We are not really sure of the species or variety of this Iris. It is a striking tall bulbous Iris that flowers now at the end of April through to early May. This is much earlier than the Dutch Iris (Iris x hollandica) that tend to flower in late May into June.
The flowers start out yellow and white but as they age the white parts seem to turn blue. The flowers are held on strong straight stems and average about 80cm in height. Again much taller and more sturdy than a Dutch Iris. It holds well as a cut flower.
My guess is that they are from the Xiphium section of bulbous iris but are unlikely to be the Spanish Iris (Iris xiphium) which is said to flower in June. Any ideas welcome!
Without an identification we have given it the name Mollie’s Iris as we were given a clump of the bulbs by our former neighbour Mollie Barber. Many of our plants have an association with a person kind enough to share their beautiful plants or perhaps a garden or location where we purchased something on our travels. Such memories bring an extra dimension to a garden as it grows and develops each year.
This lily flowered tulip has been one of my favourites over recent years. The rich deep burgundy red colour is really striking. The neat green foliage is fresh and spring green. Most importantly they are well behaved and the flowerheads stand straight on strong stems.
Lasting Love is in full flower today (20th April) and soon will be joined in nearby tubs by the variety ‘Marilyn’ which is creamy white with a broad stripe of strawberry red.
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..
Each year we try to extend the period of tulips in the garden by choosing a range of varieties that start flowering in late March and continue the show right through to late May. I reported in April on this year’s early tulips and now it is time to look at the successes and failures of the mid-season varieties – and there have certainly been both!
It has been a strange year so far with a very dry April followed now by a very wet May. The other problem has been that some of the varieties we ordered have proved to be the wrong thing and this has certainly upset the colour combinations and mixes that we had hoped to create.
One specific problem that we had was with a mass of bulbs that were supposed to be Menton Exotic. Menton Exotic is a peachy pink, double variety but what emerged to our horror were these bright yellow/orange blooms of a similar structure but very different colour.
We were given a complete refund but having nurtured them all winter protecting them from the mice, voles and squirrels they were a bit of a disappointment. In the right place, mixed with an appropriate mix of other shades they would have been lovely and we have in fact now grown to enjoy them after the initial shock. I have no idea what variety they are.
One of the real successes of this year was the variety Tulip ‘Lasting Love’. It is such a sumptuous colour and was a real pleasure to have in the garden. It has proved to be long lasting and well behaved despite the heavy rains of May this year.
‘Lasting Love’ works extremely well when backed with evergreen grey foliage. Here it is set off by a new Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Silver Ball’ which we planted last summer when we totally renovated this particular bed to make a ‘moon garden‘. As an aside we have been very pleased with how this Pittosporum variety has kept its shape and colour during the winter and is it growing away well again this spring.
A second combination that has worked well for us this year is ‘Havran’ and ‘Slawa’. Both tulips flowered together (sometimes a problem when you try new combinations) and were of a similar height and temperament. They were fresh and tidy for a long period and stood up well to the very strong winds and rain we had at one time.
In previous years we lost a lot of bulbs to the squirrels and mice when we planted them directly in the ground in November. This year we decided to grow more in large containers and protect them with a narrow gauge, strong wire mesh. This has worked really well and we have lost very few this year. Certainly something we will do again I think.
I 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.
Although the daffodils are still providing colour in the garden they are definitely beginning to go over now. The next bulbs to perform will be the tulips and the first early tulips are now coming into their own. Here are five early tulip varieties that are in their prime in our garden at the moment (9 April 2021).
Tulip Van Eijk Mixed
Van Eijk Mixed provides a sumptuous array of colour. The flowers sit on strong sturdy stems that have held up well against the strong winds we have had at times this spring. They are looking particularly nice against the emerging red foliage of the roses.
Tulip Haute Couture
This is a short stocky tulip that seems to work very well in pots by the front door where you can look down on them. The powdery yellow is very attractive and the flowers sits neatly amongst these interesting mottled leaves.
Most tulips do not seem to be perennial in our garden and we tend to replant new bulbs each year. Apeldoorn is an exception however and these seem to return each year in the relatively dry conditions under our rose arches. They are very attractive planted amongst white multi-headed Thalia narcissus
Tulips Pink Prince and Flaming Prince
We have planted these two varieties together in six terracotta pots on the front steps down towards the lane. They make a great entrance for visitors (lockdown permitting) as they come up the steep steps with the blooms set against the grey foliage at eye level.
At this time of year it is the little things that you notice. Across the garden it is at times a bit like meeting up with old friends. Many of the bulbs, flowers, shrubs and trees have been in the garden for years yet many have remained hidden or quietly green all summer and winter. Now is their time to shine.
At the same time you have a raft of new arrivals that you planted at the end of last year that you hope have survived the cold, wet winter months. There is a quiet thrill of excitement when you see the first signs of growth breaking through the soil and the first leaves or blossom breaking.
Last Saturday (20 March) was the Spring Equinox here in the northern hemisphere. From now on the days will be longer than the nights, it is the official start of spring and summer is around the corner
To be honest for us the gardening year started sometime ago and the greenhouse, polytunnel, windowsills and dining room are already full of plants and seedlings.
However, the start of spring is a great time to stop and take stock of the beauty in the garden. The first of the pink cherry blossom is particularly pretty at the moment. Over the last couple of years we have been removing a rather thuggish Clematis montana from this tree and it has certainly responded this year with a beautiful show of delicate flowers.
Less successful this year have been the hellebores. Usually they are pretty fool proof providing a wonderful early spring show of colour. This year, for what ever reason, they have all looked very sad. Whether they were hit by a sudden cold spell at a critical time we don’t know but hopefully they will return with gusto next year.
Around the woodland edges there are a number of old favourites that bring a smile to my face as I do the morning tour with my springer spaniel. A simple clump of primroses, a cluster of miniture narsiccus, the small white flowers of the wood anemone Anemone nemorosa, the blues of Anemone blanda and a white Pulmonia ‘Bressingham White’ are all emerging again this year on schedule.
One of my favourite views at this time of year is the view across the orchard. The smell of the first cut of the orchard grass alone is wonderful and daffodils around the base of the apple trees shine out in the spring sunshine.
Over the last few years we have had an ongoing battle with the squirrels and voles who seemed to be intent on eating all our tulip bulbs. This year we have tried a different tack focusing our efforts on planting tulips in large pots and containers rather than in the ground. We invested in some fine metal mesh which we secured over all of the pots and it seems to have worked a treat. We have lost very few and hopefully now they are up we will be enjoying a great show in the next few months. The strong mesh, although not cheap, will also last us for many years and should be a sound investment.
Few tulips seem to last from one year to the next in our soil but we have had success with our very earliest kaufmanniana tulips. Variety ‘Ice Stick’ seems to be particularly successful and is the start of a long tulip season that will continue from now well into May.
There really are so many small and delicate little flowers emerging around the garden including Puschkinia and Chionodoxa to name but a few. The latter get their chance to flower before the grass at the base of the hedgerows starts to get going. We have found that the delicate light blue of Puschkinia sits beautifully with the darker blue of grape hyacinths and makes an attractive combination.
It wouldn’t be fair however to finish without a mention of the humble pansy. Planted before Christmas they look rather uninspiring for most of the winter but now they have come into their own.
I have written earlier about tough little plants that herald in the new year by flowering in the early spring. Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica is new to us but it is certainly one that I would now add to the list.
There is no doubt that it is tiny (probably just a couple of inches in our garden in Warwickshire at the moment) but it emerged and started flowering in mid-February and is still in full flower (March 8). The flowers and foliage come through together and it certainly needs a place to itself in the garden where it will not be crowded by bigger neighbours. Given space however it is absolutely charming.
Each plant has two leaves that sit either side of a single flower stem with 6 to 10 starry flowers. The white flowers have a delicate blue line down each petal with yellow stamens in the centre. They are members of the family Hyacinthaceae and have a similar appearance to scilla.
Puschkinia originate from Turkey and Lebanon where they grow in grasslands made damp by melting snow at 1900-3700m. They are happy in sun or light shade and should be planted 2 inches deep and 4 inches apart (1).
They certainly appear to be fully hardy having made it through a cold, wet winter here in the UK Midlands. The planting recommendation is that they do not like the ground to get too dry. As we have not grown them before we planted them in two different places in the garden to see where they would fair best.
The first group is in a bed in the flower garden that is in part shade and gets quite wet and boggy in the winter however stays moist all summer. Secondly we planted them in an area in full sun that is much better drained however remains wet all winter but is much drier in the summer. Time will tell where they will naturalise best but it is rather satisfying to report that at the moment both sets have survived the winter and are flowering well.
(1) “Bulb” by Anna Pavord (ISBN 978 1 84533 415 4)
It has been so windy this weekend that taking pictures for ‘Six on Saturday’ (and doing any gardening) has been a bit of a challenge. Luckily there has been surprisingly little damage. My other challenge has been limiting myself to just six as there are so many beautiful things emerging in the garden. Anyway here are my six for this week.
One: Anthericum liliago major (St Bernard’s Lily)
We saw this plant in the white garden at Bourton House Garden in the Cotswolds a couple of years ago and just had to have one. It is lovely and has established very well. Next year I think we will have a go at dividing it and spreading it further around the garden. If you get a chance to visit Bourton House Garden is excellent.
Two: Eleagnus commutata
This deciduous Eleagnus has been very successful growing in the long grass at the edge of the shrubbery. It is currently covered in sweet smelling yellow/cream flowers and fills the air with scent even on a windy day like today.
Three: Angelica archangelica
These plants have been a long term project. One of those spectacular, tall architectural plants that take a bit of time to grow. They are biennials and I originally sowed the seed early last year planting them out in the early autumn. This year they have come of age and the bees and insects absolutely love them. They are tall (nearly 6ft) and magestic plants that stand up well despite the strong winds we have had this weekend. I am pleased with them but I think my wife is less impressed!
This tree was originally grown from a small seedling. It took a little while to get going but now each year it is covered with masses of white, fragrant, pea-like flowers. It is something we always enjoy but beware it does have some seriously dangerous spikes.
Five: Dutch Iris ‘Red Ember’
As growers and former event florists I think we are both fans of dutch iris and typically grow the mixtures which are blue, white and yellow. This year we tried the variety ‘Red Ember’. It has a rather lovely exotic colour and I wouldn’t be surprised if we grow it again next year. What we do need to do I think is decide what other plants would complement it in the border at this time of year. Any views welcome.
Next for something completely different. Greenfinches (Carduellis chloris) have been in trouble in recent years and their numbers have declined across the UK due to disease. A recent decline in numbers has been linked to an outbreak of trichomonosis, a parasite-induced disease which prevents the birds from feeding properly.
Over the last couple of years we have heard the characteristic calls of greenfinches but they have remained high in the trees and rarely ventured closer into the garden. This year we seem to have a group of three (perhaps juveniles) that have been skipping around the shrubs in the garden together. Worth a place in the ‘six’ for this week I think.