Bulbs To Light Up Spring

We’ve had a spectacular spring for bulbs, both inside and out, largely thanks to J. Parker’s who have kindly supplied us with a fabulous selection to trial this year. Bulb anticipation began in January when we planted the Hippeastrum with awed respect for the size of the bulbs. By late February, paperwhite daffodils were filling every corner of the house with their captivating scent, adding a sparkle to our late winter days.

‘Premier’ starting to unfurl and paperwhite daffodils

Then the Hippeastrum flowerbuds burst apart and since that moment the house has been a riot of colour. ‘Premier’, ‘Hercules’ and ‘Charisma’ all lived up to their auspicious names and graced the kitchen table with their majestic flowers throughout March and April. ‘Premier’ reached 80cm tall and all three Hippeastrum had two rounds of flowering. The children were fascinated by the way such mammoth flowers could be contained within the modest buds, escaping and inflating to such monumental proportions. Our favourite was ‘Premier’ for the depth of colour, but all three had power and charm – it was rather like having a pet on the kitchen table for a few weeks.

 

‘Charisma’, ‘Premier’, ‘Hercules’ and a small person who loved her gigantic floral friend

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The first bunch of ‘Gigantic Star’

As the Hippeastrum were fading, the allotment cutting patch stepped up to the mark. I wrote last year about beginning a cutting patch by planting rows of spring bulbs and the hours of soggy digging were worth the effort. First out was Narcissus ‘Gigantic Star’ with its yolk-yellow trumpets and another delicious scent. It took over from the paperwhites and carried the show alone until the tulips began. Its flowers are long-lasting in a vase and once their golden glow is cast over a room, you know spring is here to stay.

 

‘Slawa’ is perhaps my favourite of the tulips with its deep purple and red markings standing out against the double flowered Narcissus ‘The Bride’ and delicate Narcissus  ‘Thalia’.

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‘The Bride’, ‘Thalia’ and ‘Slawa’ at their best

Then came Narcissus ‘Piper’s End’ – another new one for me – its dark centres ringed with green, a softly fringed corona and offset white perianth segments. 

Mesmerising centres of ‘Piper’s End’ and ‘Shirley’

Tulipa ‘Carnival de Rio’ and ‘Hollandia’ create a vibrant display together as does Tulipa ‘Attila’ with one of my old favourites ‘Shirley’. Tulipa ‘Jimmy’ is a soft orange with red-tinged centres to the petals and it softens the deep crimson glow of ‘Ronaldo’ in an arrangement.

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‘Slawa’, ‘Carnival de Rio’ and Narcissus ‘The Bride’

Planting complementary colours in the allotment has allowed me to arrange the flowers singly or in mixed bunches and the ploy of moving the cutting patch to the allotment has been a success. Now that my flower crop is no longer visible from the kitchen window, I have only the merest reluctance about wielding the scissors.

The cutting patch ready for picking

Anyone helping with my allotment this spring has returned home with bunches of flowers in makeshift vases – old milk bottles which double up as cane toppers – and the kitchen and study haven’t been with cut flowers since February. 

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Narcissus ‘Piper’s End’ and Tulipa ‘Attila’, ‘Shirley’, Hollandia’ and ‘Carnival de Rio’

Right at the end of the show, the vidiflora tulips ‘Spring Green’, ‘Artist’ and ‘Groenland’ and the beautiful triumph tulip ‘Mistress Grey’ have joined the party, adding a smoky, subtle touch to my spring arrangements.

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‘Mistress Grey’

I’d definitely recommend daffodils and tulips as good cutting material and I’m hoping many of the tulips (all planted on a gravel base) will be perennial and crop for several years. I’ve been buying bulbs from J. Parker’s for years as they have a good range with new varieties each year to try out. All the bulbs we received were healthy and all flowered well for us. Now I’m off to the allotment to plant out my gladioli and collect the next tulip assortment. And come autumn I’ll be scouring the catalogues for a few exciting new varieties to add sparkle to my arrangements in 2018.

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Nothing better than a cup of assam and fresh flowers to create a relaxing atmosphere (‘Shirley’, ‘Attila’, ‘Groenland’ and ‘Spring Green’)

What flowers perform well for cutting in other allotments and gardens? I’d love to hear about bulbs which I could add to my list for cutting and combinations which look attractive in a vase. Happy gardening 🙂

If you’d like to follow the cutting patch throughout the year, you can subscribe below:

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More information about the cutting patch and our favourite tulips can be found in the following posts:

Banish the September blues with my top 10 tulips

Planning a Cutting Patch: Bulb Time

Planning a Cutting Patch: Annual Choices

Planning a Cutting Patch: Bulb Time

I started a cutting patch in the back garden last year. It was a disaster. I planted Echinacea purpurea, Monarda, Calendula (‘Indian Prince’ and ‘Porcupine’), sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus ‘Barry Dare’, ‘Cupani’ and ‘Arthur Hellyer’), Gladioli (‘Flevo Cool’, ‘Flevo Flash’ and ‘Flevo Sylvia’) and nasturtiums. It was a bit of an odd mix with little forethought, just plants and seeds which I had available and which I knew would also be good for wildlife. The patch grew beautifully and created a mini pollinator paradise. It also added a focal point with vibrant colours at the end of the vegetable raised beds, but herein lay the problem. It was too lovely. Every time I contemplated ravishing it with my scissors, I hesitated and backed away. I did cut a few blooms, but each time I harvested flowers for the house, I felt I was depriving the bees and butterflies, and diluting the visual effect.

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The cutting bed was wild and wonderful

So this year I’m approaching a cutting patch with a new plan. I intend to interplant my veggies with edible companions like calendula, nasturtiums and borage to create colour and cater for the insects. Then in the allotment – far away from the kitchen window and my view as I’m washing up – I’ll plant my cutting patch which will be one bed about 1.2m by 6m. This time I’m putting a little more thought into the planting so it really earns its keep year round. We have a half plot (I’m banned from taking on any more land or responsibility for any more gardens at the moment), so every bit of space matters.

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The calendula now self-seed and create a blast of colour throughout the summer

I have plans for bulbs, perennials and annuals, plus I’m hoping to squeeze in a Cornus alba ‘Kesselringii’ when no-one’s looking. I already have Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’, Cornus sericea ‘Flaviremea’ and Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ in the garden providing wonderful winter cutting material, so a ‘Kesselringi’ will add to this collection with its stunning deep purple/black stems. I’ve been reading up on plants which offer good material for cutting at different times of year and thinking about how they might combine in arrangements. I’ll be writing about my choices of perennials and annuals in a later post, but here are my bulb plans and some of the thinking behind the combinations.

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Sweet peas are a must for my cutting patch – this is the striking ‘Barry Dare’

I have never grown enough tulips to have many for cutting and it struck me that including tulip and narcissi bulbs in the cutting patch won’t require much extra room. The soil will not be supporting large plants during early spring so the tulips can easily come up between the perennials as they grow and the dying foliage should be covered by the annual flowers later in the season. I’ve chosen the Sarah Raven ‘Vintage Silk’ collection as I haven’t grown ‘Apricot Beauty’, ‘Mistress Grey’, ‘Spring Green’ or ‘Groenland’ before and I love their subtle smoky look. I’m also planning on including ‘Shirley’ (which I vowed to grow again when I wrote my tulip review earlier in the year), ‘Attila’ (deep purple), ‘Carnival de Rio’, ‘Hollandia’ (these two make a red/white striped and red mix), ‘Slawa’ (an amazing maroon tulip with outer orange stripes), ‘Ronaldo’ and ‘Jimmy’ (these two create a deep crimson and coral orange mix). I’m hoping these combinations will look great in vases – they should last for 10 days or longer and will also mix well with the greens of Euphorbia palustris and Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae which will be planted in the cutting patch.

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This is as far as I’ve got with tulips in arrangements so far – the odd ‘Queen of Night’ with Ammi majus, Centaurea montana ‘Jordy’ and Centaurea cyanus ‘Black Ball’

The narcissi should provide blooms from March to May – from ‘Gigantic Star’ with a vanilla-like fragrance in March/April, through ‘Thalia’  and ‘The Bride’ in April/May to ‘Piper’s End’ in May.   J.Parker’s have offered me the narcissi and the seven tulip varieties ‘Shirley’ – ‘Jimmy’ to trial this year, so I can see how the varieties perform in the allotment and how suitable they are for cutting. The tulips bulbs will be planted about 15-20cm deep, 10-15 cm apart and the narcissi 10-15 cm deep, 8-10cm apart, depending on the bulb size. The extra depth will hopefully encourage the tulips to flower well in subsequent years. Both bulb types will be planted with a handful of grit beneath them as we do in the garden, to aid drainage. Then the perennials can be planted alongside the bulbs and the annuals sown above once spring arrives. I’m also considering planting winter/spring bedding to reduce weed cover, add colour and provide material for cutting before the spring bulbs and annuals begin.

Once I’ve added in the Gladioli ‘Flevo’ series from the garden and a mixture of dahlias which I already have and some new faces (‘Café au Lait’ and ‘Henriette’ – with their milky coffee and peach hues, alongside the deep velvets of ‘Thomas A. Edison’, ‘Downham Royal’ and ‘Con Amore’), I’ll have pretty much filled (probably over-filled) the available bulb/tuber/corm space. The dahlias will go in after the frosts next year above the narcissi, to maximise the use of space. And I’m literally bouncing off the seat with excitement at all the promise which will be hidden underground throughout the winter months. I’ve no idea how I’ll contain myself when I get to planning perennials and annuals – maybe I should read up on rabbit damage, greenfly infestations and fungal problems to introduce a degree of pessimistic balance.

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Gladioli ‘Flevo Cool’ looks magnificent in the garden and in a vase

But whatever problems lie in the future, for the moment I can watch the leaves falling with my cup of tea in hand and dream about vases of glorious spring blooms adorning the house. Then it’s back to the allotment, trowel in hand, to start digging.

I enjoy flower arranging and I’ve been on a couple of courses, but it’s very much a work in progress!

Are you planning a cutting patch or garden, or do you already have one? What tips would you give a newbie cut flower grower like me? I’m in two minds about whether to plant the narcissi singly or in groups and would be interested in thoughts on this. I’d also love to hear about what works and what hasn’t been as successful in other cutting patches, so do leave me a comment below  🙂

If you’d like to follow my cutting patch as I continue to plan and plant, you can follow the blog below. Next up it’s perennials and no doubt some photos about how the bulb planting is progressing…

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Banish the September blues with my top 10 tulips

It’s been a dreamy summer holiday. We’ve been swimming in the sea, learned to ride without stabilisers, lost baby teeth, wandered around maize mazes, explored woodland dens and returned from the allotment stained with raspberry and blackberry juice. Now, in the first week of September, there’s school on the horizon for both my 7 year old and my reception baby – how can 4½ years go so quickly? Tonight I watered the garden in the dark for the first time for months, the first James Grieve fell off the apple espalier and my Rosa ‘Jacqueline Du Pré’ dropped her final petal. There’s still plenty to celebrate in the garden – the never-ending greenhouse chilli, tomato and cucamelon harvest, the thriving purple Brussel sprout plants in the allotment and the quinces maturing under their furry down in the side garden. But there’s been a subtle shift in both my family and my gardening life, and I can’t help feeling that it will never be quite the same again.

When the September blues strike, I am grateful that the cycles of life draw me forwards, planning, reading and shaping the new year in my mind. As the autumn catalogues arrive on the doormat, my thoughts turn, squirrel-like, to bulbs which can be buried over the next few months ready to herald the arrival of the new spring. Over the past few years I’ve spent countless hours on my knees with a trowel in the back and front gardens planting  daffodils, fritillaries, hyacinths, grape hyacinths, alliums and tulips – hundreds of massed tulips. Mostly this furtive activity takes place at dusk, in the snatched half hours after the children are asleep, with evening life going on all around me, unaware that I’m crouched in the shadows, preparing for spring.

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My favourite spot for relaxing – not that that happens much!

Planning my tulip display involves remembering old friends and opening the door to new acquaintances. I do browse catalogues with a cup of tea in hand, but I also revisit old photos – reminding myself of displays which lit up my garden in the past and also combinations in other gardens which I’d like to get to know better in the future. Over the years my love of tulips (the thrill of seeing such vivid colours and delicate forms so early in the year) has grown as I’ve explored their use in public and private gardens. Now I’d like to share my favourites in the hope that they might help and inspire others in turn.

1. ‘Ballerina’

One of my favourite tulips for its perennial nature, its zingy colour and the way its shape and hue changes as it matures. Initially almost red, it matures to a bright orange with red stripes down the middle of each petal. It looks stunning on its own, for example as an edging plant in these images taken at Capel Manor gardens…

It thrives in my gravel garden despite clay soil, although I do plant all of my tulips with a handful of gravel beneath each bulb. I combine ‘Ballerina’ with ‘Queen of Night’ in the front gravel garden. In the back flowerbed it blooms alongside ‘Purple Prince’, ‘Queen of Night’ and blue forget-me-nots and never fails to lift my spirits when I see it emerging in the spring.

The versatile ‘Ballerina’ thrives in the back garden, front garden and in pots

2. ‘Swan Wings’

Generally I favour simple shapes and colours with my tulips, but I photographed ‘Swan Wings’ years ago at RHS Wisley and have always wanted to grow it. I think this year it’s time to try it out and I might pair it with red Bellis perennis as in my image, to create contrast and impact.

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3. ‘Queen of Night’

I love deep purple/black flowers and foliage, and I use them in my garden and my work as often as I can. I’ve been growing ‘Queen of Night’ for years and find it reliably perennial. It combines well with lighter purple and orange tulips, but also looks stunning with white or off-white bedding plants. I’ve combined it this year with the wallflower ‘Ivory White’ which I grew from seed and was very pleased with the result.

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I can’t resist getting up close and personal with plants and ‘Queen of Night’ has the most glorious interior

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‘Queen of Night’ standing proud

4. ‘Monte Carlo’

As a general rule I’m not that keen on bright yellow flowers and only have this tulip because it was sent as a part of a mixed set. However, when it emerged this spring I was surprised to find myself making detours past its pot in order to get another blast of its exuberant power.

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I’d never have chosen this tulip, but now I’ve watched it bloom it’s staying on my list

5. ‘Prinses Irene’

Possibly one of the most beautiful tulips I’ve ever grown, ‘Prinses Irene’ is a subtle, understated winner. I love the Sarah Raven ‘Venetian Tulip’ collection and have grown it for several years both in pots and in the ground. I’ve never had much luck in the border beneath the apple espaliers as the bark mulch seems to attract the slugs early in the year which then eat holes in the tulip leaves and flowers, twisting them as they emerge. This year, in pots at the front, they have thrived and I’ve been impressed by the new addition to the collection – ‘National Velvet’ in place of ‘Couleur Cardinal’ – which has a superb colour and sheen.

‘Prinses Irene’ and ‘National Velvet’

 

6. ‘Purissima’

Another favourite (perhaps I should admit they’re all favourites!) is ‘Purissima’ with its white/cream flowers which open up to a dinner plate size in the sun. It is another good perennial tulip and has lasted several years in big pots in the garden.

In pots with wild strawberries at the back and with mixed muscari at the front

7. ‘Shirley’

‘Shirley’ was the only tulip in the first garden I owned, although I didn’t know its name at the time. I loved its soft markings and photographed it in wonder. I think it’s about time I grew it again…

‘Shirley’ in my first ever garden

It looks great in a pot (here at Capel Manor with ‘Jackpot’) or in borders (here with ‘Paul Scherer’ at the back)

8. ‘Purple Prince’

I grew ‘Purple Prince’ a few years ago to create a purple accent against the orange of ‘Ballerina’ and dark purple of ‘Queen of Night’. Then I decided I preferred the orange and dark purple on their own and marked the ‘Purple Prince’ tulips so I could remove the bulbs after flowering. Two years on they are still appearing en masse in the flowerbed and I’ve decided they can stay. Instead I grow ‘Ballerina’ and ‘Queen of Night’ on their own in the front. Then a serendipitous combination this spring pleased me very much – ‘Purple Prince’ emerged in front of the foliage of my Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’. Try taking my ‘Purple Prince’ out of the border after that and I’d have something to say about it!

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9. ‘Zurel’

When we moved into my current house 6 years ago there was a purple and white rembrandt tulip in a border we had to remove to make room for the apple espaliers. I replaced it the next year with ‘Zurel’ – a striking, upbeat tulip. Unfortunately the bulbs didn’t reappear this year – probably because I overwintered the pineapple sage which was sharing the same pot in the greenhouse and they dried out. The area at the end of the vegetable beds hasn’t looked the same and we definitely need to get our stripes back next year.

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 10. ‘Paul Scherer’

This tall, almost black tulip creates maximum impact paired with white tulips like ‘White Triumphator’ or ‘Snowstar’, or with other white flowers. Here the underplanted white forget-me-nots (Mysotis sylvatica ‘Snowsylva’) make the tulips look like little black holes floating above the ground, absorbing all the light.

More tulip images from my albums which have me reaching for the catalogues…

Which tulips can’t you be without and which new ones have bewitched you? Leave me a comment so I can make my wish list even longer  😉

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