Saturday 25 August 2012
Those that know me realise that I’m a tulip addict. We all have our guilty pleasures, and one of mine is the tulip. I had decided to resist blogging about buying tulips until later in the season – but the sight of those shining mahogany bulbs arriving in the garden centres was too much. Why wait to tell you about them? The first thing I should say is that it is too early to plant tulips. Please wait until late October or November to get them into the ground or into pots. Plant too early and you risk frost damage and the disease tulip fire.
However it is not too early for buying tulips – They are available now and you know what they say: “the early birds get the best bulbs”, or something like that. I always go for the largest bulbs I can buy and those are the ones that Hillier sells loose. Graded as 14+ or 14up, these are firm, plump and packed with flower power.
Tulips bloomed in Europe for the first time in the spring of 1594. The bulbs came from Turkey where some grow wild; selections have been made and cultivated in Turkish gardens since earliest times. ‘Tulipomania’ swept through
Holland in the early 1600s and spread to Germany, France and Flanders. Astronomical prices were paid for single bulbs as collectors sought to acquire rare and showy forms. It took the intervention of the Dutch government to halt this speculation in tulip bulbs, but not before fortunes and livelihoods were lost in the process. Stories abound of Dutch merchants willing to exchange their canal – side house in Amsterdam for a single bulb. Even as late as 1850 the bulb of a well- broken tulip (one with flamed or feathered flowers) would fetch as much as £150.
Fascinating stories: fortunately today tulips are considerably cheaper, and the risk of getting hooked on these fabulous flowers is considerably less. Ten fabulous tulip bulbs cost less than a bunch of flowers and last considerably longer.
So when buying tulips what do I choose? I want a long lasting tulip that performs regardless of the weather. I like simple single tulips in soft or dark colours. I love silky, sensual, elegant blooms. Tulip ‘Menton’ delivers all of these qualities and those that have grown it always come back the following year. The blooms are soft salmon, becoming more intense as they mature. In some lights they have a hit of gold in the petals. They open late in the season on long, stout stems and are remarkably large, but beautifully formed. This is a great variety for beds and borders. On well drained soil ‘Menton’ will reappear year after year. It is also superb in pots and as a cut flower.
Tulip ‘Menton’ is always a show stealer at Chelsea Flower Show. Last year’s show saw a week of hot weather and ‘Menton’ was the only variety on Bloms’ exhibit that lasted the whole week.
Buying tulips now? Buy ‘Menton’, 14+ bulbs while they are still available. Visit www.hillier.co.uk now. What about my other guilty pleasures...................maybe next time.
Monday 20 August 2012
Alliums are such appealing flowers, delicate structures carried on straight stems above the other residents of the flower border. These are enduring flowers, long term garden plants that reliably produce blooms that are exquisite in bud, flower and seed. There are a number of popular varieties appearing in garden centres now as dry bulbs. This is the way to buy them, its far better value than buying them growing in pots later on.
I garden on well-drained sandy soil, and my alliums multiply year on year. They also seed and spread successfully and I encourage this as they drift through the borders. It takes a few years for alliums from seed to flower, but the parent bulbs keep up the display in the meantime.
The essential allium in any garden is the lovely silver-lilac Allium christophii. This has large sparkling flowerheads on stout stems, and it’s one of the longest lasting alliums I know. Plant the bulbs a few centimetres apart in groups of three or so, or plant singly and randomly amidst herbaceous geraniums or silver foliage plants. Never plant alliums where you can see the base of the plant, for example in pots or bare soil. The foliage starts to die back as the flowers open and it looks awful.
Allium christophii has a stunning seedhead when the flowers fade, and it last in good condition into autumn, before turning to parchment in the winter garden. Often last year’s seedheads are blowing around the garden when the plants are producing more flowers the following summer.
The other large flowered alliums I rate highly are Allium ‘Globemaster and Allium ‘Gladiator’.
These are taller with large tightly packed flowerheads which are magnets for bees and pollinating insects. These bulbs are more expensive, but again you are investing in long-term garden plants. The blooms are long lasting, but the seedheads are not. Enjoy them while they are the spectacles of the early summer border, rising high above perennials and grasses.
In most gardens alliums are left along by rabbits and deer, so they are a better bet than tulips which these creatures love! There are lots of other varieties to choose from, and lots of planting partners. One of my favourites is the lovely grass Stipa tenuissima.
Alliums and Stipa tenuissima – now there’s a marriage made in heaven – maybe I’ll write about that next time. This certainly isn’t my last word on alliums. I want you all to know your onions by the time September is out!
Friday 17 August 2012
Personally I love the grape hyacinth in containers. I planted an old galvanised bath with around 150 bulbs of mixed shades of muscari last spring and it flowered exquisitely for over a month – that’s the magic of muscari.
The Dutch use sprinklings of grape hyacinth in pots and containers, and they are masters at using them in small outdoor containers. I loved the ones attached to lamp posts at the Keukenhof.
Tuesday 14 August 2012
Looking at my pictures, following my recent visit to RHS Wisley, I am so impressed by the garden's green areas. Admittedly this summer's rain has made the grass grow, and the foliage of shrubs and trees is particularly lush, but green is something English Gardens do well.
Sunday 12 August 2012
The small gardens are generally looking a bit tired after a few warm days and a drier spell of weather - remarkably good I suppose considering the summer we've had. I was taken with this bed of sage and lavender surrounding a birdbath. These woody herbs are great plants for this type of situation. Salvia officinalis 'Icterina' is a plant I forget about; I use the purple one all the time, but this is such an uplifting colour. It is eyecatching but does not jar as many yellow oliage plants tend to do. I love it with blue - bet its good with Perovskia - maybe I'll talk about that great autumn plant next time............
Wednesday 8 August 2012
If there’s one thing you should remember about pruning flowering shrubs, it is prune straight after flowering. So those early summer flowering shrubs are pruned in midsummer. This year, if you are anything like me you are running late. Partially because of wet weekends, but also because some philadelphus, deutzia and weigela seemed to have flowered quite late, and over a long period. That’s my excuse anyway!
Summer pruning of these shrubs is quite an easy task. You just cut out some of the stems that have flowered, right back to where you see strong, vigorous new shoots arising low down on the stems. You do not have to do it every year, if you miss a year it’s not the end of the world. If you miss a few then you may have to have a good sort out to get a plant back into shape.
That’s what I did this year with one or two overgrown philadelphus. The sooner you prune after flowering the better because those new shoots are not too advanced. The later you leave it the more likely you are to damage the new shoots when you cut out the old.
Summer pruning is also carried out now on silver foliage subjects, especially santolina. whether you like the hard yellow flowers of Santolina chamaecyparissus or not, now is the time to cut them back; back to wherever you can see new shoots appearing on the stems. If you cut back into bare, older wood they may not regrow. Trimmed in this way now they should produce a new flush of silver foliage which will stay looking good through autumn and into winter. Leave those flowerheads on and the shrubs seem to fall apart and end up in a soggy heap.
Sunday 5 August 2012
The wet weather this summer has certainly resulted in vigorous growth in the garden. If you are anything like me it has also delayed a number of regular gardening tasks. Weekends seem to be taken up keeping up with the grass cutting and dodging the showers, rather than keeping up with the pruning. However there are a few must do tasks that I’ve been tackling.
The first of these is summer pruning of rambler roses. The first shot at these is best undertaken after flowering. I’ve only just got round to doing battle with ‘Paul’s Himalayan Musk’. This is a big vigorous rambler that I tend to leave alone for a year or two; then give it a good sort out.
The ideal is to prune after flowering, removing some of the long shoots that have flowered and leaving those nice new vigorous shoots that started to develop around flowering time. I always start from the edges and from underneath, by cutting out any dead and those slender thorny shoots that bite you when you least expect it.
The main thing is to cut our enough to start with, to enable you to tie in some of the younger stems into the support, in my case a single rafter pergola. This gets some of the stems out of the way to enable you to get at others. In a lot of cases it means cutting out a branch and then playing tug of war to pull it out of the mass of tangled branches. In reality you are bound to break lots of those new shoots in the process. Don’t worry, more will appear.
Rambler roses tend to grow as they would in the wild, with strong vigorous stems that they throw up into trees; the thorns acting as grappling hooks. New shoots often appear from the base. ‘American Pillar’ is particularly prone to throwing new vigorous shoots from the base of the plant. Don’t remove them thinking they’re suckers – They are next year’s flowers.
My essential kit for pruning rambler roses: Strong, thornproof gauntlet gloves – I use Gold Leaf, a good pair of loppers – I use Bahco, Flexitie and quality secateurs – I use Felco. Oh yes patience and a sense of humour – I have lost both!
Next time – Summer pruning shrubs – look out for it!
Saturday 4 August 2012
Even though you might not have been away for your summer holidays yet – I haven’t – flowerbulbs are already arriving in the garden centres. After the challenging weather we’ve had in the UK this year they are a welcome sight. Gardeners are always ready to plan and plant ahead of a new season!
When it comes to choosing flowerbulbs for naturalising, many reach for bulk bags of mixed daffodils and narcissi. These work well if you plant a lot of them in big drifts. In smaller numbers the effect can be very “spotty”, as different varieties bloom at different times. In any case they are hardly naturalisti, and if you want to create that meadow effect then native bulb flowers or others of similar character are the ones to go for.
The British native wild daffodil, Narcissus pseudonarcissus subsp. lobularis is a delight once you get it established. It has a tiny bulb for a narcissus, more like that of a snowdrop. So buy it in as soon as it arrives in the garden centre and plant immediately before the bulbs dry out and shrivel. Plant in groups of 10-15 bulbs spacing the bulbs a couple of inches apart at a depth of three times the depth of the bulb. It grows best in thin grass under the dappled shade of trees, in well drained conditions. After flowering, don’t remove the flowers; allow the seed heads to develop and ripen. In early summer they change to parchment, split and release black seeds. The plant will spread and multiply more by seed than by the bulbs multiplying.