The first garden butterflies of 2019

The weather over the last few weeks (late February 2019) has been bright and sunny and remarkably warm (over 15°C for the last couple of days). The honey bees and bumble bees have been enjoying the daphne, emerging cherry blossom and particularly the crocus flowers that have been wide open in the sunshine.

Even more delightful has been the sight of the first butterflies of the year in the garden here in Warwickshire.

On 21st February 2019 I saw the first yellow Brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni). This yellow, butter-coloured butterfly (possibly why the insects are in fact called ‘butterflies’) is particularly tough and over winters in the United Kingdom. According to the Butterfly Conservation website the larvae feed on leaves of Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), which occurs mainly on calcareous soils, and Alder Buckthorn (Frangula alnus), which is found on moist acid soils and wetlands. Although we have a wide range of native trees in the garden and in the surrounding countryside I am not aware we have any of these close by but we do see Brimstone butterflies most years.

Common brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni) male 5

Photo credit: Charles J Sharp [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

On 24th February 2019 we also spotted the first Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta). Last year we commented that we had seen very few of these colourful insects in 2018 and so perhaps this is a sign that they may have survived better this winter than they did the winter of 2017/2018 when there were a number of periods of bitterly cold weather. Normally a migratory butterfly from Northern Africa and continental Europe there appear to be an increasing number that now manage to over winter in the UK (ref: Butterfly Conservation website).

Unlike the Brimstone the Red Admiral larvae feed on the Common Nettle (Urtica dioica), something that we have plenty of! It appears that they also use Hop (Humulus lupulus) which we have both within the garden and in the local hedgerows.

Le Vulcain (Vanessa atalanta) red admiral

Photo credit: Charles J Sharp [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

Last year we kept a photographic record of the mid-summer and late-summer butterflies that we saw throughout the year and we will try and do the same again this year (see: Six on Saturday: July Butterflies and Late summer butterflies in the garden for more information and pictures)

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Six colourful “cabbages” on Saturday

We may be very used to eating their green vegetable cousins but some members of the family Brassicaceae (also called Cruciferae) prove to be very colourful, and in some instances highly perfumed, garden plants.

Here are six that are currently flowering in the garden or will be coming into bloom in the next few weeks.  Some like wallflowers, honesty and sweet rocket are biennials and we seeded these last summer  (To sow or not to sow? When is the right time to sow seeds for the flower garden?) and planted out in the early autumn to overwinter in the flower beds.  Others (eg. candytuft and aubretia) are fully hardy perennials.

The old family name Cruciferae is derived from the structure of the four petals of the flowers arranged in the shape of a cross.  Most have pod-like seed heads and some (eg. honesty) provide beautiful cutting and arranging material in their own right.

Although some of these may be considered rather ‘old fashioned’ flowers, I think that with good design they can be used to great effect to create strong vibrant and highly scented combinations that work well in a contemporary setting.

It is worth being aware that being  closely related to other brassicas these varieties can suffer from the same pests and diseases as other members of the cabbage family.  It is worth rotating their position around the garden trying not to plant into the same soil year after year.

Here are my six for this week:


One:  Wallflower – this is wallflower ‘Blood red’ and ‘Fire King’ set amongst Jan Reus tulips to great effect.  We also have wallflower ‘Fire King’ flowering with deep blue perennial cornflowers to create a striking contrast.

Tulip Jan Reus mixed with Ballerina and scented Fire King and Blood Red wallflowers
Tulip Jan Reus mixed with Ballerina and scented Fire King and Blood Red wallflowers

Two:  Cuckoo Flower or Lady’s Smock ( Cardamine pratensis ) – this is a charming spring flower that emerges in damp grassland year after year.  Its names derives from the fact that it flowers at the same as the first cuckoos are heard.  It is also the food plant for Orange Tip butterflies ¹.

20180511_155842 Cuckoo Flower
Cuckoo Flower (Cardemine pratensis)

Three: Honesty (Lunnaria annua) – growing here in the woodland walk and providing a vivid additional colour in the dappled shade.

Honesty (Lunaria annua)
Honesty (Lunaria annua)

Four:  Sweet Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) – a biennial that was sown last summer and nutured throughout the winter.  The purple and white flowers have a wonderful scent ideal for filling the evening garden with perfume or cutting for the house.

Hesperis in the cutting garden
Hesperis in the cutting garden

Five: Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) – this hardy perennial plant on the edge of the rockery seems to thrive every year.

Candytuft
Candytuft

Six: Aubretia – an immediately familiar plant but one that I only recently discovered was in the Brassicaceae .  In spring these mounds of Aubretia tumble down the walls at the front of the house making a spectacular sight every year.  Once flowered it is important to cut them into shape and trim off the flower heads with shears so that you get fresh lush growth to flower next year.

Aubretia contrasting with the fresh green of Euonymus
Aubretia contrasting with the fresh green of Euonymus

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


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.

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

Timing

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.

Longevity

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

Quality

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.

Six on Saturday: Woodland Edge

Over 25 years ago our garden benefited from a Warwickshire scheme to plant native hedgerow and woodland trees.  These saplings have now all grown into mature trees and provide a number of wooded areas across the garden.  Along with the trees we have also seen the introduction of a number of smaller woodland and woodland edge plants.  These are not your flamboyant garden flowers but provide an interesting tapestry of small delicate flowers loved by many bees and insects.  Increase the number of insects and the birds follow.

At this time (the beginning of May) the spring flowers are taking their chance to flower and enjoy the sunshine before the leaves on the trees develop and reduce light levels on the woodland floor.  This weeks ‘Six on Saturday’ celebrates six of these beautiful flowering plants, some of which have a wonderful scent.


One: Red Campion (Silene Dioica)

Red Campion (Silene dioica)
Red Campion (Silene dioica)

Two: Yellow archangel (Lamium galeobdolon)

P1010112 Yellow Archangel


Three: Wood spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides)

Wood spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides)
Wood spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides)

Four:  Sweet Woodruff or Sweet Scented Bedstraw (Galium odoratum)

P1010114 Wooddruff


Five: Bluebells

P1010113 Bluebell


Six:  Honesty (Lunaria annua)

P1010117 Honesty


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


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.

Spring sunshine and tulips in full bloom

Back in the autumn we were planning our spring tulip display (Tulips – planning and planting for 2018).  At the time you never really know how it will turn out – but that is half the fun.

Now, in May, we are enjoying all that designing, planning and planting to the full.  Here are a few of the highlights.

Tulips Princess Irene, fragrant Brown Sugar and Ballerina contrasted by blue forget-me-nots
Tulips Princess Irene, fragrant Brown Sugar and Ballerina contrasted by blue forget-me-nots
Tulips Aafke, Christmas Pearl, Carvelle, and Finola with Pansy Matrix cassis
Tulips Aafke, Christmas Pearl, Carvelle, and Finola with Pansy Matrix cassis
Tulip Jan Reus mixed with Ballerina and scented Fire King and Blood Red wallflowers
Tulip Jan Reus mixed with Ballerina and scented Fire King and Blood Red wallflowers
Scented Brown Sugar tulips amongst budding Wisteria
Scented Brown Sugar tulips amongst budding Wisteria
Tulips Merlot, Marilyn and Pretty Woman amongst a sea of camassia
Tulips Merlot, Marilyn and Pretty Woman amongst a sea of camassia

 

Snake’s Head Fritillary

The Snake’s-Head Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) gets its common name from the delicate chequed pattern which looks like tiny reptile scales.  The nodding cup shaped flowers are said to resemble a fritillus or roman dice box hence the scientific name whilst meleagris relates to the spots of a guinea fowl.

As a native of water meadows I think this winter at Honey Pot Flowers will have suited them down to the ground.  As previously mentioned in our earlier overview of the garden (The Site) we have about one or two feet of top soil sitting on a bed of clay.  The water table is very near the surface for most of the winter with many standing puddles of water even though we are on a slight slope.

Flowering for a relatively short period in the second half of April they are so unique and such a pleasure to see.  They are most successful in the orchard and near the wildlife pond.  The delicate nodding heads also seemed to be absolutely irresistible to the playful young puppy we had staying recently (although he seems to have survived and it is not listed on the HTA list of potentially harmful plants).

Purple and white Snake's Head Fritillary growing amongst the grassland in the fruit orchard.
Purple and white Snake’s Head Fritillary growing amongst the grassland in the fruit orchard.

It is possible to cut Snake’s Head Fritillary for use in spring arrangements but for us the pleasure is seeing them growing naturally in grassland.   They are generally trouble free as long as you don’t cut the grass before the leaves have died back and the bulbs have been replenished.  As a member of the Liliaceae they do seem to get nibbled by lily beetle if you don’t keep an eye on them but the bright red beetles are easy to see and can be picked off by hand.

Family:  Liliaceae

Hardiness:  Full Hardy

Origin:  Europe (southern England to the northern Balkans and western Russia and naturalized in Scandinavia)¹

Height:  30cm

Further Reading

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

 


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

Pests

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.

P1000655

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.

Six shades of blue on Saturday

As I sit here writing this there is a crystal clear blue sky overhead, the swallows have arrived and the buzzards are mewing as they circle in the warm thermals.  What a dramatic change from last week.

The noticeable change in colour this week is the emergence of blue throughout the garden contrasting beautifully with the yellow of previous weeks.  Here are my six shades of blue for this week.


One:  Violets – this native plant is slowly establishing itself around the garden along with its white cousin.  They are very pretty and we always delight in seeing them appear in a new spot often sitting amongst the primroses.

Violet


Two:  Bluebells – the first of the bluebells are appearing in the lower copse and will steadily increase in number as we approach May.

Buebell


Three:  Blue Hyacinth – blue on its own often fades away into the distance and is sometimes used if you want to make an area of your garden look longer.  Related to the bluebell above this striking deep blue Hyacinth is set off beautifully by the yellow daffodils.

Hyacynth


Four:  Periwinkle – sometimes considered a bit of a weed we find it creates an interesting show in tricky areas of the garden.  This periwinkle has in fact been flowering since January and the blue flowers set against the variegated foliage add interest in a very dry bed under a lilac tree.

Periwinkle


Five:  Forget-me-not – these plants happily seed themselves throughout the garden but are very easy to pull up if they appear where you don’t want them.  The sweep of powder blue across the flower beds looks particularly good when combined with striking tulips in contrasting colours.

Forget-me-not


Six:  Bellevalia paradoxa – I could of course have included the standard blue Muscari in this six but thought it might be interesting to include something a little different..  This Bellevalia flowers slightly later than the standard grape hyacinths and has a deeper dusky blue colour, longer stems and an almost pointed flower head.

Muscari Paradoxum (Bellevalia Pycnantha)


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

Six shades of yellow on Saturday

April is definitely a month of fresh spring yellow and today’s Six-on-Saturday post celebrates some of the plants that are currently at their best here in Warwickshire.


One: April would not be April without daffodils.  Common as they are there are some charming miniature varieties out at the moment in the garden.  This one is ‘Jenny’.

Miniature daffodil Jenny


Two:  The tulips do seem to be late getting going this year.  However, the cold winter weather should yield strong, tall blooms for cutting.  For us one of the earliest tulips to appear are the Kaufmanniana varieties.  This one is ‘Ice Stick’.  It stands tall, swaying strongly in the wind and stands up to the April showers well.  Whereas many of our tulips have to be treated as annuals and replanted each year, Ice Stick seems to be more long lasting coming back well year after year.

Kaufmanniana Tulip Ice Stick


Three:  My third choice is a plant that is so widely grown that it is often overlooked.  But, at this time of year the Forsythia is in its prime.  The large shrubs create a spectacular show that brightens the spring garden without fail.

Forsythia


Four:  Next on my list is a charming tree that always makes me smile, is rather fleeting, but is instantly recognisable – Pussy Willow.

Pussy Willow


Five:  The small violas we planted in the Autumn have been flowering quietly for most of the winter.  Now the temperatures are beginning to rise they are starting to grow away strongly and will continue flowering well into early summer.

Viola


Six:  My final choice from the garden is another type of tulip which only started to flower late this week, Greigii Tulip ‘Vanilla Cream’.  This fresh, pale yellow early tulip is again one that seems to be more perennial than most coming back strongly each year.

Greigii Tulip Vanilla Cream

It has actually been quite difficult to limit myself to six this week.  Also out at the moment are the primroses, yellow hyacinths and a host of other narcissus varieties.  Indeed some of the so called ‘weeds’ like dandelions and celandine are giving a wonderful show in the more wild parts of the garden.


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

 

 

 

Rich, dark Hellebores which are almost black

I thought that it was worth recording the flowering of this wonderfully dark Hellebore in the Waverley garden here in late March.  The crisp white stamens set off the dark colour beautifully.

There is more detailed information on growing Hellebores and the challenge of cutting and conditioning in our earlier article.

Dark Helleborus orientalis
Helleborus orientalis