The parrot tulips are looking weird and wonderful as they emerge, and, as with all the other tulips I planted, I have no idea what any of them are. Why didn’t I just make a note or, better still, stick a little label in the ground when I planted the damn things? But having spent half and hour or so on the Peter Nyssen website, I think the flowers above, and in the second photo down below, are Rococo while this next one is probably Fantasy.

I can see that one batch at the bottom of the garden has been destroyed by the dog, and I have a horrible feeling that they must be Black Parrot which I was really looking forward to seeing. It seems that I planted them along one of Sybil’s little routes and all the flowers were slightly damaged as they emerged. While we were away last week and the dog in kennels, they made some progress, and I returned to find that their heads were finally clear of their slightly ragged leaves. But that was before Sybil had been released from mutlins. Now that she’s home and back to her old tricks, they’re nothing more than a mushy green carpet in the mud. I’ve salvaged one or two flower heads and put them in wine glasses on the window sill, ever hopeful that they will do that magical thing that tulips do and stretch up and out when the flowers finally open. We’ll see.

It was interesting looking around the Nyssen website this morning, as I can now see various tulips I overlooked – Cairo, in particular – and I now realise that ordering both Barcelona and Don Quichotte and planting them together was a bit of a mistake: both are almost identical before they open, and they appear at the same time. Once picked and in the vase it’s easier to work out which is which, and I think the pink explosion in background of my last post is probably Barcelona whilst the flower below is Don Quichotte.

fading beauty

These tulips – Princess Irene, I think – really are almost on their knees. This morning they were all twice this height and their heads bowed so low that they touched the mantelpiece. But I couldn’t quite bring myself to throw them out, not least because their fading colours are such a perfect match for the jug. So I cut the stems, changed the water and, very carefully, with only the loss of one or two petals, eased them back into place.

The pink explosion behind is another tulip from Nyssens and again I’m not at all sure which one it is, but it’s a fabulous lipstick pink, very tall, and has much fatter, fuller flowers than Princess Irene. I’ll try to work out what’s what when I have a moment.

this morning’s crop

Two more little bunches for the weekend – a mixture of muscari and narcissus, above, and below, another narcissus/hyacinth combination.

I’m off to Pembrokeshire for a few days and although I’ve been looking forward
to it for months, I’m worried that the rest of my tulips will appear while I’m
away: all over the garden they are looking ready to pop.

But as this is the time of year when the garden suddenly goes up a gear, it’ll be exciting to see how it has come on in my brief absence. The daily changes are quite dramatic at the moment, and it feels as though you can actually see things growing: the nepeta at the top of the steps was only the size of my fist three days ago, but this morning it’s a clump the size of my head.

Anyway, better get a move on. There are children to chivvy, a car to pack, and,
having enjoyed these flowers over breakfast, I’m giving them to my neighbour – don’t want dead smelly flowers on our return.

a tulip!

The first of my tulips appeared yesterday. I feel ridiculously excited about this. I have grown tulips before, but only in very limited quantities, usually a packet or two planted very late (February). On occasions, when I’ve missed the boat entirely, I’ve resorted to picking up the odd pot here and there at the garden centre.

But last year I went slightly mad, ordered hundreds of bulbs from Nyssen’s and then, spurred on by the horror of finding those bulbs mouldering away, still in their bags in February, I actually got busy with the trowel and planted them all.

This first batch are in a deep metal container which was home to the Narcissi which flowered over Christmas. Although I don’t remember doing it, it seems that I have also filled it with tulips and alliums. I’ll be interested to see how many months the container is in flower. I’ll dig out my Nyssen order and add the name of the tulip later today.


They’ve taken their time, and there have been moments when I thought that perhaps I’d killed them, but at long last my Hyacinths (Woodstock) have burst into bloom. I moved the box this morning in order to block one of Sybil’s routes around the garden as she was crushing the new shoots of various plants around the base of R. Veilchenblau.

I’ve never grown Hyacinths outside and I didn’t really know what to do with them, or even where to put them. I thought they might look odd in what I knew would be quite sparse-looking beds, but stranger still in ones and twos in little flower pots – though I think I was wrong about that. So in late November, I think, in slight desperation, I turfed some mint out of this old wine box and shoved the bulbs in. Then I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. This is something to repeat next year, but with more wine boxes.

Elsewhere in the garden other containers are doing their spring thing. I can’t remember for certain what these are, Narcissus Bridal Crown maybe, I need to trawl through receipts and orders to check. It smells delicious and I’d like more for next year.

Out on the street everything seems to be blooming. Spring has sprung and someone has pulled a lever and switched all the Forsythia and Magnolias on. They look quite spectacular – a grudging admission in relation to Forsythia, which is a plant I could happily live without seeing ever again. The Magnolias on the other hand I adore.

I often wonder whether a Magnolia would be happy in the basement area that passes for our front garden. At the moment it looks like a junk yard: a heap of old bikes and a tragic-looking rabbit hutch (vast black and white rabbit long gone). But I have plans.

getting to grips with the garden

I spent a couple of  hours on Saturday morning weeding, tweaking, cutting back, digging up, dividing, and generally getting to grips with the plants that looked in need of attention. I love unplanned gardening sessions like this, ones that happen because the sun is shining and for once, nothing else is demanding my attention.

This sort of  slightly unfocused pottering is exactly what I need in order to reconnect with the garden when I’ve been feeling a little gloomy about it. As I work, I invariably spot things I’ve forgotten about, such as the little clump of violets above. Someone tied several bags of them to their railings last spring, with a note saying “take me”, so I took some and stuffed them in the corner of a bed without really thinking – I don’t even think I knew what colour they would be.

And I also find myself delighted by the sight of new shoots on plants I feel sure I’ve butchered or neglected – Clematis ‘Madame Julia Correvon‘, pruned to within an inch of her life, or so it seemed, just a month ago, is already on her way up the back fence. And C. Texensis Buckland Beauty, is showing signs of life too. Above is how it looked in July last year, climbing up through the Macleaya. I moved it at the weekend, so this year it will ramble through R. Veilchenblau instead.

Working in this way seems to free the mind and, more often than not, I find that by the end of the morning I have had at least one eureka moment regarding some aspect of the garden. And so it was on Saturday. Halfway through what was meant to be just a two hour session, a rather hazy idea that I’d been kicking about for some time now, came sharply into focus: wouldn’t it look wonderful, I thought, if I planted a row of Amelanchiers in front of the top level of the terracing.

Two hours later I was at Brackenwood Plant Centre wrestling four seven foot trees into the back of the car, along with a tray of fabulous Hellebores which had called out to me as queued to pay. You know how it is with garden centres. I dithered for a moment, winced at the price tag and then I had another eureka moment (aka clever bit of justification for overspend): if I planted them in and around my tulips, the razor-edged leaves of these big, well-established plants, would keep Sybil at bay.

It’s hard to take an interesting or informative photograph of a tree that is still pretty much only one step on from being a twig. But there are lots of buds, so photos of blossomy loveliness will follow soon. Hellebore photos even sooner.

crocus carpet

The crocuses in the park started to appear in January. Now they are reaching their peak. They are like mushrooms in the way they seem to pop up over night – one morning this bank was just a slope of dewey grass, the next it was carpeted with purple, yellow and white goblet-shaped flowers. On slightly misty mornings, when there is a hint of sunshine and the promise of mild weather, they can convince me that spring is here and summer is just around the corner. But it’s only March so I mustn’t get too excited.

I’ve never grown crocuses (though I have been tempted), because I think they look their best growing in grass, particularly under trees and when they are allowed to encroach gently along the edges of large areas of lawn. Our current garden has just one tree and no grass at all, so I get my crocus fix in St Andrew’s Park when I walk the dog.

signs of life

The garden is coming to life, and although there is still far too much bare earth for my liking, I can comfort myself with the knowledge that a transformation is underway.

The new Clematis armandii is in flower and, although quite small (and rather early), what little perfume it offers is a treat. Two years ago we had to remove its enormous predecessor and, although essential building work left no alternative, it felt criminal to be cutting down such a fabulous plant. Each year in late March or early April its scent would waft through the windows on every floor of the house. Last year, although in the throws of reinvigorating our garden, I felt as though I had completely messed up – first because we had to cut down the armandii and second, because I managed to kill a lilac. Both were plants I valued for their flowers, their perfume and their role as seasonal heralds. So it’s good to see the armandii back, now I need to replace the lilac.

Every morning I spot more bulbs emerging. Some, such as Iris ‘Katherine Hodgkin’, below, I’ve been awaiting eagerly, checking progress daily and photographing obsessively.

Others I can’t even remember planting…

These mystery bulbs, peeping out from a tangle of old Paperwhite leaves, look a lot like tulips, with a few alliums thrown in for good measure. But when did I put them in this pot, carefully layered beneath the Paperwhites? I’m impressed that I did it – because it’s clear that it was me, it couldn’t have been anyone else – but I have absolutely no recollection of having been so organised. It will be interesting to see what comes up.

These irises – Iris reticulata ‘Cantab’- have been popping up in various places around the garden, and now that they have appeared I can see better where I should have planted them. I can also see that I really need to think about more ground cover.

I was looking enviously at a mass of snowdrops in a local front garden this morning, trying to work out why they looked so lovely (aside from the obvious fact that snowdrops are lovely). Gradually it dawned on me that it was because they were emerging from a carpet of dull bronze leaf litter, rather than dull, in the boring sense, bare earth. Below are the lovely Iris reticulata Springtime which are also in the wrong place.

Elsewhere in the garden I can see that my tulips are pushing up through the soil, and some show signs of having been damaged by Sybil during her high speed nocturnal circuits. I have started erecting temporary barriers fashioned from bamboo canes and lengths of netting, chicken wire and green mesh. They look ridiculous and really unsightly, but I can’t think of any other way to ensure that my precious tulips aren’t trampled. Once the   leaves are up a good few inches, I think I’ll be able to take the barriers down. At least I hope so. If not, my garden will look like a weird zoo for plants. Not the plan at all.

And last, but by no means least, Joe has managed a temporary fix for the computer.


Over the last week or so I have been wrestling with a storage crisis. Not, for once, a crisis involving the children and their reluctance to use anything other than the floor for storing their clothes and all their possessions – that one continues, of course, but I’ve downgraded its status to merely chronic because I just can’t cope with the level of engagement that a crisis requires. (I must add in my defence, this downgrade led to a distinct improvement in general levels of happiness over half term which, I am pleased to report, was one of the nicest we have had even though we did nothing much at all.)

The storage issue I’m currently battling with is right here, in front of me: it’s my computer’s refusal to add to the 13,000-odd photographs I’ve stuffed onto it. It seems that all the photographs I’ve taken with my new camera are too large. Last week I finally changed the setting, but it was too little too late, and these re-sized photographs have nowhere to go. The most frustrating thing of all is that I’ve been here before: last year iPhoto went  bonkers and at one point we thought all our photographs had been corrupted. It took weeks to sort out. Joe installed an external hard drive – the computing equivalent of a nifty Ikea shelving unit – only now I’ve filled that up too.

The fact is the computer can take no more. It is, in Mac terms, pretty ancient
and its operating system is not compatible with any of the brilliant online album and book-making packages, any one of  which would deal with the problem rather neatly.
So for the last few days I’ve been sorting through photographs dating back ten years or so, again, editing ruthlessly, again, trying to create more space, but progress is slow.

I hope to have the problem sorted soon, but for now here is half of half term. The half in which the girls painted and I watched the latest wave of bulbs.

The other half of half term – the lovely circular walk from Bibury, the amble around Ashton Court and all the other bulbs will have to wait until I’ve made room for them.