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Growbag Blog

Laura’s light bulb moment


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.

Tulips ‘Helena’, aren’t they too gorgeous?

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   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.

Grape hyacinths – better in theory than in practice

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.

Teucrium fruticans – Louise’s Great Plant this Month

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!

Makes you want to squeal doesn’t it? Corydalis malkensis!

Has anything made you squeal recently? Your secrets will be safe with us – we’re all family

More NB If you’d like a bit more gardening chitchat from the3growbags, please type your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

8 replies on “Laura’s light bulb moment”

Groan. Iris reticulata in February? Dream on. At the moment I am staring at a very soggy garden, watching the last dump of snow melt and wondering when it will snow again today. The trouble with reading about all these lovely bright ideas for seasonal bulbs is that by the time it is time to buy them, I’ve forgotten or frankly just lost interest. But, to keep my end up, I can offer heather which is flowering nicely. Don’t ask me about latin names, I haven’t a clue! (Keep it up, you’re always good value).

Actually Janet totally agree with you. Think we have to write a note to ourselves about what we intend to buy in the autumn because, after the excesses of the summer, it IS hard to get excited about planning for some snowdrops and early irises.
If you’re out with your phone do send us a photo of your heather to – Laura has got into heather/ericas/cross-leaved heath.. I know there are a huge number of varieties. We might have something in Scotland that is out-performing Sussex!
Thank you for being so encouraging! Have a lovely weekend, Caroline

Lovely blog!
Just back from the fabulous snowdrops and hellebores at Nick and Jane Baker`s garden called Pembury House,Clayton,Sussex. Open for NGS all month and in early March,but you do need to ring or email first.Glorious sunshine dappling through their woodland to the stunning carpet of snowdrops below.Irises in pots looking great too.Even an early bumble bee on a fab Hellebore.
(sorry about your Scottish weather….love from sunny Sussex -well it is today !)

That sounds lovely Irene. We were just saying this very week how much we’d like to visit a garden because we are starved of the experience, but how brave you’d need to be to host a garden visit at this time of the year. Hats off to Nick and Jane. We have just bought our ScotlandsGardens book and very much look forward to planning our summer visits. Sunny here in Scotland as well today – hooray!! Caroline xxx

Love all the blogs! Need your help. Have just spent an afternoon clearing this bed – well Peter has. South facing with a wisteria at the back. What should we plant?
Ps will send pic to Caroline as don’t know how to attach!

Hi Betsy, well we put your question out to tender, and came up with some ideas for you. Laura was in instructional mode and pointed out rightly that the wisteria and the roots will have depleted the soil and that your first job must be to dig some good old compost and manure in before you think about planting.
Then up piped Caroline, and said: ‘Betsy, no laborious soil conditioning advice from me. To complement the wisteria’s beautiful colour I’d put in some lavender (the bank will be quite free-draining and I know how you love the bees and butterflies) together with a couple of Bonica roses (a Growbag favourite – lovely pink blooms right into November) and some purple heuchera for all year colour. If you want a bit of zing, I’d just pop in some alchemilla mollis, leaving plenty in the kitty for the Isle of Harris gin.’
Laura conceded that she liked Caroline’s suggestions, and so do I, though Caroline’s attack of tastefulness was rather alarming. If you wanted to go for more pizzazz for this slope, what about the lovely yellow and orange summer daisies (anthemis, achilleas, heleniums and the like), and offset them with some of the beautiful thistle-heads of eryngiums and perhaps the blue-green of festuca grass? Anyway, whatever you go for, enjoy filling your new-found space! Elaine

I really do enjoy your hilarious,and informative blogs, we are older gardeners who open our small trad/tropical/exotic garden in Hampshire for the NGS….
My plant of the moment has to be dwarf Iris,we are growing them in old terracotta pots,so far so good! will be looking out to buy more varieties in September, also the much maligned Bergenia, although not doing too well, I am determined to have a patch of these planted up with Spring bulbs…Beth Chatto has some beauties in her garden….
Talking about Scottish gardens an online gardening friend from GOY is opening her garden for the very first time Dunvorist Cottage, Dundee, well worth a visit if you are near!

Thanks for writing in, Angela, glad you enjoy it! You are so right about Bergenias – often a very underrated and poorly-grown plant that can look stunning. Do watch out for the ones that have lovely autumn leaf-colour as well as bright spring flowers. Thank you too for the heads-up about your friend’s Open garden in Dundee – a newly-opening garden is always so exciting! Elaine

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