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Somehow, it is suddenly April and almost the end of the Easter holidays. We've had a mini heatwave, followed by snow flurries. I've dug out the sunglasses and flip-flops, only to exchange them for a parka and woolly hat a few days later.

Perennial tulips
Perennial tulips

You can't predict the weather but I can reliably predict that the first tulips in my cutting garden will bloom at the beginning of April. Different tulip varieties do flower at different times, so whether you are growing them for cutting or for a garden display, it makes sense to choose from early, middle and late flowering varieties to extend the season for as long as possible.

I have to say though, that if you leave them in the ground, in successive years, I've found that my late-flowering varieties such as 'Queen of Night' actually flower earlier than stated in those gorgeous bulb catalogues - late April/Early May, tends to mean mid-late April for me.

The perennial question with tulips is should you treat them, as the Dutch do, as annual blooms and dispose of the bulbs each year, or can you get them to flower again?

Tulip Jan Reus
Tulip 'Jan Reus'

The answer isn't straight forward. I find that some varieties do reliably come back year after year for me whereas others (even those that I chose as reliably perennial - I'm talking about you 'Bleu Aimable'!) just disappear never to be seen again.

I can only speak from experience, and with different soil and climatic conditions, you may not find that these tulips perform for you but I have found that 'Exotic Emperor', 'Purissima', 'Queen of Night', 'Turkestanica' and 'Showcase' have all been coming up, and slowly bulking up, for the last  5 years.

Species tulip
Species tulip 'Turkestanica' - good for naturalising and early flowers.

In Sarah Raven's new book 'A Year Full of Flowers', she has a whole chapter on tulips with lots of recommendations for perennial tulips and varieties recommended for cutting. Perennial recommendations include 'Ballerina', 'Light and Dreamy', 'Purple Dream', 'Spring Green' and 'Mistress Mystic'. I have to confess that I have dozens of books on growing flowers but I still found some nuggets of wisdom in this book, along with the amazing photography which makes you want to buy every tulip mentioned.

For garden borders, I would try to stick to the lists of reliably perennial tulips, especially if you are weaving these bulbs through your garden borders as it's a faff to take them up and plant anew each year. Species, Fosteriana, Darwin Hybrid, Viridiflora and Lily-flowered tulips are those recommended as most likely to pop up again.

Early flowering tulips
Early flowering tulips, including 'Salmon Van Eijk' with forget me nots.

If you are growing for cutting, maybe choose a mix of the stalwarts and supplement with others that take your fancy but may not make a reappearance.

Experiment - leave your bulbs in and see what happens in the years to come. If some fail to reappear then plant new ones. It's nice to add to your collection over the years and this year I will be taking out some of those 'Exotic Emperor' and 'Purissima' that have done so well as I now have too many of them and I want to get a bit more variety  into the cutting beds.

Try to keep a record of which varieties you have planted so if you do find a great tulip which is beautiful for cutting and comes back every year, you will know which variety to buy again. I have a list but still have some tulips whose names escape me.

The recommended planting advice if you want to ensure that your tulips bloom again is to plant them deep - about 10-15 cm. By planting them deep, you also minimise accidents when planting in the borders as you are less likely to put your spade for fork through a bulb later in the season when the foliage has disappeared.

Late-flowering tulips
Late flowering tulips with garden perennials in early May.

If you are leaving your tulips in, you need to deadhead them if you haven't cut the flowers already and then leave the foliage to die down. I grow mine in a cutting bed dedicated to dahlias. The dahlias need space when fully grown but when the tulips are out in flower, the dahlias are still underground so you can maximise the planting space and cram them in around your dahlia tubers.





We've had a very mild winter so far here in Norfolk and every day that I venture into the garden in the morning, cup of tea in hand,  I notice a few more signs of spring.

cherry plum blossom
Cherry plum blossom displayed in a macrame wall hanger

The cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera) is one of the first hedging plants to flower and the blossom is a pretty addition to the hedge and to a vase to bring into the house. The first tiny blue Scilla flowers are emerging from the soil. They are unusual in that the flowers emerge from the bare soil before the leaves do.


The pale yellow primroses, usually a herald of spring, have actually been flowering away merrily since about November. I have a few as edging plants in the cutting beds as they don't take up a lot of space and  the flowers are useful in tiny spring arrangements, lasting really well as a cut flower.

Last year, I planted some Hellebores in the dahlia bed, figuring that as they enjoy a certain amount of shade, they wouldn't be too affected by being shaded out by the towering dahlias during the hot summer months. Once the dahlias are cut down after the first frosts, the Hellebores gain access to some weaker sunshine during the winter and spring. It's worked really well and they are all blooming away happily. They really help to create vibrancy and life in the cutting beds during these winter months. I now have 14 different varieties in the garden and couldn't resist purchasing a few more on a recent shopping expedition to try the same idea up at our allotment plot. I cut some, leave some to brighten up the garden and press some of the beautiful flower heads for picture and card making.

snowdrops and cyclamen
Snowdrops and cyclamen

I'm slowly adding to the clumps of snowdrops in the garden borders. These beautiful dainty flowers are a classic winter flower and there are a staggering number of varieties of snowdrops to grow. Mine are the common Galanthus nivalis supplemented by some double-flowered 'Flore Pleno' and the tall 'Elwesii'. I have invested in a November-flowering variety called 'Remember Remember' which I hope will clump up and justify the small fortune that I paid for a single bulb. I often pick just a few snowdrop flowers along with a few stems of colourful Cyclamen coum for miniature displays.


Although I always find something to harvest and bring indoors during the winter months, there's no denying that there is a sharp decline in cutting opportunities once the first frosts have struck.

A sharp frost truly spells the end of the half-hardy annuals and dahlias and, while some hardy annuals can soldier on (I have still been cutting some late-sown cornflowers, chinese forget-me-nots and marigolds), they slow down in the face of prolonged cold weather. Now is the time to remove them to the compost heap and mulch the cutting beds with manure to add nutrients for future flowers next year.

Half- hardy Cosmos with the first frost

These next few months are a time for reflection and forward planning. I have some hardy annuals overwintering in my potting shed, ready for planting out next spring. I've potted up some spring bulbs in large pots for early spring flowers to display by the back door. I always plant miniature Iris reticulata and crocuses in small terracotta pots to bring inside the house during January and February. I have also planted some quick-flowering Paperwhite Narcissi which I think may not be quite ready in time for Christmas but should flower soon after.

Dried flowers from the cutting garden
Dried flowers from the cutting garden - hydrangeas, dahlias and hyssop

I like to dry flowers throughout the summer for display over the winter. Hydrangeas turn lovely shades of lime-green and dark pink, alliums produce very beautiful seed heads. I was very pleased with my experiments at drying some dark red ball dahlias which kept their structure and turned a lovely deep shade as you can see in the photo above.

There are still fresh flowers to cut such as tender, late-flowering Chrysanthemums which are seeking protection in my allotment polytunnel. I like to team these with dried Hydrangea heads or use them with the dark green foliage and scented white flowers of Viburnum tinus.

Chrysanthemum and hydrangea
Chyrsanthemum 'Avignon Pink' with dried Hydrangea heads.

Chrysanthemums come in some very beautiful forms and follow on nicely from Dahlias for cutting right into December. They have a fabulously long vase life, lasting about 2 weeks. I often use them for a splash of colour on a Christmas wreath (if the moss base is kept moist). I am a particular fan of the spider Chrysanthemum 'Tarantula Red' and the pretty pale pink 'Avignon Pink'.

Spider chyrsanthemem
Chrysanthemum 'Tarantula Red'