At this time of year there is so much to do all around the garden. There are seeds to sow, seedlings to prick out, small plants to harden off ready for planting out and lots of growing weeds to keep on top of.
BUT, it is equally important to just take a breath, grab a cup of tea and a piece of cake and just soak up the beauty all around us at this time of year.
There have been times this week with the sun out when I have felt I should reach for the camera and just capture the moment. Spring in all its glory.
Native foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) grow freely around our garden and we love them. In general we are very happy to just allow them to grow and flower where they seed themselves and if they are in the wrong place they are easily moved or removed.
However, there are also some named varieties which add a real wow factor to a herbaceous border. Two of our favourites are ‘Elsey Kelsey’ (pictured above) and ‘Apricot Delight’.
Foxgloves are biennials and we would normally sow these around the time of the summer solstice and grow them on for planting out around the autumn equinox. The plants will then grow on and establish in the flower beds over winter to flower the following May and June. We find them very trouble free and not generally attacked by pests or diseases.
Elsey Kelsey (also known as Pam’s Choice) has huge long spikes of flower which reach 7-8 feet in our garden. The white flowers have densely speckled maroon throats and are loved by the bees who are constant visitors.
Last year we planted Elsey Kelsey in front of a climbing pale yellow rose (Rose ‘The Pilgrim‘) which created a stunning combination.
Also in the same bed we used a combination of the Aquilegia ‘Blue Star’, the pale yellow Sisyrinchium striatum and a deep blue/purple lupin (probably ‘The Governor’) to extend the colour palette towards the front of the border.
A second named variety of foxglove worth mentioning is ‘Apricot Delight’ (also known as ‘Sutton’s Apricot’). This is not quite as tall as Elsey Kelsey but has really dense spikes of pale apricot flowers. It still works well when combined with climbing roses (here shown with Rose ‘Constance Spry‘). In my view the pale pink and apricot sit beautifully together and are complemented by the brick red lupin ‘My Castle’.
The Latin name for the genus Digitalis comes from the Latin digitus meaning ‘a finger’. Each individual flower on the spike resembles the finger of a glove. According to Seedaholic (where there is a wealth of fascinating titbits on a wide range of flowers) the English name of Foxglove does not come from foxes but from the phrase ‘folk’s gloves’ meaning belonging to the fairy folk. Another common name is fairy thimbles (British flowers names can be so enchanting!).
It is worth noting that the whole foxglove plant is extremely poisonous and it is worth wearing gloves when handling plants or seeds.
A new one for us in the garden this year. It is around 12 inches high and really very pretty with its lemon yellow flowers with darker yellow centres. It is slightly ‘demure’ in the way the head is held. Almost shy and apologetic.
We bought these as ‘Pipit’ but they certainly don’t look the same. Pipit is lemon yellow with a white centre and as a Jonquilla shouldn’t be out this early (late Feb/ early March).
However these really are lovely. Any ideas on the variety?
For much of February this year we have not been able to get out in the garden but when the sun shines and the wind drops it is a lovely surprise to just wander around the garden and see what is emerging. There is a surprising amount in flower when you look closely.
This time of year is of course snowdrop time and once again they have given a spectacular show all around the garden. The different species flower at different times and provide a long season of interest in the cold winter months. Each year we split some clumps and move them ‘in the green’ to establish new areas for future years. This year we have recreated a bed near the orchard which had to be cleared last summer to make space for my daughter’s wedding marquee. Although I had to swallow hard at the time it has given me a chance to start something new. We have created a mass of snowdrops under the trees and placed two new specimen shrubs, an Elaeagnus x ebbingei MARYLAND ‘Abrela’ and a Nandinadomestica which look great together even though the plants are still relatively small.
Many of the February plants emerge in the woodland areas taking advantage of the daylight that exists before the trees come into leaf. The Cyclamen coum and the earliest crocus, narcissi and primulas all complement the snowdrops beautifully. The dark, almost black, leaves of Ophiopogon planiscapus also look great with the snowdrops and I might try and develop this combination more in future years.
One of my favourites are the exquisite Iris reticulata which we grow in small bulb bowls outside over winter. We find that growing in terracotta bowls is more successful as they don’t seem to do well in our cold damp winter soil. This mid-blue variety is ‘Alida’. Looking at the catalogue it says it is fragrant but I haven’t been down on my hands and knees to sniff yet. They really are a harbinger of spring and warmer days to come.
Another hardy plant that comes back without fail each year are the Hellebores. Although we have quite a few (!) we are always in the market for a few more when we take a trip out the the garden centre. Below is one of the latest, Helleborusorientalis ‘Hello White’. Unlike many of the others which have large blousy flowers this one is quite petite but with beautiful markings on the inner petals.
It is not all about bulbs and corms however. Our winter flowering cherry is still in bloom and the two Prunus incisa ‘Paean’ by the patio steps shine out on even the darkest day. Most importantly they can be enjoyed from the warmth of the lounge. Although these can grow quite vigorously during the summer we prune them back hard each year to maintain the neat shape either side of the steps.
I started by indicating we had not got out in the garden much over February but looking back we have completed two major winter projects ready for the new year. The first of these is a long flower bed that runs through a small copse/shrubbery up towards the fruit cage and orchard. The new bed stretches from deep shade, through partial shade and into full sun at the orchard end. It will give us the chance to divide, move and repot much of the Hosta and fern collection and also introduce a wide range of large architectural plants at the sunny end. A really exciting project. Although we have plenty of garden to look after we just can’t resist a new opportunity to plant more plants!
The other winter project has been the dismantling and reconstruction of a second-hand glasshouse kindly offered to us by our neighbours. This took a couple of months to move, clean and repair but it has been sited in the vegetable patch and gives us plenty of space for bringing on new plants. The existing glasshouse, although in the sun 25 years ago when we put it up, is somewhat shaded now by neighbouring trees. This is in fact quite helpful in the hot summer months as it keeps the temperatures down but it is also helpful to now have a second glasshouse in full light.
This February review would not be complete without a mention of the wonderful Daphne odora . This slow growing shrub is close to the back door of the house and its scent is just wonderful. A deep breadth in each time we go out into the garden really lifts the spirits..
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.
With storms Dudley, Eunice and Franklin all taking their toll on us in the United Kingdom at the moment I thought it would be nice to take a trip back in time to summer this year when the days were warm and the air was still.
This video is a collation of snippets that I took at the time but have not yet done anything with. So, a wet and windy Sunday afternoon in February seemed the ideal time to sit down, bring them together and remember the scents and colour of summer.
This short video takes a meander around the gardens close to the house, the new twilight garden that we have been developing, the wild flower meadow experiment that we sowed in the spring, the Paul’s Himalayan Musk in its prime clambering high into the silver birches, the old rose garden with its spectacular 8 foot foxgloves, the orchard which we were preparing for my daughter’s wedding and into the formal flower garden where the climbing and shrub roses were in full bloom.
Enjoy a slow wander around the flower beds and listen to the birds.
Post script: In the last few months my aging laptop has found it increasingly difficult to process and edit large video files. On this occasion I tried out a free service in the cloud called moviemakeronline.com which you access through a standard web browser. It was simple to use for the kind of editing and merging that I needed to do and in particular did not need me to have a powerful PC. No software needs to be downloaded and installed and for me it worked a treat.
The weather this spring in the UK (2021) has been quite extreme at times. April was a very dry month followed by a very wet and sometimes cold May. Now in June we are back to humid heat with little rain but there is still plenty of moisture in the ground. All this has resulted in a huge explosion of growth right across the garden.
We have grown Lupins for many years but I have been struck this year but the sheer size and exuberance of the plants we have around the garden. The top picture shows the brick red ‘My Castle’ in the foreground with the yellow ‘Chandelier’ and white ‘Noble Maiden’ behind. All of this is nicely framed by another member of the pea family, the Wisteria.
Many of the lupins we have around the garden are Russell Hybrids from the ‘Band of Nobles’ series. The species Lupinus polyphyllus is a native of western North America. It commonly grows wild along streams and creeks and prefers a moist habitat 1.
Lupinus polyphyllus was originally introduced into the United Kingdom by David Douglas in the 1820’s (2) . A century later George Russell started to develop the Russell hybrids with the aim of creating flower spikes that we denser, larger and more colourful than the original species. These were first displayed to the public at the RHS show in 1937 and have been a popular garden favourite ever since.
Over the last few years we have been developing our collection by growing from seed. It has proved to be a very successful way of growing a significant number of sturdy plants at little cost. In general we have sown the seeds in spring, potted up and grown on for about 12 months before planting out in the flower garden. The bigger the potted plant the quicker they seem to establish in the wilds of the flower garden where they have to compete with neighbouring plants and fend off the slugs. Most of the plants in these pictures are probably now three or four years old.
I particularly like lupins when they are planted in groups to make a strong vertical statement in a large bed. The range of colours is very wide and this allows you to mix and compliment these plants with a wide range of other border perennials.
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.
One of my favourite moments of spring has to be the flowering of Amelanchier lamarckii on the edge of the orchard. It is admittedly rather fleeting, flowering for a couple of weeks at most, but it is an absolute delight.
Originally from eastern Canada it was probably brought over to France in the second half of the nineteenth century but is now widespread across Europe in both gardens and in the wild 1 . It is also known as juneberry, serviceberry and snowy mespilus.
It is a small to medium sized tree with a light, open habit. In spring the fresh young leaves are an unusual mix of bronze and green shades which create a striking background to the white, star shaped flowers. Later in the year this plant also provides good red autumn colour as the leaves prepare to fall.
Our tree sits on the edge of the orchard on the north side of a mixed shrubbery. It seems to require very little maintenance and returns to please without fail year after year. These pictures were all taken on 16th April 2021 when it was in its full glory. Rather conveniently it flowers at the same time as the yellow Berberis darwinii and I think the combination works really well together.
In my view no garden should be without this very special tree.
I am definitely a lover of spring daffodils in the garden but I don’t think we have grown Jonquil daffodils before. Narcissus jonquilla ‘Intrigue’ really is a delightful addition.
It is a very tidy, multi-headed daffodil with a light and sweet scent growing to about 30cm high. It seems to have flowered slightly later than the bulk of the other daffodils in the garden but before the pheasant eyes. Whereas the others are now going over and need dead heading, this variety is new and fresh and, as stated in the catalogues, flowers from April through May.
When it started to bloom around the 16 April 2021 the flowers were all yellow (see below).
Ten days later on 27th April the expected white cup had developed creating a striking and delicate bloom.
Because it flowers slightly later (in what I consider to be ‘tulip time’ rather than daffodil time) it has rather pleasingly combined with the blue iris that we have in the same bed making a lovely combination at the front of the house.
In the wild Narcissus jonquilla come from central and southern Spain and southern and eastern Portugal where it grows in damp meadows and along river banks 1 . Our soil is generally very wet in the winter and can bake hard in the summer so only time will tell whether they will settle in and thrive. They are such a lovely find and I really hope that they do.