Six blue flowers for March

Many months of the year seem to have an associated colour.  For me March is definately a yellow month full of bright daffodils and pale primroses in the hedgerows.  However whilst wandering around the garden this week it struck me that there are also many blue flowers in the beds and containers.  In many ways it is this colour contrast that brings the garden to life.

My Six-on-Saturday for this week highlights a number of purple-blue and pure blue flowers which I’ve spotted around the garden.  They range in size enormously from the relatively small to larger in-your-face blooms but all have their place with many surviving the long winter and returning fresh in spring each year.


1.  Viola

Planted in the autumn, these violas have been quietly flowering for most of the winter.  As the days grow warmer the plants are now developing further and beginning to develop their spring show.

P1030935 Viola


2.  Chionodoxa

These tiny blue flowered bulbs seem to be settling into specific parts the garden.  They seem to like what I would term ‘the woodland edge’ at the base of our deciduous hedges and at the edges of the woodland copse.   Much like the primroses, which like the same conditions, they die back in the summer when they would have to compete with other more luxuriant vegetation and quietly and reliably emerge again in early March.

These blue chionodoxa sit very beautifully with the pale yellow of the primroses.

P1030930 Chinodoxa and Primrose


3. Hyacinth

Now for something completely different.  Planted in colourful pots of compost last autumn, these hyacinths were overwintered in a cool greenhouse to give them that little bit of extra protection.  They are now coming into their own and provide a lovely scent as you walk across the patio.

P1030923 Hyacinth


4.  Pulmonaria (variety long forgotten!)

This blue variety was probably planted by us over 20 years ago and it returns reliably every year.  It is not a large, spectacular or showy plant but I always notice it in the flower bed at this time of year.  It is charming how the blue and pink flowers exist together on the same plant.  The flowers open pink and then soon change to blue.  The foliage which is covered in small white dots is also an interesting characteristic of this genus.

P1030920 Pulmonaria


5.  Periwinkle (Vinca major)

Some might call this a weed but it does make wonderful ground cover in some quite challenging parts of the garden.  For me the good looking pure blue flowers are well worth their place.

Periwinkle


6. Crocus ‘Victor Hugo’

Crocus naturalise very freely in the grass here and can provide a surprisingly long period of interest if you plant a range of colours.  For us the yellow crocus seem to appear first followd by the purples and whites.  We seem to have much more success by planting them in the grass at the base of trees where they can remain undisurbed.  In the flower beds I find I am always digging them up as I clear and weed throughout the year.

We also enjoy them in small patio containers close to the house to provide early spring colour.  This variety, Victor Hugo, has been particualrly successful this year.

P1030912 Crocus Victor Hugo


The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to be inspired by what other plant lovers are enjoying this weekend.

Crinum x powelli ‘Album’

Every year we enjoy searching through the catalogues and are nearly always tempted to try something a little different that we have not grown before.  In March 2018 we bought three Crinum x powelli ‘Album’ bulbs to see if we could successfully grow these dramatic plants with their large white trumpet flowers.

Although they are classed as fully hardy we thought we would be cautious and plant them in pots at first.  This would allow us to move them into the polytunnel in winter to give them some additional protection.  Crinum bulbs are simply enormous and so we had to get hold of some suitably large terracotta pots. We planted the bulbs in a mix of ⅔ John Innes No 3 compost and ⅓ perlite. We used perlite (instead of grit) to add extra drainage but also to reduce the overall weight.

Crinum bulb with 2p piece for scale
Huge Crinum bulb with 2p piece for scale

The plants grew well in the first year producing a profusion of large strappy leaves but no flowers.  We were warned that we might need to be patient (something we find a bit difficult!) and allow them to settle in.  Last year however, in early August, we were rewarded with the most wonderful display of large white trumpet flowers.  We had up to eight flowers per stem, opening in succession, on tall study stems.  They looked wonderful amongst the dahlias and blue agapanthus.

Over winter we have been protecting the pots in our cold polytunnel and I came across them yesterday as I was moving a number of small fruit trees.  They look comfortably dormant at the moment but it struck me that it might be timely to read up on how to prepare them for the coming season.

Anna Pavord’s book ‘Bulb’¹ advises that in the wild Crinums grow on the banks of streams or along lake shores. They require full sun but also require moist but well drained, organic rich soil.  Bearing in mind that the books also indicate that they hate root disturbance I think that I will carefully scrap away the top layer of soil and and give them a top dressing of fresh compost ready for the new year.

As the plants grow to 36 inches in height I think I probably need to be better at feeding and watering them next year.  I must admit that once the summer is in full swing we don’t always feed plants as much as we probably should.  However, I think I must try harder if these Crinums are to have all they need to grow their large leaves, flower profusely and maintain the bulb for the following year.

These are such lovely plants and if you have the space I would certainly recommend that you give them a go.

P1030237 Crinum
Picture taken on 3 August

Further information

Family: Amaryllidaceae

Hybrid: Crinum x powellii is a hybrid cross between C. moorei and C. bulbispermum

Further reading

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

 

 

 

 

 

Relaxed meadow-style planting

One of the best things to do on a cold, wet December day is to think back to those sunny days in the summer and reflect on what worked well in the garden.  Sometimes it is a vista or combination of plants that have matured gracefully and now perform well year after year.  At other times it is just a moment when some of the short lived annuals all come together and you stand and look and admire.  Within a couple of weeks the garden will have moved on.

In one quadrant of the new flower garden this year we allowed a number of self sown annuals to develop whilst some of the new perennials were being planted and growing on.  The annuals included Love-in-the-mist (both the blues of Nigella damascena and the white Nigella hispanica ‘African bride’), Corncockle (Agrostemma githago) and some beautiful mixed colour pink poppies with their thin tissue paper petals (Papaver rhoeas ‘Falling in Love’).  This informal combination grew freely amongst the tall biennial Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus ‘Auricular Eyed’).

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The effect was charming and created a relaxed ‘meadow-style’ bed.   Along with the mass of different colours and the texture of the fresh green foliage the bed also had movement.  The different components swayed and reacted to the breeze adding an additional dimension.

All of these annuals cut well and, if appropriately conditioned, allow you to enjoy these flowers for many days in a vase indoors.

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Nigella damascena (Love-in-the-mist)

The pictures here were all taken in the first week of June.  It was a sweet spot when all the flowers were emerging together and in their prime.  As well as the overall effect I also like to look at the detail of the individual flowers.  The tiny, delicate rows of fine dots in the Corncockle and the blue wash in the centre of the Nigella hispanica are particularly lovely.

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Agrostemma githago (Corncockle)

At its peak this meadow style planting was certainly a triumph.  However, I think it is worth highlighting that it is relatively short lived.  This is certainly a downside in a garden where you want to try and create year-round interest.  Once they have set seed the show is over and you do need to have something planted that will follow on.  If you want a show next year you do of course have to leave the seed heads to mature and set seed.  The Nigella seed heads look particularly striking and are well worth leaving to add interest to the late summer border.

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Nigella hispanica ‘African Bride’

My conclusion therefore is that whilst self sown annuals do indeed provide a spectacular show, in a garden setting you do need to set them amongst other follow-on perennials or small shrubs that can continue the performance into July, August and the autumn.

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Papaver rhoeas (Falling in Love)

Tour around the garden in late June

I have really enjoyed getting to grips with the garden this year.   Having given up our day jobs we now have much more time to work on the projects we have been thinking about for some time.

There is still a great deal to do (a garden is always evolving and changing) but I thought it would be nice to capture the end of June by offering a virtual garden tour.  I have spent many happy hours simply wandering around smelling the roses and admiring the colour combinations that appear.

The tour takes you around the garden at the back of the house, down the old rose garden to the vegetable garden and then into the orchard.  We then walk through the small woodland copse into the top of the new flower garden (now in its second year).  Look out here for the garden visitor that was caught on camera.

After a look around the new flower garden we move back towards the house to admire the magnificant climbing roses, the circular garden near the house and then finally the garden and views to the front.

I warn you now this is not intended to be a glossy video that hides all the ‘sub-optimal’ bits of the garden!  My intention is to capture the essence at a moment in time and love the way that the video picks out all the bird song.  Hope you enjoy the tour.

(You can either watch the video through the embedded video below on this page or click here to view it on YouTube itself.)

 

Rose of the day – Prince Jardinier

We planted a number of bare root Prince Jardinier roses in the new flower garden last year.  For this garden we have deliberately chosen roses with a powerful scent that we can enjoy as we move around this area in the summer months.  Prince Jardinier is certainly performing as expected and has a lovely perfume.

We have grouped these roses with three other varieties (A whiter shade of pale, White perfumella and Sweet parfum de Provence) to give a mix of deep pink through to white.  Prince Jardinier has delicate pink outer petals with a transition to a more intense pink centre.

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Six star plants for early June

This week’s Six on Saturday highlights six very different plants that have caught my attention this week as I have worked in the garden. A few showers of rain have brought the garden to life without damaging the blooms.


One: Nemesia cheiranthus ‘Masquerade’ (Long eared Nemesia)

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This is a first for us this year.  It has a tiny flower, perhaps not much bigger than your thumbnail, but in only a few short weeks it has grown up from seed (sown on 25th March) and is already flowering profusely.  We have included this in our patio pots and it seems to be settling in nicely.  As well as being a charming little flower it is the movement of the stems in the gentle breeze which adds to its character.


Two:  Lupins

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We have a range of lupins across the garden but this one (name unknown) is particularly striking in the old rose garden.  It is a scrumptious colour and goes so beautifully with the foxgloves.


Three:  Nigella damascena (Love-in-a-mist)

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We have grown Nigella damascena and Nigella hispanica for a number of years to include in our country flower bouquets.  It has now seeded itself across much of the flower garden and we are happy to allow it to develop amongst more established plants.  It is very easy to weed out if we have too much of it growing in the wrong place.  Both the flowers and the resulting seed heads make excellent additions to any bouquet.

We have also seen a significant increase in goldfinches in the garden in recent years.  Whether this is a result of the increased availability of niger seeds who knows but it is a happy coincidence.


Four:  Aquilegia ‘Blue Star’

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As with Nigella, we love to let the Aquilegias seed themselves throughout the cottage garden.  They are definitely an important part of our spring garden but they do tend to be consistently in the pink/purple ‘granny’s bonnet’ range.

To introduce a slightly different form and colour range we sowed Aquilegia ‘Blue Star’ seeds last year and put the plants out last autumn.  These have established well and are now producing these lovely delicate flowers.  For some reason these choicer varieties have tended to be short lived perennials and have not always lasted very long in the garden.


Five:  Clematis ‘Voluceau’

P1030113 Clematis Voluceau

Over nearly 25 years we have planted a large number of different clematis throughout the garden.  Some have absolutely romped away whilst others have only had very limited vigour.

I don’t recall seeing this Clematis ‘Voluceau’ for many years but Carol assures me it has been there all along. This year it has sprung into life. It was probably planted over 15 years ago and has gently chugged way over the years without any great show.  It may be that we have recently cleared, improved and fed the rather tired bed that it sits in.  I am not sure the picture really shows off the real-life velvety plum purple of this variety.  It has a really rich colour.


Six:  Astrantia

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Another favourite from our commercial flower growing days.  These intricate, pin-cushion, rose coloured flowers are always a joy.  They seem to like our soil and come back reliably year after year as long as you keep the weeds at bay.


The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to be inspired by what other plant lovers are enjoying this weekend.

Rose of the day – Constance Spry

One of the most spectacular roses in the old rose garden is the pink climbing rose Constance Spry.  It is heavily scented and produces masses of beautiful blooms.  The plant is now some 15 years old and performs wonderfully year after year if pruned annually.  It is certainly quite a vigorous rose and needs plenty of space- it is currently over 2 metres high and at least the same across.

Rose' Constance Spry' with Foxglose 'Elsey Kelsey' in the foreground
Rose’ Constance Spry’ with Foxglose ‘Elsey Kelsey’ in the foreground

Rose of the day – Ena Harness

Today’s rose from the garden is the large flowered climbing rose Ena Harkness. It has striking Hybrid Tea crimson-red flowers that are enormous and seems to have done particularly well this year.

One of the down sides of this rose is that the flower heads are very large and seem to be too large for the flower stalks to support.  Because of this the flower heads do tend to hang downwards and face the ground rather than show themselves to full effect.  However, this is still a very lovely rose.

P1030079 Ena Harkness

Six on Saturday – June begins

There are so many lovely things happening in the garden at the moment that it has proved really difficult to decide what to include here today.  I’ve tried in this six to simply give an idea of six contrasting parts of the garden.


One:  Hesperis matronalis (Sweet Rocket)

I am delighted with how this bed of sweet rocket has performed this year.  Growing to about 4 feet in height this mix of the white and purple plants has flowered for weeks.  As a biennial planted last June it is well worth the effort and the space.  The scent, particularly in the evening, just hangs in the air and always strikes you as you pass the summer house.

It is nearly time to start sowing again so I can enjoy it all again next year.  I usually sow biennials around the summer solstice so that the plants are large enough to plant out by the autumn equinox.

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Two:  Cornus kousa

This Japanese (or Chinese) dogwood is a small tree that seems to start the year well and then later in the year starts to struggle a little.  Perhaps its position in the garden is not ideal but it has survived for many years now.  It is particularly striking at the moment and is ‘flowering’ well.  I say ‘flowering’ as it is the crisp white bracts against the fresh green leaves that produce the show rather than the small yellow-green flowers that are rather inconspicuous.  I think it looks really good against the grey-green leaves of the eucalyptus behind.  All planned of course!

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Three:  The new flower garden

Regular visitors to the blog will know that we have retired from commercial flower growing and are converting the old (rather utilitarian) production space into a new more aesthetically pleasing flower garden.  It has been a lot of hard work but this year it is really taking off.

The Chandelier (yellow) and Noble Maiden (white) lupins sown from seed last year have established well and look wonderful.  Here they are planted amongst dutch iris in blues, whites and yellows and set off by the lime green of the Euphorbia oblongata which seeds itself freely around the plot but sets off other plants beautifully.

The delphiniums, Aconitum and roses are all budding up and can be seen here as well and will create the follow on display.

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Four:  Anthriscus sylvestris in the copse

Some may consider Cow Parsley a weed but we love it, encouraging it to grow freely in the dappled shade of the woodland areas of the garden.  It is a delight to walk through this area in the early morning sun.

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Five:   Amsonia

One of our pleasures in life, when we are not gardening, is to visit other peoples gardens!  This time last year we came across Amsonia when the village of Wasperton opened its gardens in aid of the local church.  We just had to have one but struggled to find it in any of the local nurseries.

However, as usual, Avondale nurseries came up trumps.  This nursery in Baginton on the outskirts of Coventry is always worth a visit.  Take some money with you though as I promise you will be tempted with something.

Having found Amsonia at last we could not buy just one.  I am happy to report that both have survived the winter and started to flower.  I am really looking forward to seeing them develop over the years.

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Six:  Valerian

I have always known Valerian as Centranthus rubra but Wikipedia seems to list it as Valeriana officinalis at the moment.  It is very common and easy to grow but placed in the right location it can create a stunning display especially when you mix up the slightly different shades of red, pink and white.

Here we have a patch in a very dry area of poor soil in hot sun just above the garage.  It creates a beautiful cottage garden display at this time of year growing amongst the self sown Aquilegia, the Bearded Iris and Oriental Poppies.  The white of the Spirea immediately behind provides a lovely back drop.

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

Early March – a quiet wander around the garden in early spring

After an unseasonably warm February we are now back to a more traditional March menu of sunshine and showers and windy days.  In between showers it is nice to just wander and browse.  Every day now there is something different emerging.  Green shoots are visible on many perennials and the peonies that we moved in the autumn to a new home in more sunshine are all looking very promising.

At this time of year it is the little things that matter.  There is no full-on show of summer flowers but the small clumps of bulbs and other spring flowers that come back year after year are always very special.

It will be interesting to see whether the warm February will bring on the spring flowers earlier this year.  These photographs were all taken on 11th March 2019.

Whilst sitting enjoying a well earned cuppa, it struck me how wonderful the two flowering cherries (Prunus incisa ‘Paean’) that flank the patio steps were looking.  They are in full flower and certainly the significant pruning that we gave them last year after flowering to get them back into shape has done them no harm at all.

Even when not in leaf or flower the old twisted wisteria stems add real character to this patio area.

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In the more shaded areas and in the top copse the primroses are now beginning to emerge taking over from the snowdrops that seemed to go over quickly this year in the warm weather.  One of the jobs for the next week or so will be to lift and divide some of the snowdrop clumps whilst they are in the green.  The snowdrop walk in the top copse has developed well but the individual clumps look ready to be divided and spread around to develop the walk even further.

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Also in the woodland walk the first of the Anemone blanda are starting to emerge.  We planted these some years ago now but although they seem to come back year after year they do not seem to have multiplied up to any great extent.  They appear to be very delicate but seem to withstand the wind, rain and cold.

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Somewhat unexpectedly we have found that some of the Anemone coronaria corms that we grew when we were growing commercially for Honey Pot Flowers have survived well over the winter and are flowering again.  When growing for sale we tended to replant each year to ensure that we had good quality long stemmed flowers.  This is less important in a private garden and if they continue to survive and establish more naturally they will be a great addition to the new flowering garden.

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Regular readers will know that we are transforming what used to be our flower farm into a more aesthetically pleasing flower garden where we can just enjoy growing flowers for ourselves rather than for sale.  The structural work is now all complete and the formal hedge is beginning to establish.  We think it has all survived the hot dry summer last year but only time will tell.   There is plenty more scope for plants that will give more winter interest in this part of the garden and we are currently planting a new area of colourful Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ and the red stemmed Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ on the moist bank at the north end.

One of our favourite spring flowers that seem to thrive here in Warwickshire are the Hellebores.  They seed themselves freely around the garden and are pretty trouble free.  It is such a pleasure to bend down and lift their heads to see the beautiful markings on the inside of the flowers.

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Another plant that is flowering its socks off is the perennial wallflower (Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’).   Although we always admire this plant in other people’s gardens, especially when combined with striking orange colours later in the year, it has been some years since we have had one in our garden.   It was planted last year in an open position in full sun and has established very well, remaining evergreen with some flower throughout most of the winter.  It is now getting into its stride as the weather warms up.  Luckily it is very easy to propagate from cuttings and we have a good number of young plants growing well in the greenhouse that will allow us to create an excellent show across the flower garden and create some continuity in different beds.

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Not much is happening in the orchard yet although the young apricot is beginning to flower.  The buds of the pear blossom are beginning to swell and new green leaves are just emerging on the quince. Whether it is just too early for the apricot fruit to set remains to be seen but we were very successful last year despite the bitterly cold weather.  Thankfully all the orchard pruning is now complete and the new tripod ladder that I wrote about in an earlier article has helped enormously (both with pruning the orchard and bringing down an enormous Pyracantha to a manageable height).

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Apricot blossom

Many of the evergreen foliage plants are certainly earning their place in the garden at this time of year.  The neatly clipped Lonicera nitada hedges, the evergreen Hebe, Skimmia, Pittisporum and trailing ivy all create structure throughout the garden and have done all winter.  Alongside these green shades new leaves are emerging.  Very striking is the rich golden foliage of Spirea japonica ‘Goldflame’ which shines out in the spring sunshine.

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The stars of the show at this time though are the bulbs.  Small clumps of the miniature narcissus are returning like old friends in flower beds throughout the garden.

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Hyacinths that we grew in pots in previous years and could not bear to simply throw away are now establishing themselves and creating a lovely spring show amongst the evergreen shrubs.

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Even more exciting are the delicate flowers of the Chinodoxa that we are slowly building up around the garden.  Their delicate pink and blue flowers seem to be establishing well at the base of the long hawthorn hedgerow and amongst the primroses on a sunny bank in the top copse.

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I could go on!  This is always an exciting time of year and there will be plenty to talk about over the coming weeks.