A monochromatic vase of white spring flowers this week including Prunusincisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’, Magnoliastellata, Thalia multi-headed daffodils and Skimia. All plants currently in flower in our Warwickshire garden today (21 March 2022).
It is lovely to feel the spring sun on your face once again!
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.
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.
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.
Ever since I began training as a Botanist and Plant Ecologist at University I have been fascinated by the intricate detail and sheer variation of different flowers. I found myself outside this week looking closely at flowers with the macro camera setting and thought that it would be nice to share a few close-ups as part of this week’s Six on Saturday.
The Lilac is looking and smelling wonderful this year and the mass of flowers is a spectacle in itself. However, when you look closely at single flowers you can see that behind the outward facing four petals is a very long tube. Only insects with a very long tongue will be able to reach down to the enticing nectar at the base of this flower.
Two: Perennial cornflowers
The perennial cornflower (Centaurea montana) is most common in the southerly mountain ranges of Europe. I find the highly dissected flower heads delicate and charming when you look at them closely. This particular variety (name long gone!) was purchased from Avondale Nursery and is absolutely gorgeous with its hint of dark lavender in the centre contrasting with the stark white surround.
Three: Dicentra spectabilis
Believe it or not this plant sits within the poppy family (Papaveraceae). The flower construction is very different. It is one of those flowers where you can have great fun with the children. If you turn the flower upside down and gently pull the pink side petals it looks just like a lady in a bath!
The jolly faces of the small viola are very striking but when you look closely you can appreciate the complex markings that make up this pattern and the direction markings that attract pollinating insects. The hairs around the top of the ‘mouth’ are also visible here and presumably ensure that pollinating insects are well brushed and positioned as they enter the centre of the flower.
Five: Long leafed waxflower
The long leafed waxflower (Philotheca myoporoides) is a native to south eastern Australia. Its aromatic evergreen foliage is supposed to smell of gin and tonic but I am not entirely convinced about that yet. At this time of year it is covered with these tiny white flowers which are about 1 cm across. The flowers are attractive en masse but each individual flower is beautiful in its own right. The stamens and buds are a very delicate apricot colour. The apricot stamens seem to be held in place by a tiny ring of white structures
Last but not least this week is Apple blossom which is so lovely when the orchard is in full bloom. Something to just stand back and admire. Each individual bud has a network of intricate pink veins that create that pink blush that is so characteristic of apple blossom.
The tulips are at their most spectacular at the moment and I thought that it would be appropriate to celebrate them as part of Six on Saturday this week.
I have pulled together pictures of six combinations and mixtures that have worked particularly well for us this year. All were purchased from Parkers and planted in the autumn of 2019.
One: Ronaldo and Grand Perfection
Tulip Ronaldo came out slightly before Grand Perfection but the latter has now caught up and grown to a similar height.
Two: Pink Blend
This is one of Parker’s off-the-shelf mixtures so I am not entirely sure of the names of each of the varieties included.
Three: Purple Prince and Princess Irene
Princess Irene was much later and shorter than Purple Prince and initially we thought that this combination was not going to work very well. However they have now grown to a similar height and are looking lovely together in terracotta pots backed by a perennial planter of blue-grey foliage and purples.
Four: Merlot, Marilyn and Maytime
One of our own combinations that we have used over a number of years in the old rose garden.
Five: Van Eijk Mixed
Six: Apricot Pride and Stunning Apricot
These are two varieties that we have not tried before and they have proved to be lovely together sitting amongst the blue forget-me-nots.
The late spring Clematis are beginning to flower beautifully. Some scramble with enormous vigour whilst others are more moderate in their growth. All are lovely however and exploit the vertical dimension of the garden to great effect. Striking combinations of these delicate flowers with complementary foliage and flowers makes them really shine. Here are my six for this week.
One: Clematis montana ‘Odorata’
This delightful pink clematis has a a strong vanilla scent that fills the air in the garden behind the house. Located close to one of our garden seats it is a lovely place to drink our morning coffee in the sun.
Two: Clematis montana ‘Tetrarose’
This clematis grows close to the house on a trellis in the patio garden. It produces masses of simple pink flowers in late spring.
Three: Clematis montana
This plant is extremely vigorous and needs a lot of maintenance to stop it overwhelming other trees. It grows amongst a white lilac and a red leaved Prunus and it is this combination with the mass of pink flowers of the Clematis montana that creates a wonderful show at this time of year.
Four: Clematis ‘Daniel Daronda’
One of the first blue clematis of the year. We have two of these plants and they do not seem to grow with any great vigour. However, they are very reliable returning without fail each year.
Five: Clematis ‘Nelly Moser’
‘Nelly Moser’ seems to be very happy growing on a north facing wall with very little direct sun. Its large flowers, some 6-8 inches across, brighten up the shaded patio area behind the kitchen. It also has attractive seed heads in the autumn that have a golden sheen.
Six: Clematis ‘Guernsey Cream’
This large flowered early clematis grows in part-shade and is really striking against the dark ivy leaves that cover the trellis. It seems to be very reliable returning without fail each year.
The English countryside certainly has its spectacular moments and a bluebell wood in full bloom in the spring sunshine is just something to behold. This week we took time out after a busy Easter weekend to have a wander around Hampton Wood. Owned and managed by the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust this ancient woodland lies close to the banks of the river Avon (OS Sheet: 151; SP 254 600 Post code: CV35 8AS).
This wood and meadow is quickly becoming one of our favourite places to walk since joining the Trust last year. It is a delight. At around 12.3 hectares the reserve is not enormous but there is plenty to see and hear and try to identify.
Here are some photographs (taken on 23 April 2019) which try to capture some of the impact of these woods at this time of year. At first sight it is the mass of blue that takes you aback. However, as you look more closely the mix of other wild flowers create a series of beautiful cameos of contrasting colours and texture. Here are just some of the flowers and ferns we spotted in a short one hour meander around the reserve.
We will of course be visiting again over the coming months to see how the flora and fauna change and develop during the year. We would like to be much, much better at identifying birds from their individual songs and calls and to help us improve we have signed up for a spring bird identification workshop next month. No doubt we will come out of the course full of enthusiasm but will it stick. Memorising the sounds birds make seems to be so much more difficult than identifying them from their plumage. Hopefully it will enhance our enjoyment of these beautiful wildlife reserves still further. If nothing else it will gives us hours of fun!