Here comes the sun (and I say, it’s all right)

What is it that is so inherently cheerful about a sunflower? This one bears no resemblance to either of the varieties I ordered from Sarah Raven last spring. It should be killing me with its sinister ring of dark bronze juxtaposed with bright yellow. It has an uncanny likeness to Sauron’s glaring eye. And yet I smile whenever I see it.


Checking back in my records, the variety was supposed to be either the deep red ‘Claret’ or the soft brown and crimson ‘Double Dandy’. I planted a row of each; the slugs ate the back row but somehow spared the front row, which grew into these. Grumble grumble: at Sarah Raven’s prices, one expects the correct wares. But I say, it’s all right. Any flower this sunny can’t put me out of sorts for too long.

I’m thinking of writing a review of all the annuals I’ve grown over the past two or three years: which are reliably successful, which are less so, and which I can’t live without. I think sunflowers may just turn out to be something I grow every year. Borage is an annual that I never need to sow afresh these days: it simply pops up everywhere and anywhere. It’s a wonderful thing to find an annual you like that likes you back with equal enthusiasm. I’d love to know what annuals you sow faithfully each year, which are more miss than hit, which you’ve given up on, and which are reliable self-seeders.

In a Vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, and I recommend visiting her page to see what she and other garden bloggers around the globe have found in the garden to put in a vase today.



A post about pots

At the beginning of this year I made several resolutions in a post titled 9 ways I’ll improve my gardening in 2018. At the top of my list was to be tidier in the garden, something that has always challenged me. Shortly before writing that post, I had read a famous book called ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ by Marie Kondo and subsequently enacted fierce decimation of my wardrobe, kitchen equipment and paperwork. Fired up by the refreshing results, I began to think about applying the same principles to the garden. I wanted every plant and every object in my garden to be a joy to behold.

I went outside and surveyed the patio. It was littered with pots of every kind, many of them containing dead or visibly suffering plants. The first target for my garden decluttering was obvious: the pots had to go.


First it was useful to re-establish in my mind the reason for a plant pot’s existence. From my point of view, a pot (by which I mean any container that holds plants) has one or more of the following three interrelated functions:

  1. Control of the root environment: plants that would otherwise do poorly in your native soil are best grown in pots. If you love camellias but live on the chalky South Downs, you’ll need pots of ericaceous compost. If you wish to grow alpines in sharp drainage, you’ll need troughs of clean, gritty soil.
  2. Flexibility: pots allow gardeners to move bulbs into view while they’re blooming and out of it again while the foliage dies down; or to move tender plants into the greenhouse for winter. Also in this category is the ability to grow plants where there is no soil, for example on balconies and terraces.
  3. Aesthetics: a large pot or urn can make a striking focal point, or a pleasing variation among the perennials in a herbaceous border.


But having considered the benefits of pots, we must look at the other side of the coin. The biggest disadvantage of pots must be obvious to any gardener struggling through drought this summer: the endless watering and feeding of potted plants. Unlike plants in the soil, a potted plant is entirely reliant on the nutrients and water that it receives from its attentive, or not so attentive, owner. I really dislike watering: it’s inconvenient and time-sucking. Hosepipes are never long enough, and inevitably you turn around to find that the stupid thing has trailed across one of your precious plants, squashing it flat. Lugging heavy watering cans about is an even more oppressive activity, and terrible for your back. And unless you have been clever enough to have set up a rainwater collection system (I haven’t) it’s hardly necessary to mention the overwhelming sense of guilt as you pour good drinking water onto your plants. Our household even taken to showering over a bucket to collect grey water for our garden, although there’s never quite enough of it to go round.


Besides, almost none of your plants prefer being in a pot to being in the ground, where they can get their roots right down to feed and hydrate for themselves. I admit that there are some plants that do prefer the dryness and root restriction of a pot fig trees spring to mind but the number of plants that enjoy being in a pot is infinitely smaller than the number that don’t. If you are like most ordinary members of the population (myself included) it is highly likely that you water your plants in an ineffective and wasteful manner, in the wrong quantities and at the wrong time of day, and either feed them too little or too much. Then at the height of summer when our potted plants need us most, what do we go and do? Head off to Europe for a fortnight’s holiday, leaving the poor things at the mercy of our neighbours, who are probably even less skilled at watering than we are. This is why the potted plants in the front gardens of so many ordinary houses look peely-wally and sad. Watering and feeding pots is really, really hard to get right, and that’s a very good reason to have as few of them as possible.


Then there’s the expense. Potting compost is not cheap, and neither are the pots themselves unless you buy cheap plastic ones, which look awful. This brings me neatly back to the function of aesthetics ‘the right pot in the right place’. There is nothing worse than a row of meanly proportioned little pots that are labouring beyond their capabilities in an attempt to decorate an oversized space. Far better to have one large, well chosen pot than five insignificant ones: the cost ends up the same anyway, and a large pot looks more confident and intentional.


So my pots (or most of them at any rate) had to go. The collection had accumulated over the years with very little care or consideration on my part for what I was doing. I stood outside and assessed each one in turn. Was the pot performing one of the three functions of control, flexibility or aesthetics? Could the plant it contained be successfully transferred into one of the borders? Was the pot itself pleasing to behold?

In answering these questions I found that many of the pots outside our back door existed for no obvious purpose at all. Why was my poor Skimmia japonica languishing in a dry, terracotta prison? Why had I kept a woody, bedraggled Osteospermum in a borgeouis little half-barrel? What was this small octagonal pot of black mondo grass doing in pride of place on the terrace? I didn’t really like the octagonal pot, and had kept it only because other people had admired it. I also realised that I didn’t even like black mondo grass that much either, certainly not enough to have a whole pot of it.


I began to clear the pots. The skimmia, three box plants and a heuchera went into the ground, as did a very grateful pear tree. The woody osteospermum, an equally woody penstemon, and some very dead pelargoniums went into the compost. Several pots contained refugees from the redesigned front garden, including some drumstick primulas and Jacob’s ladder, and I worked hard to re-home them where they belonged. I confess I still haven’t emptied the octagonal pot of black mondo grass, and it continues to annoy me every time I see it. But with many of the pots emptied, cleaned and stowed away, the terrace became a less cluttered and altogether calmer place.



I wish I could conclude by saying that the garden eventually became pot-free. But unfortunately there were several sticking points. I was unwilling to release a beautiful but pot-bound Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’ from its container as it had been a wedding gift from some dear friends and I want to take it with me if we move away. Some pots also crept back into existence when I wavered in my resolve to discard some excess annuals that I’d grown from seed. Into pots they went, and very nice they look too. And some pots I just haven’t got round to emptying yet because I haven’t found space for whatever’s in them. Finding garden space will involve another big decluttering session in applying Marie Kondo’s principles to the plants in my beds and borders but that’s a subject for a future post.


Simply the rose

“There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence.”

[Ralph Waldo Emerson]

A celebration this week, if you will, of the roses of my garden. I have six, all but one of them bought from David Austin in the days when my tastes were all for flouncy, feminine, pink double or apricot flowers. It’s funny how tastes change, and currently I prefer the single roses, especially even the wild roses like the dog rose, Rosa canina. If I were to plant my garden again, I would include more of the simple roses. But I am content with these that I have, for they are as beautiful as can be in their first flush.


I moved these roses in November of 2017 from the shaded, parched soil of our front garden where they had been suffering from the peregrinations of the privet hedge’s roots. Their new home is the back garden, where they now receive a good 6 hours of daylight and a much better soil. They have rewarded me with a fine first flush, although it was a bad year to move anything. I wasn’t to know that we were about to enter such a dry summer, and perhaps would have thought twice if I had.


I managed a rose or two from each of the six of my roses: ‘Tess of the D’Urbevilles’ is the dark ruby red. ‘The Lady Gardener’ is an apricot pink, a slightly more simple flower than the pale pink ‘A Shropshire Lad’. The white rose is ‘Tranquility’, while ‘Boscobel’ is not sure what colour it is, and nor am I. Over-smoked salmon? Old dame’s lipstick? Rio sunset? David Austin’s website describes it as coral-pink, with ‘numerous small petals, of varying shades’ mingling together. Finally, at the very bottom left is a rose from our local garden centre called ‘Many Happy Returns’ (see what they did there?) in palest waxy pink, a simpler rose that more reflects my evolving tastes, and just too pretty for words, but sadly scentless.

This is the prancing petticoats style of arrangement I possibly had in mind when I chose my David Austin roses almost four years ago (I also had in mind ancient houses with fat pink roses over mullioned windows, and other romantic, whimsical scenes that are hard to recreate in a Victorian city tenement). The whole thing was good fun to set up, really it was, and definitely worth the ticking off I got from my husband when the petals collapsed with great drama and tragedy onto the floor below, where they stayed for several days.


In a vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, and I recommend following the link to see what she and many other garden bloggers across the world have found to put in a vase today.



Two Lavenders


Most of the plants in my grandmother’s Derbyshire garden seemed exhausted and almost visibly panting in the relentless sunshine and heat that has been blazing down these past weeks. But two plants were noticeably enjoying themselves in this most un-English climate: English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), and its unrelated Mediterranean friend, cotton lavender (Santolina chamaecyparissus). Covered in bees, both plants basked happily in the sun, their tiny silvery leaves perfectly designed to reflect the light and resist transpiration.

The flowers of cotton lavender are usually a bright dandelion yellow. This, coupled with its tendency to bulldoze over any nearby plants, makes it somewhat unpopular with many gardeners, myself included. But my grandmother’s cotton lavender flowers are of a more forgiveable lemon hue, an almost restful colour, which stands it in better stead for vases.


At some point during my stay, I managed to snatch five minutes and a pair of scissors. A tuft of both lavenders and a tug of dried grass from the hedgerow made for one of the quickest vases I have ever created. Then it was straight back to my book on the seat under the shade of the walnut tree. It wasn’t just the plants that were wilting in the sunshine!

In a vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, and I’m looking forward to seeing the flowers that she and other garden bloggers have managed to salvage from the drought or will it be mainly dried grasses this week?

EDIT: As mention in my comment below, it seems that this lemon yellow Santolina may not be S. chamaecyparissus, but another species in the same genus.


Tulip Review

If you want the best way to bring colour, life, optimism, joy and conviviality to a spring garden, you cannot do without tulips. The variety of colours is unbeatable with something for every taste, from chic and sombre almost-blacks and royal purples through crimson reds and fiery golds to pastel pinks and whites. I have always found it a challenge to choose my bulbs for autumn planting, and I suspect I won’t be alone in this. If selecting the best colours from a choice of literally thousands were not hard enough, the range of shapes, heights and sizes adds another dimension to the challenge. Little wonder how easy it is to either over-order or just give up in despair.


I originally began this post with a sentence declaring that tulips were the ‘cheapest and easiest’ way to add colour to a spring garden, and then I deleted that sentence because tulip bulbs are not cheap when you come to think about it, especially not the ones that disappear after a season, nor the ones that get eaten by squirrels or mice, nor the ones that simply don’t appear for some unknown reason. Unlike other bulbs, tulips are most reluctant to increase their numbers, and only a handful of varieties can be relied on to come back year on year. As for declaring that tulips are ‘easy’ to grow, one has to remember that planting those hundreds of tulip bulbs every autumn can be back-breaking and repetitive; you need to plant so many of them to make a decent impression.

The quality of the bulbs you buy is important. Cheap, puny ones are usually a false economy because so often they come up blind or not at all. Not all bulb suppliers are equal; and even the better quality companies can get things wrong. By the time six months have passed and you are wondering why a patch of ‘Ballerina’ has appeared in your garden while there is not a ‘Charming Lady’ in sight, it seems too late to contact your supplier with a complaint. Challenges aside, tulips remain in my mind an essential key to bringing colour and joy to a spring garden, and with some judicious planning (and the wisdom of hindsight) it is possible to minimise the pitfalls and heartache while ensuring yourself a three month stretch of glorious, bouncy, elegant, exuberant tulips.

Not a ‘Charming Lady’ in sight …

One thing I have learned is to take careful notes and lots of photographs during the tulip season, and store them somewhere that can easily be found when the bulb catalogues come out in August. Heaven knows but when you are surrounded by the florid hues of asters and dahlias you won’t be able to remember what spring feels like, much less care. And remembering what spring feels like is key to making insightful choices from the catalogues in order to recreate or even improve upon your garden of the springtime just gone.

Well, my safe storage place for my thoughts and photographs on tulips is the post you are reading at this moment. I’m going to talk about the varieties of tulips that I’ve tried over the past couple few years (successes, failures, surprises) and use it to help me decide what to order in three months’ time.

Tulipa turkestanica

As I have mentioned elsewhere, the earliest tulip to appear and one of my most favourite tulips is the species tulip, Tulipa turkestanica, a heavenly little white and yellow burst of petals. For two years in a row I have filled two whole window boxes full of them so that I could enjoy them from indoors through the window, and they lifted my soul every time I looked at them. They would also look good in a pot with Muscari and primroses (pale pink or yellow) and the biggest bulbs can be lifted and stored once the leaves have died back.

‘Purissima’ and ‘Golden Apeldoorn’
‘Golden Apeldoorn’

‘Purissima’ is the best white tulip I have tried so far. A large single white tulip that flowers in April, its generous petals open in sunshine to reveal a splash of egg-yolk yellow at its heart. Like so many tulips it expires with great melodrama, the petals dropping one by one to the ground like enormous tulip teardrops. I thought it far superior to the double white ‘Mount Tacoma’ which I bought to take over from ‘Purissima’ but which was frankly a little dull. ‘Purissima’ looks wonderful in the border with ‘Apricot Beauty’, and would also look good with a yellow tulip such as ‘Golden Apeldoorn’, which flowers at about the same time. Both ‘Purissima’ and ‘Golden Apeldoorn’ made a good return two years in a row; however, I was disappointed that not a single ‘Apricot Beauty’ came back for a second innings. In my opinion, the latter is a lovely enough tulip to be worth the bother and expense of buying afresh every year, and vies with my old favourite, ‘Menton’, for the prize of best apricot tulip.

‘Purissima’ and ‘Apricot Beauty’
‘Apricot Beauty’

‘Menton’ is in a class of its own: a generous, peachy head sitting with remarkable poise on its tall, slim stem, a thing of exotic beauty that belies its sturdiness in a strong spring breeze. Such a carefully bred flower so far removed from the species should not be expected to grace us with its presence two years in a row, and yet twice mine returned, becoming one or two fewer each year; but I was so gratified that I forgave its eventual disappearance.


I was surprised at how much I liked ‘Prinses Irene’ (sometimes spelled Princess), a stocky, vibrant and vivid orange tulip with minky striped markings on the outer petals, which I planted around our circular brick terrace. One of my suppliers was giving her away for free in 2017, and she was even better value for coming back for another innings this year. Such a short-stemmed tulip also looked good in containers with Muscari: you just can’t beat orange with blue.

I adored ‘Bruine Wimpel’, in delicious shades of mink and rust, which I planted in pots, then collected and stored over winter before adding to my chaotic cutting bed with not a hope that something so classy would show up to the party two years in a row. To my enormous surprise, it reappeared this year in good abundance. ‘Bruine Wimpel’ is a good single alternative to the florists’ favourite double ‘La Belle Epoch’, which was everywhere on Instagram last year but can be so hard to get hold of.

‘La Belle Epoch’

Given that I do not prefer lily-shaped tulips and certainly hadn’t ordered it, the grace and beauty of ‘Ballerina’ was a pleasant surprise, especially alongside the dark heads of ‘Paul Scherer’, the latter first seen at Shepherd House Gardens where we were reliably informed that it is a good returner – in fact, both ‘Ballerina’ and ‘Paul Scherer’ returned in excellent spirits this following spring. Although almost-black tulips are extremely striking, it is important to pair them with a worthy background to do them justice. ‘Ballerina’, on the other hand, is the kind of tulip that would look good next to anything, and I can see myself buying more and spreading them around the garden.

‘Paul Scherer’

‘Antraciet’ had dusky red double heads and looked old-fashioned and expensive like a well aged wine, and returned beautifully for a second year. At the cheap and jolly end of the tulip spectrum, a Gardener’s World special offer of a ‘Bumper Border Mix’ of tulips for a fiver, thrown haphazardly into a large plastic pot and shoved in a corner, became the prettiest thing in the garden. It was so successful that it made me wonder if I shouldn’t just buy five bags of these at a third of the cost, make up several generous pots of them and sit back to enjoy the show thirty or forty pounds better off.

Cheap and cheerful special offer

Tulips that were less to my taste included ‘Brazil’, which I’d bought in the patriotic hope of its being tall and tanned and dark and lovely, but sadly it turned out to be short, swarthy, sallow, and clearly living on a diet of beer and churrasco, though it did return for a second year running and has some interesting hues as it fades. ‘Blue Parrot’ and ‘Nightclub’ came out so late that the tulip party was pretty much over by the time they did (although ‘Nightclub’ was admittedly worth the wait); neither returned for a second year. ‘Chato’, which incidentally means ‘boring’ in Portuguese, was anything but boring. A remarkable lipstick pink, it is gay and delightful and just a little too flouncy for my tastes, though again returned in the border for a second year (I think about three returned).


Tulipa saxatilis was pretty enough, but did not return and was not a patch on its classier sister, T. turkestanica, while T. humilisOdalisque’ didn’t bother to flower at all. But the biggest disappointment was the non-appearance of ‘Charming Lady’, which I was so looking forward to.


So my strategy for ordering this autumn will look something like this:

  1. Buy the best quality I can afford
  2. Order early
  3. Store the bulbs correctly until planting time (after the first frost)
  4. Don’t spend too long agonising over flowering times. Just ensure that any chosen as partners will flower at the same time.
  5. Keep to tried and tested favourites that return: ‘Purissima’, ‘Menton’, ‘Ballerina’, ‘Antraciet’, ‘Bruine Wimpel’, and the non-returner ‘Apricot Beauty’.
  6. Try at least one new cultivar.
  7. For bulk planting in pots, buy special-offer tulips.

I would love to find out what your favourite tulips are. Which cultivars do you buy year after year or which in your experience perennate reliably? Which have you never tried before but are planning to buy this autumn? Or have you given up on the fuss and bother of tulips in favour of less needy bulbs such as daffodils and muscari?



A Jam Jar of Spring


Isn’t May a glorious month? Suddenly so much to choose from! So when picking a quick hand-tied posy for a gardening friend this afternoon, I had no trouble in finding a good handful of airy, laid-back stems. Here we have an allium from my cutting bed, the last of the Narcissus ‘Cheerfulness’, Geum ‘Leonard’s Variety’, bleeding hearts, chive flowers, foraged cow parsley, an elegant buttercup that sprung up among my delphiniums, a final grape hyacinth, Geranium phaeum, forget-me-nots, and a stem of ornamental thistle.


I also took my friend a courgette plant and a tray of other small seedlings and bits and bobs, and in return received one of her courgettes (a different variety), a geum ‘Totally Tangerine’, and some tiny aquilegias.

We while away a happy afternoon in her garden, admiring her plants, drinking tea, exchanging ideas, and steadfastly not revising for our forthcoming RHS exams.


In a Vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden and I always enjoy visiting her page and following links to all the other vases created by garden bloggers around the world.


Calm, collected rationality

When I’m faced with the tulip catalogues in August with their cornucopia of offerings in bright jewel colours and curving shapes, just two outcomes prevail: either I go bananas and order almost everything in sight (2016) or I dither until it is too late and there’s nothing left (2017). I blame Sarah Raven entirely for this. No one else comes close to the seductive mix of colour combinations, cunning ‘collections’, and hot summer photography contained within that thick paper catalogue of hers.

Therefore it’s a useful weapon to be able to narrow down one’s choice tulips so that when confronted by Ms Raven’s devilish catalogues you can keep your cool and calmly wield the strength to order only your very best and most favourite ones in good time.

One tulip that will certainly fall into this category henceforth is apricoty-brown ‘Bruine Wimpel’. I admired it longingly in the catalogue in August 2016, adored it unreservedly when it bloomed in spring 2017, and did a dance of joy when it reappeared in my cutting bed in spring 2018. In a jug with ‘Purissima’ (another firm favourite), forget-me-nots, Narcissus ‘Cheerfulness’ and a stem of lovage, it is a pleasure to behold. Purer and simpler than the double ‘Belle Epoch’, it is the very embodiment of calm, collected rationality. If ‘Bruine Wimpel’ were ordering tulips from a Sarah Raven catalogue, there’d be no splurging or panic-buying. Bruine Wimpel knows exactly what it wants, and what it wants is a quiet place at the back of the vase and to let the other flowers do the chattering.


In a vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden who has also found tulips for us this week. I do recommend visiting her page and seeing what she and many other garden bloggers across the world have found in their gardens for a vase today.

First tulips from my cutting garden

I admit that when I write ‘cutting garden’, it sounds much grander than the reality: a single raised bed of about 150 x 150cm constructed of wooden boards that the builders brought down from our rotting roof last year. I didn’t know what (if anything) these ancient roof boards had been treated with, so the bed was destined to be a cutting patch and not for edibles. I filled it with a chaos of bulbs that had been exhumed during reconstruction of the front garden, as well as from last year’s pots, and was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiastic return of many of my tulips. It is a wonderful luxury to be able to cut tulips for a vase without the guilt of stealing from the herbaceous borders. One of the returning cultivars is Tulipa ‘Purissima’, which has come back in a much creamier shade white than last year. In-filled with stems of the abundant forget-me-nots that I have allowed to pepper the garden from head to foot, it is as though the spirit of the garden has followed me indoors.


I bought this jar with the sole intention of filling it with armfuls of T. ‘Apricot Beauty’, one of my favourite tulips of last year. Disappointingly, however, none of those returned. When it is not full of flowers, the jar has the more mundane task of holding spoons and spatulas in the kitchen, which have been evicted in the name of aesthetic priorities. (Credit to my husband, who has not complained once about the jumble of upended implements lying on the windowseat.)

I am writing a review of some of my favourite tulips and shall share it with you imminently. Which are your favourite tulip cultivars, and which do you find come back reliably year after year?

In a Vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, and I recommend following the link to her page to see what spirits of the spring (or indeed, autumn) garden have found their way into vases of garden bloggers across the world.



The Backhouse Daffodil Festival


My, but isn’t spring moving along fast? After a winter that never seemed to end, it’s hard to adjust to the rapid succession of spring flowers that are popping up and fading away faster than I can keep up with them. Once the snowdrops had gone, it was the turn of the daffodils, and the second week in April saw in the Scottish Daffodil Festival, hosted at the home of the of the National Collection of Backhouse cultivars on the Rossie Estate in Fife.


It was in the 1800s that William Backhouse began to hybridise daffodils, pioneering new techniques and establishing the first in a long dynasty of important cultivars. Successive generations of the Backhouse family continued the work, until an impressive number of significant and popular cultivars were in existence. Now a descendent of the Backhouses, Caroline Thomson, is dedicating her life to collecting together hundreds of missing Backhouse cultivars from across the world, as well as researching, preserving and celebrating the heritage of her forebears.


Grown in joyful drifts and clumps across the beautiful parkland and gardens, the daffodils make an impressive show. What better celebration of spring than to wander among these lovely things, so varied in their hues of yellow, cream and orange? Daffodils are most certainly a flower that rewards generous planting, and it was impossible not to be impressed by the sheer quantities millions of bulbs that we saw.


It was fun to imagine the autumn frenzy of sowing, the great barrows of bulbs to be planted, the man-hours, the careful designing and placing, the covering over, and the long anticipation over winter for the results of spring.


The daffodils themselves rewarded closer inspection. It could be easy to think that some of the more divergent types were hardly from the same species at all. From pure white through cream and pale lemon, to dandelion yellow, sunset orange and even coral, the range of colours presented by the Backhouse daffodils was vast. Added to that the combination of colours within a flower, and you can begin to imagine the variety within such a collection. Take N. ‘Pink Pride’, with its aloof corona of white from which extends a trumpet the colour of diluted brick pink, darkening at the complex crinkles of the margin.


Compare it to N. ‘Replete’ in colours of poached-egg and smoked salmon, the traditional trumpet transmuted to the appearance of rumpled bedsheets.

The daffodils were not labelled, although this did not detract from our enjoyment of the overall effect. I hope that in future years they may consider labelling some of the cultivars in the walled garden for our education and so that we can seek out and buy our favourites.


The walled garden itself was an inspiring mix of the formal and informal, with an orchard and a grass labyrinth as well as straight paths and borders full of backlit grasses. I have made a note to return again to see the borders in their high summer glory.


Observing so many daffodils in one place gave us ample opportunity to decide on our favourite colours. My sister liked the joyful bright yellow ones; they were the most spring-like, she said. I preferred the lemon-yellow and white I spend too much time digging out dandelions to associate brightest yellow with anything other than trouble.

Always with a view to expanding my horizons, I bought a pot of ‘Pink Pride’ from the courtyard of little stalls, where Caroline Thomson herself was promoting and selling her beloved daffodils with great energy. It was such a pleasure to be able to take home a piece of this fascinating heritage, which will bring joy each spring for years to come.





There were many parts of the estate to go walking. For children (and adults!) there was the ‘bear walk’, where carved wooden bears told a little story along a curving woodland path. For those desiring a longer stroll, there was a path through a newly-planted link wood into ancient woodland, in the midst of which lies the hidden ruined tomb of the covenanter Sir James Scott and his wife Antonia.

Back at the house’s courtyard, a little show room contained the most exquisite daffodils in vases. I made a note of two, ‘Rosemerryn’ and ‘Lemonade’, that caught my eye and which I hope shall find their way into my cutting bed alongside ‘Pink Pride’.

Narcissus ‘Rosemerryn’


And now let spring gallop along, for the ordinary daffodils that border our Meadows in Edinburgh are fading fast, as are the forsythias and early tulips. In come the magnolias and blossoming cherries, the late tulips and dicentras, soon the alliums and peonies and before we know it, summer will be with us and gone. But my afternoon at Backhouse was the perfect way to savour a lovely and all-too fleeting moment of spring, during which daffodils range these inspiring woodlands and gardens for all to enjoy.

Backhouse Rossie Estate is near Ladybank, Fife, KY15 7UZ and entrance costs £5 for an adult, with discounts for children, groups and concessions. Entrance for RHS members is free of charge on Fridays.