Tag Archives: bulbs

Allium addicts unite…

we have nothing to lose but our marbles. Especially if, like me, your garden may not feel the same way about alliums.

My London garden, my first proper garden, ended up stuffed with plants. As time went on there was less and less of it devoted to grass as I extended existing beds into the lawn or simply dug up huge parts. I had, and still have, a stone urn and pedestal combo (subject of yet more Chelsea haggling, and which knackered the front seat of my Mini transporting it home), and it had pride of place. It was backed by a bronze Cotinus and surrounded with alliums, and it was spectacular at this time of year. So when I moved it north-westwards I thought I’d try and recreate the look.


My Welsh garden sneered at this example of metropolitan assumption, and – I suspect – ate the alliums. So I tried again, this time in another place. Nope, though one did grow (and continues to flourish) behind the greenhouse, where I know I did not plant it. Over time, I have come to understand that this garden has a pronounced personality, and that it will do what it wants to do and very little else, and that it will just not tolerate some things. When it comes to alliums, it has strong views.

Ramsons, yes:


no problems there. And completely independently it will produce tons of the other form of wild garlic, the one with the weedy straggly leaves, which spreads like b****** and which requires either major excavation or the use of Agent Orange to dispose of it. Dispose of it? I’m fooling myself again: control it. Slightly.

But I will not be deprived of my alliums, so I grew some in pots. That worked, and I was pleased with the effect:

potted alliums

which rather begs the question of why I decided to dig them up and plant them out. Admittedly, they’re in the new Capel bed – it backs against the wall of the chapel house next door – which is almost the driest bed I’ve got, and will give them the best chance, but I’ve still only had two of eleven produce flowers. The garden evidently noticed.

It hasn’t, so far, recognised these as an allium:

allium siculum

though it is their first year, and that might change as it realises that Nectarscodosum siculum is now reclassified as A. siculum (evidently my garden is using an old edition of RHS Plants and Flowers when it decides what to reject). I have been warned that these will join in the spread-fest of the wild garlics, but will they? I wouldn’t bet on it. Plus they’re so lovely that they’re welcome to spread wherever they wish, though I may regret this statement.

And, in defiance of the prejudice and in a spirit of wild optimism, I planted some A. christophii in the Capel bed. The stray back-of-greenhouse allium is a christophii, so I might get away with it. I do hope so:


I find myself stopping to adore these when I should be doing other things, like spreading slug pellets. The flower buds are so huge and fat and promising before they burst, and the individual floret buds seem rather improbable, almost as though they belong in some William Morris-style interior or on the set of a fantasy movie. They’re heraldic, but not a heraldry I recognise; there’s definitely an almost-alien elegance about them.


They look hard and spiky and odd, but they look good here. Which does surprise me, because generally the odd doesn’t work in this garden (Angelic gigas, while fascinating, was definitely a mistake). They’ve opened very slowly – the weather has been, and continues to be, not very good – but that’s just kept the suspense working, and I have found myself really enjoying their gradual appearance. I’ve got ten. What’s the betting that next year I have two, and one of them has shifted to behind the greenhouse all by itself? I don’t care; it’s worth it for this year.

And now it’s time to battle the slugs which, although they don’t much care for alliums, are really, really enjoying the irises. Who knew?

Please last till the weekend!

It’s the garden club spring show at the weekend, and I’ve been neurotically monitoring progress of several things, especially


this, which I was given just after Christmas. It had actually been a gift to a friend, but she claims not have green fingers so much as brown fingers with yellowy bits and added rust spots.

So I got it. And its timing, I thought, could not be better.


I’ve been watching it like a hawk. I wasn’t quite sure what it was going to look like, despite the picture on the box (I’ve been fooled before), and the leaves are pathetic – about 5cm tall.

How can you stop an amaryllis from opening further?


I moved it to a cooler room, but all the buds are now open and it’s got to last another couple of days.

Next year I shall hedge my bets and get several, and not rely on the generosity of my weedy-fingered friends. Because I’ve moved it down again; I missed it too much.


Garden show, schmarden show, that’s what I say.

(I’ll change my tune by Friday night, especially as I’m helping with the stewarding…)

And in the meanwhile, I have a new friend in the garden. So far she’s eaten several daffodils, protected us from the Giant Hedge Monster, chased blackbirds, had a good go at the rhubarb until we shouted at her a lot, nearly strangled herself with her lead by jumping from a wall where she’d been tethered after the Rhubarb Incident, and killed a watering can stone dead after booting it all over the garden. And had a good shout at people who dared to walk past. Not bad for a couple of hours.


Her name is Jess, she’s an 11-month old red collie and she has more energy than anything else on the surface of the planet. She belongs to P, and will doubtless be appearing here regularly from now on. If her predecessor is anything to go by, that is. So far I cannot add using my garden as a toilet to her list of crimes, but I’m sure that time will come. I’d better get the dog treats in again…


I got in yesterday to find a complete absence of a note I’d tucked in the door frame before I went out. That could only mean one thing – a delivery driver had picked it up – and I hurried round to the greenhouse, my drop-things-off-when-I’m-not-in place of choice:

bulb order

My Bulb Order Has Arrived.

And yes, I did try and rip it open with my fingers. YOW. Had to find scissors, thus delaying the process and interrupting it with a little light swearing.

it's open

I do like to keep the neighbours entertained. Not shocked, they’re used to me by now.

Revealed: a fine selection, all looking good:


This has always been a slightly tense moment for me. It wasn’t – until the bulb order I had a few years ago from XYZ suppliers, when I opened the box to find that the Fungus Fairy had been enjoying the journey big time. Both the bulbs and the air were blue, but the bulbs were also furry. (I did get a refund, of course, and when I offered to return the mouldering heap the suppliers said ‘ergh, no thank you’, so I felt free to bin them – but I was deeply traumatised, deeply.)

So what have I got? Somehow I resisted the urge to buy everything in stock at Peter Nyssen and have ended up with twenty tulips (Orange Princess and Princess Irene, the colours go so well with the stone of the cottage), fifty narcissi (I know, I know, but they’re late and the meadow’s daff season could do with extending and I need more whites and anyway I only picked/deadheaded 1200 or so this year), thirty alliums (ten each of cernuum, christophii and siculum), five Camassia leichtlinii caerulea, and five lilies (Hiawatha, and I do hope the last two work out).


Now all I need is for the Wicked Weather Witch to join the Fungus Fairy and **** off so I can get them in. I don’t know; the moment I got the box open the clouds gathered and they’ve not really lifted since. Hrumpf.

The story of a tulip bed

My tulip bed is just starting to go over, and I will really miss it. Actually, tulip ‘bed’ is a bit of a misnomer; it was really a sort of tulip dump, or so it was intended. There were tulips scattered around the garden following their usual springtime role in pots, some doing better than others, and I decided to put them in one place. I thought they might work together or they might not; but I didn’t really care. I just wanted some colour.

In the middle garden, the working garden where the picnic bench sits and the washing gets hung out, there’s a sundial. Around the sundial was a small bed, insignificant and far too tiny, but with a lot of Anemone blanda in it for early spring. So we enlarged it, and started sticking tulips in it last year. By the end of March they were starting to come up:

tulips 1

Now tulips aren’t supposed to come back year after year, but I’ve had reasonable success replanting, so I kept my fingers crossed. What I hadn’t anticipated was that there would be a balanced succession, or that we had spaced them out properly – they were planted as dry, anonymous bulbs and it got a bit chaotic cramming them in. We did start out quite organised, but that wasn’t quite how it ended. Ahem.

Much to my surprise, I got a wild burst of colour from all the orange tulips I had in pots last year, well before everything else, and they were even fairly equally spaced (some did appear at the back eventually, honest). Almost deliberate!

tulip gloom

It’s a rather gloomy photo because the weather in mid April was rather gloomy, but once the sun came out they opened up and glowed. Get the light behind them, and they were incandescent.

Then, as is the way with such things, they faded and the next lot opened, and at least I got a chance to capture the effect of the sun:

tulips 3

I have absolutely no idea at all what these are, due to my terrible end-of-season bulb-rescue habit in places like Wilkinson and B&Q; I then lose the packaging, which is usually pretty grotty by that stage anyway. But they are lovely. These were also in pots by the front door, but in 2010. They’ve gone on and on, and been replanted twice. I’m quite happy with where they are now…

Then some of the more miscellaneous ones started to open too, happily in colours (bright scarlet to deep red, with some unintentional striping, ahem) which worked with the others, though I am glad that the orange ones were earlier, I must admit.:

tulips 4

Some have been verging on the mad:


and I was quite astonished to see these. They had been in pots years ago, then popped in a corner of the garden where they did precisely nothing. Replanting them here was a wild shot – I wanted shot of them and wildly decided to see if they did anything. I’ll say. Very glad I didn’t throw them out, and there are a couple more to move over.

By mid May the bed was still going strong,


with the almost-crimson white-edged tulips coming on a treat as well. There are no yellows – except for the unintentional stripes – or pure whites, but I’m not sure I ever had many of either, and some have failed to come up, though these blind ones are few. Overall, I am very, very pleased with this experiment, and it even sits well in context:


Admittedly it’s been a weird spring, with all sorts of timings thrown out – my lilac, for instance, is just blooming; usually it’s brown by now. So next year this will probably look different, perhaps without so many primroses and certainly without the giant rosemary at top left which is shuffling off this mortal coil and is held together with baler twine (eat your heart out, Chelsea gardeners – you should always use baler twine for the authentic country cottage effect). I’m planning a small rhododendron or azalea for that spot, but it will have to work with the tulips. I’m thinking about an azalea arborescens – ‘Latest White‘ – at the moment, but that will probably change.

There’s one thing that won’t, though. The bed’s not big enough:

bed 2

See? Tom Tit on a round of beef, as I believe the saying is. And I’ve got more tulips to go in it – some we missed – plus some Queen of the Night are just opening, and I clearly need to buy more. And the rest, though this year’s pots were a real disappointment so they’re going out. I’m so glad I’ve discovered Peter Nyssen. They’re not doing autumn orders until 1 June, but you can build up a wish list. So far, mine has about 60 items on it. Sigh.

I also have another reason to be chuffed with my tulips. The previous owner’s husband, a great gardener and ex-WW2 pilot, died in about 1995/6. The Wing Commander had been a wild tulip fan, ordering something exotic every year which he would put in planters and then pop in the garden, as I now do. A few still come up – there are a clutch of pink and green parrot tulips that materialise up by the log pile which I must shift before they vanish again, for instance. So I’m channelling the past, evidently, and why not, when it works so well?

And incidentally, I did go back to the lovely NGS garden I visited at the start of the month. It was even more wonderful, and completely changed with leaves on the trees providing much more shade, lots of bluebells, lots of azaleas and rhododendrons. Can’t think where I got the idea of adding an azalea from, really. I still want a tree heather, though…

White-daffodil Wednesday…

and it won’t be wordless. Of course.

white trumpet

Every year my daffodils – broadly; this tends to be weather-dependent – follow a sort of succession plan.

First come the big yellows; next are the smaller double yellows, then the frothier yellows (I haven’t many of those due to the fact that their heads and stems don’t match, and heavy heads on spindly stems stand no chance in this garden). As they fade, the white-trumpeted daffs come in, then the white-petalled exotica,


and then the ‘true’ narcissi.


Some years they all bunch up, but this isn’t one of them, much to my surprise. I’d assumed that the weather and the slow start to the season would give me a real  mix, like last year, but no – and the result is that the meadow now looks rather more refined and elegant than it did last year. Well, it would look rather more refined and elegant if it wasn’t for all the yellow-daff foliage dying back. If I’m honest, I must admit that dying-back daffodils were one of the reasons for developing the meadow in the first place – they look horrible on a well-behaved lawn. Not that I do well-behaved lawns. I do well-behaved moss.

And then I fell in love with whites. It’s no good; apart from the poet’s eyes and the Old Pheasant’s Eyes above, both of which I deliberately bought for their astonishing scent, I have no idea what any of them are. Some I inherited, but others have come in miscellaneous collections. I really must be more organised – what on earth is that second one, for instance?

That’s this one, which is a bit like Cheerfulness, but much bigger and not multi-headed:


and with an almost-metallic sparkle or sheen to the white petals. That’s a characteristic that is shared by quite a lot of the whites, but I’ve never seen it so obvious as it is on this variety (it’s quite hard to photograph, grr). I’ve now got two clumps of it, and absolutely no recollection of splitting either of them. Sometimes I think I have gardening brownies – the fairies, not a troupe of small girls belonging to a paramilitary organisation – who come and move things about in the night.

They can do that all they want; it will save me some shifting. I do need to split some clumps this year, notably of the white trumpets which have become somewhat overcrowded quite suddenly. I also cut the skirt of a huge skimmia back last summer (a lot more of it is coming out this year, and not coming out in a telling-its-parents-something-they-always-suspected sort of way, but in a giant crowbar, physical violence, chainsaw and bonfire sort of way), which revealed even more clumps:

pretty pretties

They’re a wee bit tatty, possibly due to the shock of sudden exposure to the full intensity of the weather, but they’ll get used to life in the light. I wonder if they were flowering their socks off all these years? I suspect they were simply producing lots of leaves, but whatever was going on undercover, I’m glad they’re visible now.


The thing is, once you have a good selection of white daffs, you also have an irresistible desire to add more – or I do, anyway. I’ve been poring over last autumn’s edition of Blom’s bulb catalogue wondering what might be in it this year, and where I might slot a few more in. OK, shoehorn a few more in, in addition to the ones I have to split and the ones I am moving up from elsewhere in the garden. There’s this patch, you see, which is a little lighter on the daffs…

I think I need a specialised twelve-step programme. Now. Or at the very latest, before Blom’s catalogue for spring 2014 comes through my letterbox in about August. Help…

Almost-wordless wowzer…

Spring is here:


because the birches are finally putting on leaves;


because there are fat flower buds on the Cirsium rivulare and only two of them were blackened by frost;


because even the dragon’s digging has failed to prevent the artichoke from coming beautifully back;


because you can keep tulips going from year to year, happily;


because the lawn is covered in speedwells, and they pinged right back after it had its first cut – and because this is finally happening:



(‘Hooray, hooray, the first of May / outdoor cough, splutter begins today.’ Despite the leaves etc, if you tried any outdoor cough, splutter round here today you’d get frostbitten bits. Still some way to go, but we are – at last – getting there.)

Spring hits the meadow – at last!

It’s finally happened. I know it’s going to get colder at the weekend – yipee – but the meadow couldn’t wait any longer. There have been daffodils blooming away for a few weeks now (I’ve already picked or deadheaded 510), but the rest? Nah. Too cold. But then things warmed up a little…

It began with the palest yellow primroses taking off about ten days ago,

primrose patch

starting to form a carpet and filling in the unmown areas. I snatched this photo from the box room to show clearly what happens when you mow paths, and when you just leave a ‘meadow’ like mine to do its thing and allow the primroses to set seed. And it’s a lot less effort, too. Not – perish the thought – that this entered my mind for a single second when I came up with the meadow idea. Certainly not.

The next thing I noticed was that one of the new damsons had covered itself in blossom overnight,


and that is a real treat. The other is catching up now and, as if in competition, the Victoria plum suddenly has ten flowers on it. I have explained that unless it produces more fruit than last year (four plums, two of which fell off) it will be firewood. The threat does not appear to be working.

But the rest of the meadow is certainly performing:

meadow pear

and, much to my optimistic delight, the Comice pear in the foreground is covered in tight buds. Yes, please, please let’s have some pears this year. I know I rescued you from a bin in Lidl, I know you’ve been ill done by, but no longer. Go for it. (No firewood threats here. Yet.)

The primulas really have suddenly gone bonkers, and there are a lot more to come. You have to be really careful where you tread,

prim frit

and not just because of the primulas, as you can see. I reckon I’ve lost about a fifth to a quarter of my fritillaries this year; they were just beginning to lift their heads and form substantial buds when the Arctic blast hit. Some were shrivelled, some were merely damaged, but more than I expected have survived.


and I keep coming across them. Many are stunted and have taken to hiding, and I cannot blame them in the slightest, poor little things!

The yellow daffs are now going almost over though there are still plenty to lift the heart (and if I miss bright yellow, I’ve always got dandelions),

daff prim

but the whites and pure narcissi are coming into their own, and this year they are stunning (they’ll be getting a post to themselves soon). The creamy-white pet–– no, let’s wait; there are plenty of other meadow delights to distract me, and I am ceaselessly amused by the clear path tracks -

mown path

like the one curving above – which criss-cross the meadow. They’ll probably get their first cut next week, I think; the rest, of course, waits till September / October and the Great Strim of Fate. We hang on to give everything a chance to set seed as lavishly as possible, and I am presently scouring the developing meadow for hints of the Salvia pratense having spread. Not a hint. Yet. Hopefully.

And another plus is that, finally, eureka, the birches are just beginning to put on some leaves. Phew. I know the bark is lovely but I’ve been admiring it for ages. Now I want fresh green leaves.

meadow and birches

The same cannot be said for most of the other trees, but doubtless they’ll catch up.

Maybe after this coming weekend…