Early February – spring is definitely on the horizon

Although some days remain cold and grey the garden is on the move. The green shoots of many bulbs are beginning to emerge from under the ground and there is an array of small, exquisite blooms to enjoy throughout the garden.

Without doubt the Snowdrops are in their prime in February. Over the years we have spread them around the garden here at Waverley and every year we have the pleasure of seeing them emerge (even though we have long forgotten where exactly we planted them all).

Over a number of years we have sought to create a snowdrop walk in the copse at the north end of the garden. The bulbs of the common snowdrop Galanthus nivalis that we lifted and divided in the green have established well and bulked up into substantial clumps. Each of these could probably be lifted again this year and spread out further under the trees.



It is always wise to stop and turn over some of these beautiful flowers. I was surprised to come across this double variety in the leaf litter of the woodland. We must have planted it deliberately in this position at some time in the past.


Some of my favourites are the larger, glaucus leaved Galanthus elwesii which tend to stand tall and bloom on much longer individual stems. They also start flowering soon after Christmas. This group contrast well with these dark hellebores that flower at the same time.


Similarly the naturalised snowdrops sit so comfortably with the first of the emerging primroses.


But it is not all about snowdrops at this time of year. The yellow crocus have now pushed their way through the winter lawn and as soon as the sun shines will open into their full glory.


Also complementing the snowdrops are these tiny pink blooms of Cyclamen coum surrounded by a carpet of their mottled green leaves.


The striking blue flowers of the Iris reticulata are also starting to emerge. We have tried to grow these in the flower beds but they do not seem to thrive in our cold damp winter soil. However, growing them in bowls of gritty compost seems to work well and they are a delight to see each year on the patio.


It certainly will not be long until more spring flowers begin to appear but for now it is the snowdrops that take centre stage all over the garden.



Tulip selections for 2019

Although it could be argued that the garden in November is winding down ready for winter it is in fact one of our busiest months for preparing for next seasons spring show.

We do have a lot of hardy perennial bulbs that return year after year but find that most of our tulips do not survive more than one season and do not flower well in their second year. 

Each year therefore we have great fun browsing the catalogues and selecting our colour combinations.  Our aim is to achieve a succession of flowering through the season and also have striking colour combinations at any moment in time.  It is not all about the tulips though and combining the tulips with wallflowers, alliums, violas, camassia and other spring blooms can create a much more interesting effect than tulips alone.

In 2018 the weather conditions were ‘challenging’ to say the least and this resulted in many of the tulips flowering at the same time and then only for a short period (see: https://honeypotflowers.wordpress.com/2018/05/06/tulips-2018-the-results-are-in/ ).  Hopefully this year will be more successful and we get an excellent show over a longer period. 

For 2019 we have selected and planted the following:

Flower Garden:  Tulips white ‘Maureen’ amongst Allium ‘Purple Sensation’, ‘Van Eijk’ and ‘Purple Blend’.

Tulip ‘Maureen’  Photo credit:  Live feed from http://www.dutchbulbs.co.uk
Tulip ‘Van Eijk’  Photo credit:  Live feed from http://www.dutchbulbs.co.uk
Parkers ‘Puple Blend’  Photo credit:  Live feed from www.dutchbulbs.co.uk

Old Rose Garden:  Tulips Marilyn and Maytime amongst the multi-stemmed Narcissus ‘Thalia’

Narcissus ‘Thalia’   Photo credit:  Live feed from www.peternyssen.com
Tulip Marilyn Photo credit:  Live feed from www.peternyssen.com
Tulip ‘Maytime’  Photo credit:  Live feed from www.gardenersworld.com

Kitchen patio:  Tulips ‘Best Seller’ in April followed by the later ‘Apricot Delight’ growing through Viola ‘Honey Bee’

Tulip ‘Bestseller’  Photo credit:  Live feed from www.gardenersworld.com
Tulip ‘Apricot Delight’  Photo credit:  Live feed from www.farmergracy.co.uk

Top tier of the front garden:  Tulip ‘White Triumphator’ and ‘China Town’

Tulip ‘China Town’ Photo credit:  Live feed from www.peternyssen.com
Tulip ‘White triumphator’  Photo credit:  Live feed from www.avonbulbs.co.uk

Back garden rose arch:  Tulip ‘Apledorn’ growing through orange ‘Fire King’ and deep ‘Blood Red’ wallflowers planted out earlier in mid-September.

Tulip ‘Apeldorn’  Photo credit:  Live feed from www.peternyssen.com

Large terracota pots:     Tulips ‘Black Parrot’ and ‘Menton Exotic’ amongst Narcissus ‘Jetfire’ and Viola ‘Pineapple Crush’

Tulip ‘Menton Exotic’  Photo credit:  Live feed from www.peternyssen.com
Tulip ‘Black Parrot’  Photo Credit:  Live feed from www.peternyssen.com

Large green tubs:  Tulips ‘Black Parrot’ and ‘Menton Exotic’ growing through Pansy ‘Matrix Sunrise’

Patio garden flower bed:  Tulips ‘Burgundy’ and ‘Ballerina’

Tulip ‘Ballerina’ Photo credit:  Live feed from www.avonbulbs.co.uk
Tulip ‘Burgundy’ Photo credit:  Live feed from www.peternyssen.com

Large square grey tubs on the side patio:  Tulips ‘Ballerina’ and ‘Burgundy’ with Pansy ‘Matrix Sunrise’

Grey troughs:  Tulip ‘Slawa‘ and ‘Orange Dynasty

Tulip ‘Slawa’ Photo credit:  real-time link to  http://www.peternyssen.com

Old Peony Bed:  Tulip ‘City of Vancover‘ with Allium ‘Purple Sensation’

Allium ‘Purple Sensation’
Tulip ‘City of Vancover’ Photo credit:  Live feed from www.avonbulbs.co.uk

Rather pleasingly we have had some decent spells of dry weather this year allowing us to plant all the bulbs in good time (using our new Powerplanter gadget in many cases).   All we need now is a good spell of cold winter weather to encourage the tulips to produce long stems and hope that the spray we use to keep the squirrels at bay works well.  Fingers crossed!


Camassia – the blue spires of May

May is a time for blue and white in the garden. The tall bluebell coloured spikes of Camassia leichtlinii can be relied upon to make a stunning show every year and have established themselves throughout the old rose garden.

A native of North America, these hardy perennials stand majestically some 3 feet high on strong sturdy stems. They grow well in damp, heavy, fertile ground in full sun or partial shade (damp ground seems to be a reoccurring theme in our garden (see Snake’s Head Fritillary) but this is not a challenge if you choose your plants wisely).

Companion planting

Camassia are able to establish themselves well in rough grassland as long as the moisture levels are right. In the last couple of years we have started to plant bulbs amongst an area of long grass and white cow parsley (Anthriscus syvestris) and I am delighted to see that they are establishing well. The blue and white should look wonderful together when they bulk up.

Camassia establishing well amongst the Cow Parsley
Camassia establishing well amongst the Cow Parsley

It is important to remember that the leaves should not be cut or strimmed until the bulbs die back naturally (about July) or the bulbs will not be able to build up effectively to over winter and multiply. The large bulbs (daffodil sized) do seem to move quite easily if you can plant them immediately.. Do not let them dry out.

In the herbaceous borders we have found Camassia works well when planted with tulips in contrasting colours surrounded and anchored to the ground with low growing forget-me-nots. Strictly speaking you could argue that Camassia and tulips need different growing conditions but they seem perfectly happy together.

Tulips Merlot, Marilyn and Pretty Woman amongst a sea of camassia
Tulips ‘Merlot’, ‘Marilyn’ and ‘Pretty Woman’ amongst a sea of Camassia

Cutting and conditioning

We have seen a trend towards a blue theme for wedding flowers this year ( Blues – this years’ wedding flower trend? ) and these flowers are certainly invaluable at this time of year. The complementary white ‘alba’ variety is also available.

The flower heads of Camassia open steadily from the bottom so you need to cut them early to get a long high quality flower stem. However, it is possible to pinch off the bottom-most flowers as they go over and use the remaining stem.

Conditioning is straight forward, simply cut and immediately place in cool water to condition for at least a couple of hours or overnight. Camassia are strongly geotropic so keep them upright and tied or they will soon bend upwards at the tips and look rather odd. Not a flower to be used horizontally in wide table arrangements.

One word of warning as we have found that the flowers do seem to stain other materials. We have an interesting blue pattern on a painted wall now!

Pest and diseases

From our experience they are not really attacked by slugs or other pests and remain relatively disease free. Good quality blooms are therefore easy to achieve if picked at the right time.

Hardiness: Fully hardy bulbous perennial

Origin: North America (Camassia quamash is reported by Anna Pavord to have been an important food plant for native Americans of the north west who dried the bulbs over their fires and stored them to eat in the winter ¹)

Family: Asparagaceae ²

Flowering time: May

Further reading

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

² Royal Horticultural Society

Tulips 2018 – the results are in …

After the excitement of designing the spring colour scheme and planting out the tulips in the autumn we rarely reflect on how well each of the individual varieties worked out in practice.  So, this year things will be different!  The aim here is to record how they performed so that we can actually remember what did well when we come to sit down with the catalogues next year.

It is important to remember that our garden is just outside Warwick in the UK Midlands.  Further south flowering is likely to be earlier and towards the north of England and into Scotland flowering will be considerably later.  Equally because we are about as far away from the sea as you can get in England we are probably drier than the far west but wetter than the east.  This winter (2017/18) does appear to have been particularly wet here in Warwick.

Tulip Brown Sugar
Tulip Brown Sugar


We usually plan our tulips so that we will have as long a flowering period as possible thus allowing us to cut regularly for bouquets and other arrangements.  Typically we will see a steady progression from the very early, early , mid-season and late tulips flowering from mid-March through to May.

This year things haven’t worked out in quite such an orderly fashion.  As usual the Kaufmanniana tulips (Ice Stick) and Greigii tulips flowered first (Vanilla Cream) flowering around the 6 April.

Kaufmanniana Tulip Ice Stick
Kaufmanniana Tulip Ice Stick

The very cold spring followed by the blast of heat on 18th and 19th April brought most of the remaining tulips out at the same time (c. 20th April).  From a gardening perspective this created a wonderful explosion of colour but as a flower grower it meant that we had a glut of flowers with a very limited period for sales.  We appear to have lost the usual differentiation between early, mid-season and late this year.

Our photographic records from 2014 show that the Kaufmanniana tulips were in bloom on 31 March (as opposed to 6 April this year), the early Purissima tulips on 31 March also whilst the bulk of the mid-season tulips were flowering by 11 April (as opposed to 20 April this year).   Despite what has seemed a very cold season these records indicate that we have only really seen a lag of about 1 week on previous years.

Tulip Finola
Sold as Tulip Caravelle (but does not seem to match the catalogue description)

Stem Length

For each of the varieties we have measured a typical stem length and compared it with the projected height in the original Parkers catalogue.  As florists and flower growers the length of the stem, the quality of the bloom achieved and whether they are early, mid-season or late tulips is vital and will determine whether we plant the same variety again next year.

Our stem length measurements only provide an indication and are taken at a typical cutting stage of maturity.  In reality tulips continue to grow even after they have been cut.  This feature does make creating formal wedding bouquets with tulips particularly challenging.  If you prepare a bouquet the night before an event the tulips will have grown by morning undermining the design and shape.

 Variety Actual Height Expected Height
 Jan Reus 45cm 50cm
Ballerina 55cm 55cm
 Christmas Pearl 40cm 35cm
 Finola 30cm 40cm
 Brown Sugar 60cm 45cm
 Princess Irene 32cm 35cm
 Merlot 65cm 70cm
 Pretty Woman 55cm 40cm
 Marilyn 55cm 55cm
 La Belle Epoque 48cm 40cm
 Slawa 55cm 40cm
 Recreado 48cm 50cm

Tulip Princess Irene
Tulip Princess Irene

Overall, despite the cold spring and slow growth the tulips have pretty much all achieved the expected stem length.  Three varieties, Brown Sugar, Pretty Woman and Slawa, seem to have done particularly well and grown some way beyond the projected height.

For some reason Black Hero and Apricot Parrot don’t seem to have come up at all.


Typically we would treat our tulips as annuals planting out new bulbs in the autumn and digging them up after flowering.  To get the longest stems many of the bulbs are pulled out of the ground when we harvest the flowers.

Greigii Tulip Vanilla Cream
Greigii Tulip Vanilla Cream

There are a few, however, that seem to be more perennial than the rest.  These include the Kaufmanniana and Greigii tulips and we have also retained a large clump of what we think is Jan Reus which seem to have established themselves well.

Tulip Jan Reus
Tulip Jan Reus


Very few of the varieties have suffered (in terms of bloom quality) from the cold, wind and rain.  We grow all of our tulips outdoors.

Tulip La Belle Epoque
Tulip La Belle Epoque

Storage and holding

Because the tulips have all come together we have had to hold some cut tulips so that they were available for later weddings.  To do this we cut and condition the flowers as usual and then wrap them tightly in brown paper to keep them straight.  They are then stored flat in a cool refrigerator (out of water) until needed.

When you get them out of the fridge they do tend to look pretty sad and floppy but you will be amazed how they perk up.  Simply re-cut the stems, re-wrap in brown paper to keep them straight and place in cool, fresh water to rehydrate overnight.  By the morning they will be turgid and fresh looking and ready to use.

Around the garden

The individual blooms are lovely but combining them with other complementary flowers in a garden setting really brings them to life (see Spring sunshine and tulips in full bloom for the full picture).

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.

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


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.


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.

A selection of tough little plants that give a spark of colour in the early spring garden

I am full of admiration for those flowering plants that can take all that winter can throw at them and emerge pretty well unscathed when the snow melts.  Here is a selection of some of the stars of the moment.

Iris reticulata

Originating from Russia and the Causasus mountains Iris reticulata comes in shades of blue through to white.  They have been flowering here at Waverley since January and are still producing good quality flowers now in late March.  Named after Iris, the Greek goddess of the rainbow, the shot of yellow and white along the centre of the blue petals I think fits this derivation beautifully.  The species name ‘reticulata’ relates to the netted tunic which covers the bulbs and is unique to this group of Iris.

Iris reticulata 'Blue Note'
Iris reticulata ‘Blue Note’

These beautiful early spring bulbs prefer sandy soils in a sunny position.  In theory, once established, they should keep coming back year after year but we have struggled to keep them going in our soil which gets rather waterlogged in the winter.  For us, they do much better in terracotta pots where we can control the drainage.  It also gives us the chance to plant the bulbs with other plants to make striking spring combinations. The blue goes particularly well with the contrasting orange crocus ‘Orange Monarch’.

Iris reticulata 'Alida' with Crocus 'Orange Monarch'
Iris reticulata ‘Alida’ with Crocus ‘Orange Monarch’ growing through a backdrop of the black leaved Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’

In preparing for this article I was interested to come across a point about planting depth in Anna Pavord’s book ‘Bulb’.  She indicates that in open ground Iris reticulata should be planted at least 10cm (4 inches) deep.  Anna suggests that this helps prevent the bulbs splitting up into masses of bulbils and so encourages the bulbs to flower again the next season.   If bulbils develop they will take at least 2 years to grow back to flowering size.  This is quite deep for a small bulb and something we might try next autumn when we come to plant the next batch.


An area of emerging spring crocus is such a lovely site.  Planted en masse, these tiny plants can be spectacular.  For us it is usually the yellow flowers that emerge first with the purple shades following later.  We plant our Crocuses mainly in grass where they can get the warmth of the spring sunshine yet the corms stay relatively dry and undisturbed throughout the summer when they are dormant.

Yellow crocus
Yellow spring crocus

The crocus is a native of Turkey and south-eastern Europe.  It is a member of the Iris family and grow from corms (rather than bulbs).    Whereas true bulbs are made up of modified leaves that store food, a corm is a modified stem which is solid and does not have rings or scales.

Spring crocus
Spring crocus

Not satisfied with crocuses in the springtime alone we also have autumn flowering crocuses planted around the garden that emerge in October/November.

Miniature daffodils

Although we love daffodils it is the miniature varieties that perform particularly well when subjected to rain, sleet, hail and snow.  Whereas the taller varieties seem to get battered down by the snow and don’t bounce back well, the miniature varieties like tête-à-tête and Jenny seem to be hardly touched by a blanket of heavy snow and emerge virtually unscathed.

Miniature narcissus
Miniature narcissus


The happy little faces of viola grace the patio pots in the garden all winter.  We tend to find that the viola flowers withstand the ravages of the winter weather much better than larger flowered winter pansies.


In the autumn we usually buy viola plug plants which we will add to our tubs when we plant them up with a lasagna of narcissus, tulips, Muscari Paradoxum Bellevalia and crocuses.  Once completed we top with the violas which will provide colour throughout the winter whilst the bulbs are developing under the soil.

When the temperatures rise and the bulbs begin to emerge the violas also start to develop providing a dense cascade of flower and foliage which softens the surface of the tubs and also hides some of the dying foliage from earlier bulbs.

Planters of tulips and viola - Late April 2011
Planters of tulips and viola – Late April 2011

Primroses and Hellebores

Last but not least we must not forget the primroses and hellebores which continue to look good despite the tough winter conditions.  We have written in previous blogs about these wonderful and fascinating plants so rather than repeating ourselves take a trip to visit these earlier articles (Primroses and springtime, Helleborus orientalis (Lenten Rose)) for more pictures and background.

Primula vulgaris
Primula vulgaris

Helleborus orientalis
Helleborus orientalis

Further reading

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