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.