Easter Extravaganza

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Oh the irony. For the last three years our National Gardens Scheme area organiser has been asking if we’d open the garden for a spring viewing and this year we thought we might just take the plunge. It’s always been such a guessing game, anticipating when the daffodils and tulips might be at their best, added to which we are often away precisely when the display peaks. Of course, Sod’s law, this year the Jungle Garden is looking better than ever, it’s a riot of unselfconscious colour flattered by copious amounts of green. All our stars are aligned, bar one: thanks to Covid 19 we can’t open and nor can anyone come and visit. It’s a great pity. Despite that we are loving every moment in our own private Keukenhof, especially given the fine weather we’ve been enjoying over Easter.

For the first time in many years we planted up part of the raised bed with tulip bulbs last autumn. This exercise is always reliant on there being open ground available, but having removed some dahlias, and after lifting the canopy of our bay tree, we had a golden opportunity. We deliberately selected shorter, sturdier cultivars that would survive the wind that whips along this stretch of the garden. They included ‘Orange Dynasty’, ‘Showcase’, ‘Slawa’ and ‘Request’. Tulip ‘Apricot Beauty’ has flopped both visually and physically; the flowers have proved too pale and pasty in the company of the others, and the stems have also proved too weak.

Planting tulips in the raised bed has added a new dimension to our spring bulb display and will be built on for 2021. Whilst we have managed to get tulips flowering from the sunny front edge to the dry, shady back edge, we are lacking height. Next year we plan to add crown imperials (Fritillaria imperialis) to remedy that and to add drama and exoticism to the display. We both love crown imperials and I even enjoy the foxy smell. In pots, F. ‘Orange Beauty’ (below) is doing exceptionally well. We also have plans to remove the large table and take the rows of pots through from one end of the garden to the other, creating more of a bulb ‘grandstand’ than a ‘theatre’. As usual, this will depend on time and money rather than ambition.

I am frequently asked what I do with all my bulbs once they’ve finished flowering. Daffodils are allowed to die down and are stored dry in their pots until August or September, when the bigger bulbs are repotted in fresh compost. Tulips, without exception, go on the compost heap and I order fresh ones over the summer. Some people are appalled by this (including The Beau), but it’s really not worth the effort and disappointment of storing and growing bulbs that are unlikely to re-flower satisfactorily. Our tulips will receive the same treatment this year, but the daffodils will go up to the allotment where they’ll be planted in rows, ‘in the green’, to be grown as cut flowers next spring. There is space between the rows of autumn-fruiting raspberries which will be perfect for daffodils.

We have a couple of new favourites this year, Narcissus ‘Pink Charm’ and N. ‘June Allyson’. Unusually for J. Parker’s, the bulbs we ordered as Narcissus ‘Altruist’, the most gorgeous orange-sherbet daffodil you ever did see, have turned out to be an entirely different cultivar. I’ve no idea which. No matter, they all look marvellously pretty together and we shall buy more ‘Altruist’ for next year.

As for tulips, we picked a colour scheme each; mine for the Jungle Garden and The Beau’s for the Gin & Tonic Garden. For a variety of reasons we never got around to moving the pots into the Gin & Tonic Garden so they’ve all been bundled in together and there’s very little coordination as a consequence. I don’t believe that coordination matters in spring, we’re all just happy to see flowers, whatever colour they may be. The Beau favours tulips with two-tone flowers – either red and white or red and yellow – whilst I tend towards rich, single colours like orange, rust, plum and ruby. I daresay we’ll make more of an effort in the Gin & Tonic Garden next spring but it’s been good (and sensible) to have a single space to focus on for this year.

There are a great many tulips left to bloom, but our favourites so far have been T. ‘Zombie’, T. ‘First Impression’ (personally I think a better name would have been ‘Ronald McDonald’ owing to its garish red and yellow flowers), T. ‘Slawa’ and T. ‘Orange Dynasty’, which is always on my shopping list. All the parrots and viridifloras have yet to bloom, including ‘Black Parrot’, ‘Amazing Parrot’ and ‘Golden Artist’. With luck they’ll be flowering well into May as the exotics start to creep out of the workshop.

I could not sign off without mentioning Geranium maderense, a tender geranium from Madeira that is a signature plant here at The Watch House. It is not at all hardy, which is why it’s rarely seen in gardens outside Cornwall, but when it finds a happy place it seeds around so freely that you’ll never be without it. We have about ten plants in total this year – a mix of the species and a white cultivar named ‘Guernsey White’. They are each beginning to flower and will die shortly after producing a prodigious quantity of seed. I find it difficult to decide whether I like the white or the pink form most – like favourite children it’s impossible to choose. Both are spectacular in leaf and in bloom.

Geranium maderense and Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’

Geranium maderense is a large, lush, monocarpic geranium suited to only the mildest UK gardens. Elsewhere it will grow successfully in a large pot that can be moved inside over winter.

The flower stalks of Geranium maderense are covered in sticky pink hairs

Although we are both working full time through the current lockdown we have a lot more time to spend on the garden and the allotment. This is really paying dividends, not just for our plots, but also for our mental health. I am so much happier being close to home and able to interact with my garden on a daily basis. It’s been wonderful to enjoy the sensation of gardening at leisure rather than under continual pressure, which is how it sometimes is at The Watch House. That pressure will inevitably come as the days get longer and everything starts growing like topsy. So, just for now, I’m going to stop and take satisfaction from being vaguely on top of things. I am certain this was not the Easter break any of us had planned, but it was far from without its pleasures.

Wishing you a happy, healthy week ahead. TFG.

N.B. This post was exclusively published on The Frustrated Gardener. If you are reading this on any other blog, it has been illegally ‘scraped’ by some unscrupulous folk who don’t have the talent or knowledge to write their own material. Come on over to The Frustrated Gardener and leave the pale imitation to shrivel on its virtual vine.

Categories: Bulbs, Container gardening, Flowers, Our Coastal Garden, Photography, Small Gardens, tulips

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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25 comments On "Easter Extravaganza"

  1. I’m admiring your bold combinations. You’re right that anything goes in spring.
    You might find it worthwhile experimenting with the spent tulips in your allotment bed. I do something similar, and I’ve been happily surprised by the number of second- and even third-year blooms for cutting. Even Estella RIjnveld flowered a second year, more than 50%. Akebono is back for its fifth year, though in a bed that gets good and dry.
    Your blog is a weekly pleasure. Thank you!

  2. Dan, as ever a totally brilliant display and beautiful photography. There is always the virtual opening option, NGS gardens may not be able to open their gates this year but head office are uploading films of gardens with a “just giving” link in an attempt to keep raising money for the various nursing charities. A bit of shameless advertising hoping your followers will have a look at the National Garden Scheme site in generous mood! Judging from this blog The Watch House would be the star turn.

    1. Hello Andrew. If the garden’s still looking acceptable this coming weekend I shall film something. I won’t be expecting any awards for cinematography though 😉 I’ve already had a few people say they’d be pleased to donate based on a virtual visit.

  3. Wow and I thought I had gone mad with the colours this year! I have fallen in love with Narcissi after years of just growing Tulips, mostly miniatures as they seem to withstand the wind in Cornwall, although I have some impressive taller white ones in a raised bed that are wonderfully scented. I grew Tulip ‘Apricot Beauty’ last year and loathed it, far too wishy-washy and although the colour deepened as it matured I wasn’t impressed. I have ‘Red Shine’ this year and that is gorgeous, but ‘Zombie’ seems to be a big favourite so that will go on the autumn list! Thanks for a delightful virtual tour of your jungle Dan. And I am rather envious that you can actually walk to your beach!

    1. Yes, we are fortunate, the main beach is 2 minutes away and the rest are a short walk. I realise how lucky we are at the moment.

      I have grown ‘Apricot Beauty’ among silver-leaved plants where it shines, but it’s pale beauty is eclipsed by stronger colours. The Beau dislikes it too. I think it has its place, just not here.

      ‘Red Shine’ is a very fine, statuesque tulip. I heartily approve. Looks good with ‘White Triumphator’.

      Hope you are keeping well? Give my love to Cornwall.

  4. What a feast of colour! I really must replace my Rosa banksias ‘Lutea’ that upped & died on me a few years back: yours is gorgeous with the G. maderense – aren’t the stems lovely! My favourite of your tulips is the ‘Orange Dynasty’ too.

    1. Hi Sally. It’s a lovely rose, even accounting for the short flowering period. We really need to train it up the house rather than let it flop about all over the place. The rose misses the tree it used to climb!

      ‘Orange Dynasty’ is definitely a winner, but it needs full sun to bring out the colour. In the raised bed it’s more like ‘Golden Dynasty’ 🙂

  5. It is such a bummer that while the landscapes here are blooming more spectacularly than they will for the rest of the year, there are no guest here to see them. At least the guest here only enjoy the landscapes and associated bloom incidentally, while attending other events. It would be much worse if guests who come specifically FOR the gardens could not come. At least we can still enjoy our own gardens, and share pictures.
    I really do like ‘Purissima Design’, but because it is quite subdued. It is almost like a white for situations where plain white would be too plain. Of these pictures, it would be my favorite.’Zombie’ is nice, but yeah, it is a bit flashy. (and yes, that really is an odd name.) Ronald McDonald is creepy, but I sort of dig ‘First Impression’. I don’t know why. It is not my style, and it is as flashy as ‘Zombie’. ‘Orange Dynasty’ is not my style either, but it really is rad. You know, there are many flowers that I can really appreciate in other peoples’ gardens.

  6. An extravagant Easter Parade indeed. Definitely move the big table so your eye is not stopped there. It all looks so grand. I love the bold colors. Orange Dynasty is my favorite so far. It looks good enough to eat. I also like the fuzzy stems of the geranium. How nice that it is blooming now. You will be so spoiled by the end of this pandemic you won’t want to go back to work. However there are so many flowers bulbs etc that I know you want that you will have to go back to work. This year should be easier in the garden due to this head start you have been given. Bring on the parrots! Can’t wait to see them.

  7. Hello! What a wonderful post! I was looking for advice on potting my Geranium maderense white… they on small cells but have this longish stem… should I pot them on deep? Super scared to loose them :/ thanks

    1. Yes, actually you should be fine with that Alessandra. I often do the same with leggy seedlings. Just don’t over water or keep too humid after potting on. You’ll have a more stable plant if you keep them stocky.

  8. Thanks to Covid 19 I have only just now had time to catch up with reading some of your blogs. I live in a coastal town at the very bottom of the South Island, New Zealand. We are just heading into winter so what a joy to see your Spring bulbs flowering. That symphony of colour cheers the heart. I look forward to watching progress in your allotment too. Thank you . Keep spreading the joy.

  9. Dear Mr. Cooper,
    I was recently made aware of your website through Veulio. We have just launched our gardening services website for Bristol and I was very pleased to read some of the content on your blog. So much color in this post! The tulips are just beautiful. Reminds me of a visit I did last year to Keukenhof in the spring. Thank you for the relevant information and have a great week!

  10. Reading your post about lifting the canopy of your bay tree, I wondered whether I should attempt the same. We have two very large bay bushes, or rather bushy trees, which are very happy here in our moorlands upland environment, just outside the Peak District. In fact I have to prune them drastically every year, but the tops are too high for me now, even from a step ladder. This month they have gone berserk and put on even more growth than usual. They are taking over my garden and I don’t want to remove them. Do you think it is worth the risk removing the lower limbs? Do you know what height they could eventually get to? I really enjoyed reading your post about scilla peruviana, which is what brought me to your website, as I am growing these for the first time in my new gravel garden and they are loving this weather.

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