils throughout the orchard bring colour before the blossom breaks

Pests

Luckily for us Narcissus have their own inbuilt protection against the common pests in the garden.  Due to the thick, unpleasant and toxic sap most wild animals do not eat Narcissus.  They are rarely eaten by slugs and snails although we do sometimes see damage on the open flowers.

Cutting and conditioning

Whereas Narcissus make excellent cut flowers it is important to recognise that if placed, freshly cut, in a vase of mixed flowers the sap will make the other flowers wilt prematurely.

When cutting Narcissus we always cut into a separate bucket of cool, fresh water away from other flowers.  Every 20 minutes we change the water until the sticky sap stops running from the cut stems.  Once the sap stops running we leave the flowers to condition for a couple of hours in a cool place.  At this point it is safe to incorporate the Narcissus with other mixed flowers in a bouquet or arrangement.   Don’t cut the stems again otherwise the sap will start to run again and contaminate your vase water and affect the other flowers.

Narcissus should be picked when the flowers are still tight and fairly green but their necks have turned towards 90 degrees rather than facing straight up.  They will have a long vase life of up to 10 days if cut at the right stage and properly conditioned.

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Varieties across the garden

Over nearly 25 years we have planted a huge range of Narcissus throughout the garden and I am afraid that the names of many have been lost in the mists of time.  Carol and I tend to disagree on which we like best but luckily there is a place for all of them.

Some of the more miniature daffodils such as ‘Jenny ‘ and the ever popular ‘Tête-à-tête’ (both Cyclamineus types showing the characteristics of Narcissus cyclamineus) are establishing themselves beautifully in the front of the borders.  As mentioned earlier, the larger trumpet varieties look wonderful in the orchard and woodland.

Miniature daffodil Jenny

Later in the spring the Pheasant Eye’s begin to emerge (Narcissus poeticus).  These have smaller and more delicate flowers and we find these particularly useful for cut flower arrangements.

Pheasant's Eye Narcissus (Narcissus poeticus type)
Pheasant’s Eye Narcissus (Narcissus poeticus type)

Although we like them all, one of our favourites has to be ‘Thalia’.  This is a multi-headed white Narcissus of the Triandrus type which show the characteristics of Narcissus triandrus.

Multiheaded Thalia (Triandrus type daffodil)
Multiheaded Thalia (Triandrus type daffodil)

More recently we have started to introduce ‘Bridal Crown’ and ‘Avalanche’ which both have small fragrant flowers and are of the Tazetta type (related to Narcissus tazetta).  As well as growing well in pots amongst the tulips and violas we have also planted some amongst newly planted roses giving a lovely spring show as the rose bushes begin to break (see: New additions to our garden of Roses and 3 fragrant roses for Autumn).

Narcissus Avalanche (multiheaded Tazetta daffodil)
Narcissus Avalanche (multiheaded Tazetta daffodil)

Family:  Amaryllidaceae

Floriography (the language of flowers):  Self-love ²

And finally a little poetry…

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

William Wordsworth (1815)

Further reading

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

² “The language of flowers” by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (ISBN 978-0-230-75258-0)


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.

Six shades of yellow on Saturday

April is definitely a month of fresh spring yellow and today’s Six-on-Saturday post celebrates some of the plants that are currently at their best here in Warwickshire.


One: April would not be April without daffodils.  Common as they are there are some charming miniature varieties out at the moment in the garden.  This one is ‘Jenny’.

Miniature daffodil Jenny


Two:  The tulips do seem to be late getting going this year.  However, the cold winter weather should yield strong, tall blooms for cutting.  For us one of the earliest tulips to appear are the Kaufmanniana varieties.  This one is ‘Ice Stick’.  It stands tall, swaying strongly in the wind and stands up to the April showers well.  Whereas many of our tulips have to be treated as annuals and replanted each year, Ice Stick seems to be more long lasting coming back well year after year.

Kaufmanniana Tulip Ice Stick


Three:  My third choice is a plant that is so widely grown that it is often overlooked.  But, at this time of year the Forsythia is in its prime.  The large shrubs create a spectacular show that brightens the spring garden without fail.

Forsythia


Four:  Next on my list is a charming tree that always makes me smile, is rather fleeting, but is instantly recognisable – Pussy Willow.

Pussy Willow


Five:  The small violas we planted in the Autumn have been flowering quietly for most of the winter.  Now the temperatures are beginning to rise they are starting to grow away strongly and will continue flowering well into early summer.

Viola


Six:  My final choice from the garden is another type of tulip which only started to flower late this week, Greigii Tulip ‘Vanilla Cream’.  This fresh, pale yellow early tulip is again one that seems to be more perennial than most coming back strongly each year.

Greigii Tulip Vanilla Cream

It has actually been quite difficult to limit myself to six this week.  Also out at the moment are the primroses, yellow hyacinths and a host of other narcissus varieties.  Indeed some of the so called ‘weeds’ like dandelions and celandine are giving a wonderful show in the more wild parts of the garden.


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