It’s me first this week as I’m rather fed up with being last. Specifically I’m fed up of hearing how prematurely Elaine and Laura’s snowdrops; crocuses; tulips etc have bloomed in Sussex compared to mine which are still largely hunkered down in the Scottish tundra. But annoyingly, even my neighbours’ look more advanced.
I’ve decided to act.
My earliest blooms i.e. some frightened Iris reticulata which, unlike the lush photo above, force themselves through the lawn with the fragile stamina of Russian gymnasts – will next year be overshadowed by some horticultural Usain Bolts.
When spring bulbs are back in stock, first up for me will be Galanthus ‘Mrs MacNamara’. I’ve seen her in action up here in mid January. Mrs M (named after Dylan Thomas’ mother-in-law apparently) is my type of snowdrop – she doesn’t give a hoot about your average UK blizzard and, rather than my puny white bobbles from B & Q, looks a properly formed snowdrop. I need confidence like this.
Secondly – Crocus ‘Vanguard’ (the clue’s in the name). Now this whopper can give any other decent-sized iris a three-week start. I know there are smaller crocuses that might flower even earlier – ‘Cream Beauty’, ‘Blue Pearl’ etc but, important point here, they might be dwarfed by my neighbour’s.
Thirdly – I’ve resolved to get something to alleviate the sea of yellow when the daffs break cover. Originiating from the mountains of Turkey, tulips have the sort of heft I need. Apparently Tulipa ‘Juan’, or ‘Orange Emperor’ are dependably early but at 45cms high, they’ll likely have wind issues up here.
I’m going to opt for some little pink jobs – Tulipa humilis ‘Helena’ very dainty at 10cms and in amongst my early ‘tete-a-tete’ daffodils, they’re going to make the perfect photo to send E and L in early March, accompanied of course with a little humblebrag about my ‘hopeless efforts’.
Frankly any neighbour of Caroline’s has far more to worry about than the size of her crocuses. I’ve encouraged C to read my brand new column on seasonal gardening tips, and I really hope you do too. I’d love to get your thoughts on it.
I grow snowdrops in little drifts in the grass – nothing at all fancy, just Atkinsii and nivalis, but they do enchant with dainty ethereal quality in the teeth of a brutal easterly wind. It’s true that they flower later than some of the fancier varieties – apparently you can stake your dinner money on Galanthus plicatus ssp.plicatus ‘Three Ships’ being in flower by Christmas. Mind you, with a name like that, it’s clearly the kind of pushy little know-it-all who elbows their way to the head of the queue.
As my snowdrops fade, little clumps of Narcissus ‘Silver Chimes’ and ‘Yellow Cheerfulness’ start to colour up. These smaller-flowered daffodils seem to have so much more class about them than those big old ‘Golden Hooter’ types such as ‘King Alfred’ (gosh, I wish there WAS one called Golden Hooter, though). The Cheerfulness narcissi, in common with many other narcissi, will scent a room with a pleasantly musky fragrance if you can bear to pick your own daffodils.
If you can’t, a cut flower website like http://www.scentednarcissi.co.uk/ is ridiculously tempting.
Most gardeners go through a Muscari (grape hyacinths) phase. You start out with visions of blue rivers threaded through the endless yellow of early spring, and then you find that the little wretches are popping up everywhere and frankly looking weedy. Caroline’s species tulips will behave much better, for sure, and I expect Laura will have some other arty-farty spring bulbs up her sleeve (so to speak) with which to make us feel inspired/inadequate.
Do you remember the video of Caroline and her Bulb Lasagne last year? Well, that idea DIDN’T WORK, since it failed to take into account the horrible mess of dying leaves from the previous flowerer – dead irises among the daffs, dead daffs among the tulips etc. The ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ irises looked fabulous in late January, then it all went downhill faster than a Lycra-d body on a tea-tray in South Korea.
Oh dear – the usual litany of paranoia and excuses – actually I’ve seen the Kevock Garden Plants stand at Chelsea Flower Show so I know what delightful and dainty plants are possible north of the border. I also know that grape hyacinths will flower happily for years if grown in a trough or a pot in semi shade where you can enjoy the welcome shot of blue (although I’m trying white this spring) then put the pot behind the garden shed when they go through their awkward leafy stage (pity you can’t do the same with adolescent humans).
I think C and E may both be suffering from a touch of Februaryitis. They should do what I did this time three years ago and jump on a train up to London to the RHS Early Spring Plant Fair. It’s an easy walk from Victoria station along to the hallowed Lindley and Lawrence Halls and just stepping into the threshold of this magical plant-filled paradise lifts your spirits. It is a favourite haunt of galanthophiles, and I find these wonderfully eccentric, slightly obsessive plant collectors just as fascinating as the snowdrops themselves.
Beyond snowdrops there were ranks of hellebores and then charming little iris, all pristinely presented in pots you could bring indoors if you wished (why doesn’t Caroline do this? – no initiative, that’s why). One the most striking varieties was Lady Beatrix Stanley, which I had coincidentally seen strutting its stuff on the Wisley winter walk the Sunday previously and is our feature picture above.
And then the moment came, when I spotted on the Harvey’s stall that obscure and elusive plant that I have been hunting for half my life – I think I may actually have squealed when I spotted it, and I am now the proud owner of not one but two pots of Corydalis malkensis!
Has anything made you squeal recently? Your secrets will be safe with us – we’re all family.
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