pick of the week

Although the warm patches over the Easter holidays were lovely, and it was exciting watching growth in the garden accelerate, I was quite glad when the weather turned and everything slowed down again. At one point plants were appearing so fast I could barely keep up, and I was worried the tulips would be over before I could really enjoy them.
But I needn’t have worried, they are all pacing themselves nicely.

You’ll have to forgive the somewhat repetitive nature of my posts at the moment – it’s partly record-keeping (nice to have a visual reminder of what the garden can do when you are staring at a muddy puddle in the middle of the winter), and partly the thrill of having a seemingly endless supply of tulips outside the back door.

The photographs above are of a small mixed bunch of tulips – Princess Irene (the orange one) and Rococo (the crazy red and green parrot) – mixed with a few sprigs cut from a nameless euphorbia and some grape hyacinths. Having used an old golden syrup tin for a bunch of white roses, sweet peas and fennel flowers last summer (you can see it here), I was determined to do something similar with a treacle tin.

Above is a similar mix but without the grape hyacinths. I enjoy picking little posies for the kitchen and other parts of the house as I find that they are easy to doctor day-by-day: when one flower fades I can pluck it out and pop something fresh into the mix. Below is the same bunch a couple of days later, revitalised with the addition of a few bluebells which I tucked into the gaps created as the parrot tulip began its dramatic collapse.

Although I have filled the garden with enough plants to keep me in cut something or other all year round, my garden is not large enough to contain the kind of abundance that larger displays would require. And greedy, dissatisfied gardener that I am, despite having plenty of lovely plants to tend and admire, I still dream of being able to cut great armfuls of flowers and greenery for every room in the house.

For height and drama I usually have to exercise a little patience and wait for the Crocosmia, which will be out in August, if not a little sooner. But by then I’ve usually succumbed to the gaudy charms of supermarket gladioli – why do I always forget to plant any of my own, especially as there are so many wonderful colours? More for The List.

But last weekend I decided to cut the drooping, storm-bashed euphorbia at the bottom of the garden. It has been in flower since February, providing bulk and greenery through the dreary winter months. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of bringing it in before, except, I suppose, that I had tried it before and it hadn’t really worked – it flopped tragically and smelt decidedly iffy. Anyway, this time I followed Sarah Raven’s advice about preparing the stems by dipping them in hot water, just off the boil. To stabilise them in the vase I used my mum’s brilliant trick of scrunching a piece of clear cellophane into the bottom. The euphorbia lasted about four days before smelling rank; the tulips, all picked last Friday and Saturday are all still up there on the mantelpiece doing their splendid thing. Apart from this little lot, that is …

They’ve been putting on a spectacular performance on the kitchen table – I changed the water this morning and I think they’ll last another day or two. Better sign off now, Martha is having a birthday party tomorrow (though her birthday was back at the beginning of April) and I have pirate stuff to find/make/curse over and a cake to bake.

flamboyant fantasy

I picked these tulips, T. Fantasy, a few days ago – on Saturday in fact – and they are going from strength to strength. The colour has intensified and the frilled edges have become more flamboyant as you can see from the photograph below, which I took on Sunday.

The pressed glass vase was a souvenir from our holiday in Wales – I picked it up for 50p at a brilliant car boot fair near Carew. In fact I bought several vases like this one as they are perfect for small bunches of tulips and daffs – I can’t bring myself to pick more than a few at a time as I love seeing them in the garden as much as I enjoy them in the house.

broken barcelona

I am assuming that the glorious bluey-green stripe on this flower (T. Barcelona) is due to Tulip Breaking Virus. TBV causes the pigment of single colour tulips to break into fabulous flares or feathering across the petals. Before the cause of the breaks in colour was understood, these flamboyant tulips were highly prized, and in the late 16th and early 17th century there was frenzied speculation in bulbs (Tulip Mania).

I’m not sure that my flower, with its rather restrained stripe, would have had anyone rushing to offer me a vast fortune in exchange for the bulb, but I was delighted by it. I am increasingly aware that beauty is rarely about perfection and uniformity, and this tulip, with its flawed petal, proves the point perfectly – it’s my favourite tulip so far.


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.