Hip hip eastrum!

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I hardly know a plant as forgiving as my hippeastrum. I can treat it as meanly as I please, and yet it will still bear the most beautiful blooms year after year. It’s rather like a pet dog: never a trace of resentment, no matter how cross you are or how much it is ignored. If only all plants were this magnanimous!

After my hippeastrum has flowered, I cut back the stalk and continue to water and feed it, and on the first of June I put it outside into the garden along with all my other houseplants for their summer holiday.

This is where the bad times begin for this poor neglected plant. While my other house plants revel for four months in the warm sun and gentle rain, this poor hippeastrum has a miserable time. Beloved by slugs and snails, the first thing that happens is that all its leaves are instantly eaten off. It then spends a great deal of energy fruitlessly trying to grow new leaves only for them to be attacked as they emerge from the bulb, rather like Banksy’s Girl With Balloon being slowly shredded as it exited the frame. Therefore it has to go in the cold frame, where there are fewer molluscs around, though still enough to do  damage. The cold frame is not in such a sunny position, and it tends to get rather forgotten in there, especially on my watering rounds. By September, when it is supposed to go into its rest period, it is has already been as dry as dust for three months and has no leaves to speak of.

At the end of October, all the houseplants come indoors again. Except that last autumn I forgot to bring the hippeastrum indoors, as it was in the cold frame. I recall that I didn’t bring it indoors until mid-December (gasp). But did it hold a grudge, this tropical beauty? No! It immediately began producing its fresh green strappy leaves, followed a couple of months later by its fabulous bloom.

So my apologies for your rough treatment, dear hippeastrum, and three cheers for your beautiful blooms.

In a Vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, and I do recommend visiting her page to see what she and many other garden bloggers across the world have put in a vase for today. Although this clay pot is most definitely not a vase, I am sure that Cathy will as forgiving as my hippeastrum and allow me to pretend that it is.

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My garden diary in 2018

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In autumn 2017 my aunt gave me a little notebook as a belated birthday present, and I decided I would use it to start keeping an ‘analogue’ garden diary. After all, my online ‘Edinburgh Garden Diary’ had been going for four years, and I had been inspired by various other garden bloggers who keep written diaries (such as Green Bench Ramblings) to keep a written record. To my surprise, writing in my notebook about the garden became a habit as effortless and enjoyable as making a cup of tea. I treasure the delicous moments when I pick up pen and notebook, settle into my seat on the garden bench, or pull a chair up to the window, and lose myself in thoughts about the garden. There’s always something to say, and the words flow easily. Now a year of my diary has passed and I enjoyed reading back through so much that I thought I would share some of my writing with you. I have edited it for brevity, though not for style. I hope you enjoy this little review of mine of a year in a small Scottish garden.

January

2.1.18 A good 90 minutes in the garden today. Very pleased to get my last bulbs in: Woodstock hyacinths in narrow terracotta pots with ‘Peppermint’ muscari, and the rest of the muscari in the maze. Rainy and a slow dusk. I was able to carry on until after 4pm. Buckets of ferns, primulas and hostas drowning in water, but the first day back at work tomorrow so nothing I can do.

7.1.18 Another severe frost of -4 last night, and today a bright blue, clear, freezing day. The clay pots of violas are troopers, blooming away regardless. Incredible things. Old dried flowers on the ‘Tess’ rose by the back door. I should have deadheaded them and pruned this rose in November, but I declined to… Each square brick in the path is rimmed with frost. I have topped up the bird feeder, and the birds are waiting for me to go indoors. The city is quiet. Birds sing in distant back greens.

27.1.18 I have managed a Saturday morning wander and noticed the purple tips of the iris ‘George’ spear, which may flower this week, new tips of returning tulips, and plenty of snowdrops. The snowdrops in my window boxes are in various stages, but the oldest had their petals open beautifully today.

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Old flowers on ‘Tess Of The D’Urbevilles’
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Snowdrops under a hedge at Humbie Kirk Woods, a few miles south of Edinburgh

February

11.2.18 A sparkling early spring weekend. Snowdrops in the hedgerows at Humbie Kirk Woods where L and I went for a deliciously squelchy walk today. Snow on the high ground, and bright blue skies, and sun slanting through the beech woods. I was surprised and gratified that my Clematis montana ‘Miss Christine’  has survived an undignified winter in an old compost bag. She is now planted under the arch and will no doubt make it look most pretty in the summer. To my horror, I found two New Zealand flatworms underneath an old sack near the compost heap. I have often wondered if we had them. Bulbs (including repeating tulips) popping up all over. Gave the roses and Hydrangea petiolaris a good mulch. Hope they will do wonders this summer in their new positions (the roses, that is).

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Brick tiles of the garden path rimmed with frost
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Birds in the snow

March

3.3.18 We are snowed under. I don’t have a garden anymore, just a white blanket with some twigs sticking out of it, and a few hungry, desperate birds sitting in trees, tweeting weakly. I have been feeding the poor birds, first with bird seed, and then when I ran out of that, muesli with the larger nuts taken out, and sesame seeds. They liked the muesli very much, but many sesame seeds were remaining on the path this morning when I had a look (pyjamas, snow boots, bobble hat). I also realised that besides having nothing to eat they would have nothing to drink, so put out two containers of water for them.

It has been light enough to step outside into the garden before work this week therapy. My ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ irises , a whole two clumps, a lovely surprise, are looking tip-top by the arch. [Drumstick] primulas are starting to form their rosettes, rising from deep down in the earth like slowly emerging sea monsters. The snowdrops in the front garden have been a most cheering sight, especially when all else looks bare, and a mess.

17.3.18 Another icy weather front moves in from the East. Will this winter last forever? Occasionally a flash of sun intercepts the snow, which has been falling languidly for most of the morning. Not serious snow, and there is no settling. I rushed out during one sunny spell to rescue some quince blossom, but couldn’t stay out for long, and there is little to stay outside for anyway. This time last year we already had forget-me-nots, but not a sign today. But I was happy to see that my Helleborus ‘Winter Bells’ is out of its sulk and producing new flowers…

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Erythronium ‘Joanna’
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Primula denticulata in the front garden
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Narcissus ‘Thalia’ in the front garden

April

22.4.18 The weather has been suddenly so wonderful for the past weeks that I have done immense things in the garden and it’s hard to keep up or remember everything that has happened. I’ll start by describing the wonderful things that are to be seen as I look out of the window.

Firstly the front garden: The snowdrops are well and truly over, and now we have Narcissus ‘Thalia’ in three generous clumps (a fourth less generous clump towards the back). The bigger clumps contain perhaps ten bulbs each, demonstrating how well ‘Thalia’ bulks up, and the effect is of course doubled as each head contains two flowers. . Complementing these in a perfect match are the lilac pompoms of Primular denticulata, another plant I could never get tired of. Towards the front, Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ is looking exceptionally pretty, and Erythronium ‘Joanna’ is underneath the cherry tree (‘Morello’) which is about to burst into blossom. (I was afraid it would have none given its maltreatment in December but I have seen the buds I do not deserve them!). My little Sorbus cashmiriana has come charmingly into fresh green leaf and flower buds are visible. The habit of the upturned branches is so uplifting … it is such a pretty tree that R noticed it and remarked upon it.

Not looking good: the Iris foetidissima… no fresh new leaves at all yet just sulking. I wonder if a feed would kill it or cure it. Also not looking good: the piles of topsoil, the piles bricks lying around, the big white sack of sub-base. The camellia needs moving … it is in the wrong place, but has two white buds that are promising to burst. Again, a dowsing with feed and water may help it decide to go ahead with this seemingly onerous task (everyone else’s camellias are almost over).

Now for the back garden. It is hard to see through the window for the enormous window box before my eyes, containing Primula vulgaris, Primula ‘Wanda’, and tall fat blue muscari. It has been my most successful w.b. yet, especially along with the snowdrops that started out in there. Such a scene it is! Anyway, the garden beyond, which had a big tidy-up, is looking pretty nice too as it springs into life. The most noticeable thing is the cerise P. denticulata. I also have some Tulipa ‘Purissima’ … Clematis ‘Miss Christine’ is coming cautiously to life by the arch. Under the roses, tulips, and all around are forget-me-nots, which I allow to spread at will because they are so useful and delightful. The Icelandic poppies I bought at Chatsworth have fat buds on them, and so does the geum at the front of the garden, but not the back geum. The delphs are looking bushy and fabulous, as are the foxgloves. The best thing is that the [white] peony has many buds on it. When I say many, I mean two so far, but that is many for me my first peonies! In four years!

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First peony!
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The back garden in spring

May

10.5.18 The tulips are in full bloom. Some ‘Belle Epoch’ popped up in the cutting patch along with numerous ‘Purissima’. Combined with Narcissus ‘Cheerfulness’ (or is it ‘Winston Churchill’?) and forget-me-nots it makes a very pretty jug for the dining room table. I have been ordering my perennials for the front garden. I am very excited to be getting such gorgeous plants for the front garden. The Euphorbia amygdaloides ‘Purpurea’ is a real risk  I fear it may be too red rather than dusky purple. Time will tell. R and I have been enjoying a lot of rainbow chard, which is just beginning to bolt. The sweetpeas are in and the courgettes are germinating. Seeds need pricking out and plants potted on. Nematodes all watered in last week. I wonder if the positive effects on the plants have as much to do with the watering as the nematodes themselves, as I used litres.

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Icelandic poppy

July

5.7.18 The RHS exams and my college application took all my time and energy for most of May and June. It has been the hottest, driest summer we’ve had so far in Scotland. Beautiful days of no wind and temps in the mid-twenties for weeks. The garden is not looking too parched; it is Scotland after all. But things are worse down south. Now, thinking back to May, once the tulips finished there was a gap, and suddenly the geraniums sprang into being, as did the geums. The foxgloves emerged, and the roses (‘Tess of the D’Urbevilles’ always first). Then my delphiniums, all mixed in with the white and pink foxgloves, oh, and the best poppies, Icelandic bright orange with big creamy yellow centres, just keeping on and on all summer, and the perennial wallflower ‘Winter Orchid’. No bearded irises for me this year. I wonder what has got their goat? Two flowers on my peony ‘Avalanche’. The buds took weeks and weeks to develop and open up. It really was quite painful to watch. I am not sure I would plant peonies again. I don’t go crazy for them like other people seem to. My lovely Geranium pratense now there’s a plant that gives good value. Covered in bees, wafting elegantly in the breeze, it is gorgeous every year. I am thrilled to have masses of dill. Broad beans are doing marvellously and have been the easiest vegetable I have grown by far. Just stick ’em in the ground and stand back.

The front garden is so dry that nothing is settling in properly, and some things are looking quite sad. But I cannot water them very frequently it seems wrong when we are so short of rain to use tap water on the ground. One plant I am terribly pleased with is Luzula nivea such a lovely, soft white flower that complemented Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ quite brilliantly.

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Foxgloves in June

August

12.8.18 At last, the Scottish summer we are used to has arrived. Rain, temperatures in the low teens, a cold wind… all in time for the Festival as usual. But I don’t care. The weather can do what it likes we’ve had our hot summer and it was wonderful. Most of the plants survived pretty well regardless. I shall forever remember the summer days of 2018 spent on the terrace with a cup of tea, just looking at the tall, green plants. Now many of my favourites have gone over the foxgloves, delphiniums, roses, geums, wall flowers all stopped, and the far back corner is a green mess of not terribly attractive foliage. It is a corner that does very well in spring and summer, but not very pretty at all after July.  I spent a lot of time on that corner last autumn, but I think some more work is needed.

Looking really lovely at this time of the season are the following:

Echinops: covered in bees, beautiful purple-blue drumsticks.

Crocosmia: I always dismiss it rather, but it does perform superbly in late summer and it is so reliable

Persicaria: so reliable

Thalictrum: high clouds of purple dots love them!

Calendula and cerinthe

Cosmos ‘Purity’ hooray!

21.8.18 The signs of autumn are everywhere: dew on the grass, the first cotinus leaves turning that incredible burnished fiery copper colour, the whitening berries on the Sorbus cashmiriana. That tiny sorbus is just about my favourite thing in the garden at the moment. So small, neat and pert, its branches heavily laden with huge clusters of pale green, soon to be white, berries. They hang down like too-heavy earrings. I just adore this little tree. It has been a pleasure every day of the year so far. The ‘Limelight’ hydrangea is looking good in the far corner by the house. In full bloom with its green flowers, it is most elegant. In other people’s gardens these flowers turn white in the sun, but I prefer the subtle colours of mine, which stay green, then pinkish. The Luzula has turned brown, though I forgive it because it was the loveliest plant in June.

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The back garden in July
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Cosmos ‘Purity’

September

3.9.18 I am sitting by the back door, which is open, and looking on the wet garden, hearing the splatter of rain and feeling the cold breeze on my ankles and it is lifting my page as I write … I see the pale pink Japanese anemone I planted last week, along with Lizzie’s Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ and behind the crocosmia (so I can’t see it but know it’s there) a small Ceratostigma plumbaginoides that is flowering a very pretty blue and will bring much needed colour to that far corner. The poor sunflowers are waving violently in the breeze, so heavy are they with their large, wet flowers on stalks that are too tall and dare I say, too spindly. I think I shall go and rescue those sunflowers. There, I have just brought in two perfect, large sunflower heads. They are a yellow merging with dark bronze and just the sort of colour I should hate but I love them they are so cheerful. High on my list of annuals I should continue to grow, along with Cosmos ‘Purity’, calendula, nasturtiums and this gorgeous, cloudy gypsophila.

30.9.18 Today a bright blue day, for the most part, and I seized upon the whim to move some plants around that had been annoying me. ‘You need to move plants a dozen times before you get the position right’, said Christopher Lloyd, and he’s right.  By the way, if ever there was an argument for cryogenic preservation, he would have been it. I’m most delighted to have got that camellia into the ground. And that the scrappy bases of the echinops will be hidden henceforth behind geranium, acanthus and peony. A good sweep of the patio and all is well with the world.

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Planting my bulbs in autumn
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My little Sorbus cashmiriana and its white berries. Next to it is a potted Cotinus ‘Dusky Maiden’, its leaves turning to a burnished copper

October

7.10.18 Some plants in the back garden feel as though they are winding down, while others are still soldiering on despite the lack of sun and the cold temperatures. The roses are doing fantastically, beautifully. Moving them was most certainly the right thing to do. I would love to attend a class on pruning my climbing roses correctly. When? How? (Those questions apply both to the task of pruning and to my ability to attend a class as I’ve failed to find one nearby and have no money anyway). My dahlias are suffering from a lack of light and water and probably nutrition too. I am seriously considering buying in a big sack of organic horse manure and mulching the entire garden front and back.

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Those Cotinus leaves again…

November

27.11.18 Multiple unavailable weekends have kept me from the garden, but at this time of year it hardly matters. The weeds don’t grow; nothing grows, except the mounds of leaves. At this time of year, every year, I ask myself, to leave the leaves on the ground (the beds, I mean) or to collect them? Collecting them would be neater, and I could make leaf mould. But they are protecting the soil in the absence of any mulch. Today I took the veg waste out to the compost in the darkening afternoon. I pulled out the cosmos, now just stalks, and the hollyhocks, which were quite annoying this year. A few weeds too. I cut some roses for the house as many buds were there, and put them in a jug with some nasturtium plants, leaves and roots but no flowers. This looks pretty good. The acanthus is back with a vengeance, all glossy-leaved and boisterous, too much for November. All the window boxes need sorting out, and my snowdrops and muscari need to be dealt with. The afternoons are so short that it is hard to do anything that takes more than half an hour, or jobs that lead on to other jobs.

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Helleborus niger (Christmas rose) in the front garden in December. Sadly enjoyed by slugs, so better viewed from afar.
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Old hydrangea flower catching the pale winter light of December

December

2.12.18 Everything is damp and rotting, except Geranium ‘Rozanne’, which flowers on and on. I like the damp, rotting part of the year. You feel in control. I like putting the rotting stuff on the compost heap, although I am treading the line between clearing and leaving habitats. There has been a lot of wildlife in the garden this year and I want it to keep increasing. Mulched ‘Shropshire’ and ‘Tess’ but the other roses still to mulch with the horse manure I brought back last week. First I have to tackle what’s beneath them dead leaves, far too many wallflowers etc. Need to tackle the delphs area and sort that clematis out. I have a frame for it, if I can get it fixed to that impossible wall. First bulbs already showing their tips under the cherry tree. Best sight in the world.

9.12.18 More bright blue winter skies, temps in the low single figures, and it is most definitely winter now. I shifted some pots around, which I hadn’t touched since last year’s bulbs. Miraculously the bulbs are reappearing already. I wonder if they will be any good this year. I think a judicious feed could save the day. I have ordered my mulch … I have learned my lesson from previous years. [The mulching] needs doing before the snowdrops make their appearance. I aim to apply it this week.

27.12.18 Mulch done! I would have chosen it to be less whiffy. It should really have no smell at all, but it is only being used as a mulch so I expect no harm will come (I will scream if all my snowdrops come up with nitrogen burns!). I am in Derbyshire now, but I am hoping for sightings on snowdrops when I come back. There was already a good clump of Iris ‘George’ visible before I left. My planting design needs a total overhaul in that front garden this is a place-marker for that intention.

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The last of the summer flowers

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I’ve been intending to share these flowers with you for several weeks, and here they finally are, not least because having a photograph with a picture of ‘October’ in it is a great motivation to get it published before November.

Life has been busy (isn’t it always) since my garden design course started in September. A raft of assignments ranging from plant recognition tests to essays about pest control, from sketchbooks of ideas for a shady garden to a package of graphics drawn in precariously smudge-able Rotring ink has kept me away from this blog, though not from the garden, I am pleased to report.

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Bright October sunshine, that special, slanting light of long shadows and glistening cobwebs, has invited me on an almost daily inspection of the back garden, where Aster ‘Little Carlow’ has collapsed among the last of the calendulas, while the cosmos and roses seem to flower interminably onwards, and every low-growing plant is losing a daily battle against the inevitable smothering of fallen leaves.

My dahlias, unfortunately, have been a disappointment this year. Flowers were few, and those that came were on short, reluctant stems. What’s more, I have been sent at least one (if not two) incorrect tubers by She Who Charges A Lot And Shall Remain Nameless. The large coral ‘Watermelon’ I had been looking forward to put forth some very pretty but unasked-for pink and yellow flowers, while ‘Linda’s Baby’ was decidedly peachy yellow rather than baby pink. And it’s not just me affected in this way. I’ve noticed others on Instagram complaining of incorrect orders, while one gardener stated that her very best dahlias this summer had come from ‘a cheap bumper pack from Lidl’ and had been far superior to any special cultivars that she had paid a lot more for. Food for thought.

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Meanwhile, the brickwork in the front garden is finally finished! This means that after about a couple of hours’ tidying-up I should be able to take some proper photographs and write a blog post about the maze that has taken me almost a year to complete. Just those pesky assignments to finish first …

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Here in these vases we have what may or may not be Dahlia ‘Linda’s Baby’, some of what is most definitely not D. ‘Watermelon’, and some of what are undoubtedly Cosmos ‘Purity’, Aster ‘Little Carlow’, indomitable caledulas, elderberries, and various salvia sprigs. With these tiny vases, flowers can be swapped in and out as they bloom and fade for an ever-changing mantelpiece scene. In the bedroom, meanwhile, a single Rosa ‘Tranquility’ graces the chest-of-drawers, reminding me to take a deep, luxurious sniff of its lovely scent every time I go to choose a pair of socks.

‘In a vase on Halloween’ is not hosted by Cathy at Rambling In The Garden (sorry I’m late, Cathy!) but if you follow this link you will see her weekly Monday vase as well as those of several more punctual garden bloggers around the world, and it will be no surprise (boo!) to find that more than one of them has gone for a spooky theme.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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‘Purissima’ and ‘Golden Apeldoorn’
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‘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.

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‘Purissima’ and ‘Apricot Beauty’
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‘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.

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‘Menton’
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‘Menton’

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.

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‘La Belle Epoch’
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‘Ballerina’

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.

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‘Paul Scherer’
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‘Antraciet’

‘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.

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‘Antraciet’
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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).

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‘Nightclub’
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‘Chato’

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.

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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?

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The Backhouse Daffodil Festival

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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Narcissus ‘Rosemerryn’

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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.

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Rosebud not in a vase

This week marks the fourth anniversary of Cathy’s In a Vase on Monday challenge, and to celebrate this milestone, today we are all finding something that is not a vase in which to arrange our flowers. Any watertight receptacle counts as a vase in my view, but I think Cathy means objects that were not designed to be vases and I hope this inkpot falls into that category. The little rosebuds were the last buds on my ‘The Lady Gardener’ rose, which I lopped off before digging up said rose and moving it to the back garden, where I am hoping it is settling in nicely to its new home.

Thank you to Cathy for inventing and hosting this wonderful challenge, which inspires so many of us across the world to bring beautiful garden flowers into the house each week.

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A Glowing and Sparkling Floral Finale

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Did you all have a wonderful Bonfire Night? We did, after inviting our neighbours to join us on the backgreen in order to burn a veritable ton of cotoneaster and buddleia prunings. Like so many people, we actually had our bonfire on the 4th of November because that was the more convenient day for everybody (although I still smelt of bonfire on the 5th of November and I reckon that counts). We had sparklers and take-away burritos and lots of friendly neighbourly chatting as we warmed our hands by the fire. Nothing goes up in flame like dried buddleia and cotoneaster, and the incinerator became so hot that when I returned to it today to take some of the ashes for my raised beds, the ashes were still glowing briskly.

Today I found the last glowing embers of the garden and collected them together in a sort of autumnal grand finale: pink and white cosmos, velvety red snapdragons, salvias (‘Amistad’ and ‘Neon’), roses, verbena, and alstromeria, as well as a cameo from a salmon-pink perlargonium and some potted heartsease violas. It has occurred to me that this is the second grand finale I have done this autumn, but I am sure you can forgive me for that. I keep thinking the flowers will stop, and they just haven’t.

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In a Vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, and I do recommend visiting her page to see what she has gathered from the garden today (hint: it’s also firework related) as well as links to many other vases created by garden bloggers across the world. Cathy and The Golfer was kind enough to drop in for tea last week, and it was such a pleasure to catch up with them. The Salvia ‘Neon’ was one of several gifts from her in 2016, and I was delighted to show her how well it had been doing and what a favourite it had become. Unfortunately the garden was in a state due to ongoing redesign works (although they were far too polite to say so!). Cathy and The Golfer, once again thank you for your visit and I hope next time you come through I shall have something rather better to show you by way of a front garden.

Carnival of the flowers

I doubt I am alone among you, dear readers, for my great fondness for The Carnival of the Animals suite by Saint-Saëns and it is probably quite unnecessary to explain to most of you that this suite consists of various amusing movements inspired by a broad assortment of animals, culminating in a final triumphant march of all the animals together: lions, kangaroos, hens and cockerels, swans, the creatures of the aquarium, birds, fossils, tortoises and so forth, marching together in a display of unity rarely seen in the animal kingdom.

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As I went about the garden picking flowers to use them up before a trip we went on recently, I couldn’t help drawing a parallel with the animals’ final march and my vase of oddments, a grand summer floral finale, and a random assortment of flowers if ever there was one; flowers that are most unaccustomed to marching together to the same tune; at least, not in my household.

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For example, I would not usually use quite so many shades of pink, and then shove in a lone ‘Café-au-Lait’ dahlia, and then cram in as much cerinthe as possible along with some wild strands of sweetpea and a dash of orange marigold. The vase doesn’t know whether it’s coming or going, whether it’s wild or formal or cute or simple or flamboyant or what.

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Given that the Carnival includes among its menagerie of animals some fossils, some pianists practising their scales, and some ‘Characters with Long Ears’ (thought to represent music critics), it is only fitting that I included some non-flowers in my Carnival of Flowers; hence the bunch of lemon verbena that I picked for my sister, and a cup of tea.

N.B. many of you who are acquainted with Instagram will be aware that it is mandatory to scatter cups of rapidly cooling beverages throughout one’s grid.

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In a Vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, whose significantly more harmonious vase is full of many types of Persicaria this week. I do recommend visiting her page to admire them, and to find links to many other vases created by garden bloggers across the world today.

As for this vase of flowers, it was donated to my sister who politely declared it to be ‘very pretty’. She is much more interested in edible plants than in flowers so I expect she has tried eating most of the petals by now.

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Two Cotswolds Gardens. 1: Snowshill Manor

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When it comes to patience, servitude and kindness, coupled with a tendency to forget to do nice things for herself, my mother gives the holy saints of Heaven a decent run for their money. Therefore, to celebrate the occasion of her 70th birthday, my sister and I came up with the idea of taking my mother away for a tiny holiday, just for herself, doing only things that she likes to do. We thought she might like to see some beautiful gardens and eat in some tasty restaurants, and have a lie in, and not do any cooking for anybody. Some negotiations followed. (‘Well, I don’t mind where we go. Where would you and Lou like to go?’, was her typical response, not quite getting the point.)  Ideas included a tour of Sussex gardens such as Sissinghurst, Great Dixter and Perch Hill, or else a trip to East Anglia to take in Beth Chatto’s garden. But the most popular suggestion was a trip to the Cotswolds on a pilgrimage to Hidcote, and so the date was set, the Airbnb was booked (a charming mill cottage overlooking a tumbling stream) and the route decided.

Casting round for a smaller garden to timetable for the afternoon of our arrival, we came across Snowshill Manor in the North West of the Cotswolds, about a 30 minute drive from our lodgings and crucially open on a Monday. Snowshill Manor is a sixteenth-century house set in gardens and orchards overlooking a valley of sheep fields. Nestled by its side is the charming village of Snowshill (pronounced locally as Snozzle).

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The front aspect of the house is built of smooth, North Cotswold honey-coloured limestone, and at first glance is perfectly symmetrical, but look closely and you can see from the mullioned windows of the right half that it dates much earlier than the left. Behind this compact facade is a rambling house in mottled stone, filled with the curiosities of its early-twentieth-century owner, Charles Paget Wade, who collected everything from bicycles to Samurai warriors and used the house to display his eccentric hoard while living in a tiny cottage (‘The Priest’s House’) beside the Manor. The interior of the house is worth a visit in its own right, but the surrounding garden is no less filled with delights, treasures and humorous oddities.

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Our tour began with a pleasant ten-minute ramble from the parking area, away from the promising tea-rooms and dangerous plant centre, along a winding path bordered by tall hedgerows through which could be glimpsed the sheep pastures of a green valley, and on past an orchard filled with large, untamed apple trees heavy with rust-coloured apples, through a pair of stone pillars and onto the formal front lawn.

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At our feet, the tiny pink and white origami hearts of Cyclamen hederifolium were dispersed between trees and sheltering under lichen-mottled walls. Asters, roses, catmint, helenium, red-berried honeysuckle and several varieties of clematis filled the colourful but simple borders, and blush-coloured Japanese anemones, elegant in their eager simplicity, popped up all over the grounds.

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Water appears regularly throughout the gardens at Snowshill Manor, in a large copper, dripping into a rough stone trough draped with harts-tongue ferns and unusual vines, trickling from gargoyles, and calm and still in a small formal square pool.

But most notably and delightfully is the water in the large pool that forms the centre of the lower terraces of the garden, a foil and prop for Wade’s pièce de résistance, his model Cornish fishing village, Wolf’s Cove, recently restored to its former charm and boasting houses, huts, a railway, bridges, harbour, ladders, a stone hovel, upturned dinghies and two pubs.

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Elsewhere not to be missed were the dovecot and the neat kitchen garden, bordered with dahlias. I can relate that the tea-rooms did not disappoint (I can recommend the flapjacks), and several little treasures from the plant centre including two Heucheras and an Osmunda regalis ‘Purpurascens’ found their way back to my car. And I’m pleased to say that my mother was not abstemious in either the flapjack or the plant-purchasing department.

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Snowshill Manor is owned and managed by the National Trust, and details of opening times, admission prices, and how to get there can be found on their website.

And of course, coming shortly to these pages will be Part 2: Hidcote Gardens.

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Peas-azz

A last hurrah from my sweetpeas, whose flowering has slowed considerably since my recent week-long absence from home as I was not able to keep picking the flowers to keep the rest coming. Having ceased in the production of flowers, the sweetpeas have now turned their attention to the doubtless entertaining past-time of bringing their obelisk and themselves crashing to the ground. My attempts to right this swaying, drunken vessel by pushing the two airborne front legs back into the ground are no longer having any effect: it just won’t stay upright at all. The impending cataclysm is currently thwarted only by a steely thicket of very tall Salvia ‘Amistad’, and a piece of brown string linking the obelisk to a nearby washing-line pole. After today’s haircut I have hopefully redressed the odds in favour of the obelisk, but with strong winds forecast the race could be anyone’s.

In a Vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden and I do recommend visiting her page to see her vase (full of autumn colour), as well as links to many other vases created by garden bloggers across the world today.

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