The tulips in the cutting garden first opened their blooms at the end of March with the early-flowering 'Exotic Emperor' and 'Purissima' varieties. It's now exactly a month on, the early tulips have just gone over but there are still lots of tulips in flower and a few more yet to fully open.
I love tulips so much that I grow them in the cutting beds (among the dahlias and perennials), in rows on our new allotment and dotted throughout the garden borders.
Yes, the leaves can look unsightly as they go over, and you have to let the foliage die down but I think they are worth it, for the sheer variety of flower shapes and colours to fall in love with.
Species tulips such as 'Little Beauty', 'Lady Jane' and 'Turkestanica' are ideal edging tulips for cutting beds. These natural forms are smaller than the cutltivated varieties and have smaller leaves that die down quickly and don't get in the way of things. They are truly perennial whereas some cultivated varieties can stop flowering reliably each year.
Whatever type of tulip you go for - species or cultivated, lily-flowered or peony-flowered, there is a tulip for everyone. If you chose early, mid and late-flowering varieties, you'll get 4-6 weeks of flowers for cutting and have a beautiful garden display lasting 6-8 weeks.
I feel like I am always raving about the benefits of Hellebores in the cutting garden. They are such a welcome flower in the depths of winter and throughout spring. If they freeze, they just thaw out again, undamaged. They're an important source of early nectar for pollinating insects and they reward you with stunningly beautiful flowers which can form the focal point of arrangements from January through into April.
But, (sorry!) they can be temperamental as a cut flower. You can't cut them whilst in bud, like most flowers, you need to wait for them to have been fully open for a few days. You can even wait until they start forming green seed pods in the centre. These pollinated flowers do last much longer in the vase but the flower colour does alter as the flowers age. I cut them young, straight into water. I slit the stems at the bottom and if they do wilt overnight, despite this preparation, I find that re-cutting the stems and searing the ends with freshly boiled water can rejuvenate them. If that doesn't work you can always dispense with the stem and float the flower heads in a large, shallow bowl. Or you could if you don't have a cat (Florence, you know who you are..) that likes to drink water out of any vessel other than her water bowl! Hellebores with cat hairs aren't so attractive.
The reason for focussing on hellebores in this post is that I have been treated to an early Mother's Day present of some new hellebores to plant out in the cutting garden. I am planting them in the dahlia and tulip bed where I am hoping they will enjoy the shade cast by the dahlias during the summer but will be free of towering dahlias from late autumn, all through winter and spring. Hopefully they will enjoy this mix of sun and shade as much as I enjoy their flowers.
Well, I'm pretty sure that in my last post I was complaining about the cutting garden having disappeared under 10 cm of snow. We are now experiencing the hottest April weather in 70 years! Not that I am complaining, its just that I (and my milk-bottle legs) am not quite ready for mid-summer temperatures when it feels like spring only arrived a couple of weeks ago.
April sees the first of the tulips in flower where they join the primroses, cowslips, grape hyacinths, fritillaries, drumstick primulas, Euphorbia amygdaloides, Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve', pulsatillas and forget-me-nots. It is so satisfying to see the abundance of spring flowers, knowing that this is just the start. The bluebells, wallflowers, thrifts and foxgloves are following not far behind!
When choosing tulip varieties ensure that you choose some early flowerers (e.g. Exotic Emporer and Showcase), some mid-flowering types (e.g. Negrita and Paul Scherer) and some late flowering varieties (e.g. Angelique and Doll's Minuet). You can then extend the picking season for as long as possible.
Also this month: I am gradually hardening-off my hardy annual seedlings ready for planting out; I'm sowing batches of half-hardy annuals inside on my sunny windowsills; I am sneakily buying some little primulas, saxifrages and pulsatillas to edge some of the cutting beds; I'm pressing forget-me-nots and primroses in my flower presses for more pressed flower pictures and I'm getting ready to host another 'Grow Your Own Cut Flowers' workshop next week.