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.
Rain, lots of rain. Good for the garden, if not the spirits. March heralds the official start of spring and it's also the month to start sowing seeds. A rewarding task, especially if you can do it inside in the dry. I have a small potting shed for the actual seed sowing but I move the pots inside onto my sunny windowsills so that they get the heat required for germination. So far I've sown sweetpeas, calendula 'Orange Flash', larkspur and a mix of colours of cornflowers. I'll sow more hardy annuals over the next few weeks.
The cutting beds are full of emerging bulbs and I've been cutting some spring flowers to make tiny spring posies. Grape hyacinths make wonderful cut flowers- having a surprisingly long stem and a delicate scent. I grow the bog -standard blue form and also dark blue Muscari latifolium which has just 2 sheaf-like leaves rather than the sprawling leaves of the common form. Another well-behaved grape hyacinth is 'Siberian Tiger', a white form which isn't as invasive. Baby's breath is a gorgeous pale, powder-blue variety (pictured above).
Other flowers for picking this month include daffodils, primroses, scillas, species tulips and pulmonaria. Pulmonaria is a great spring flower to tuck under a hedge or in a shady spot. Its blue and pink flowers work well in a tiny spring posy.
My dark purple trailing pansy has been flowering ever since October when I bought it from Beth Chatto's garden nursery in Essex. Pansies aren't everyone's cup of tea but they do make great winter flowers and I think they look lovely displayed in a terracotta pot.
We have a table in our courtyard which can be seen through the pation doors. It's an ideal spot for displaying pots of seasonal flowers and I aslo keep some pots of herbs on it (mint, tarragon and purple sage). At the moment, we have pots of grape hyacinths, crocuses, a hellebore and a primula. Anything that is in flower at the right time can be displayed in a pot and then either planted out into the cutting garden or moved out of sight once it's past its best, ready for another year.
I hosted my first 'Grow Your Own Cut Flowers' workshop of 2019 and we had a dry, if very cold day, on which to pick our flowers from the garden. We picked and displayed white and dark red hellebores, Viburnum tinus for its white flowers and glossy green foliage, a few stems of flowering currant, some trailing stems of Trachelospermum jasminoides, rosemary in flower and some annual stocks which had survived all winter in the cutting garden.
My student, Patsy wasn't keen on the idea of growing tulips as you have to put up with their rather unattractive foliage after flowering but I think I sold her on the idea of edging her cutting beds with the species tulip Tulipa turkestanica. This variety has small, twisted leaves (which don't take up a lot of space) and beautiful pale yellow star-shaped flowers. If you leave some flower heads on, they form beautiful seed pods which are decorative in their own right.
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.