End of Spring or Beginning of Summer?

It certainly has been late coming this year, but finally we’ve had sunshine. And, enough sunshine for the flowers to truly get into their blooming stride. My backyard, not the sunniest of spaces, now has the late-flowering pheasant’s eye daffodil, a selection of aquilegias and a few alliums all out together.

Narcissus poeticus – pheasant’s eye daffodil
Aquilegias
Allium hollandicum

Also this week a visit and wander around the local park offers a fine testament to the sun’s essential, life-giving force. It was delightful to see the azaleas and rhododendrons bringing colour to the partial shade of the fresh green canopy of deciduous trees.

Underplanting of deciduous tree in Christchurch Park, Ipswich.

And, out in the more open area there was the wild meadow-style planting of cow parsley mixed with clumps of spurge.

Cow parsley in a town park.

Even the more formal park-planting that borders the park entrance was full of loose, cheery colour. Although pansies and forget-me-nots are usually a spring combination, the answer to the question ‘End of Spring or Beginning of Summer?’ is, I think, most definitely the beginning of summer.

Bolton Lane entrance to Christchurch Park, Ipswich.

One small aside, even without deliberately or even mildly consciously choosing to take inspiration from all this welcome floral spectacle, it is most undoubtedly influencing my work.

Currently on my frame subliminal floral inspiration at work.

At last, homegrown tulips

Last autumn I made bulb lasagne (as the Dutch would say). In a couple of large pots I planted layers of tulip bulbs that had arrived from SarahRaven.com courtesy of my sister. Now spring has finally arrived here are the results.

Tulips on the front doorstep. (Photo from about three weeks ago.)

The tulips in the pot that have been on the front doorstep are about three weeks ahead of those potted up in the backyard.

Two parrots and a double.

Of course, it’s all very well having a welcoming show of flowers as you arrive at the front door, but you’ve soon found your key, opened the door and stepped inside and that’s it. During one fleeting glance I noticed three dark red tulips, I think they’re a double version of Queen of the Night, had shorter stems and were a bit swamped and so I cut them for indoors. Now I see a lot more of them on my kitchen table.

Cut from front door display, on the kitchen table and lasting well.

This year it has been a noticeably cool spring, but now at last the backyard tulips are also out. It has been a lesson for me that before mid-May my backyard probably doesn’t get anything like the necessary six hours of direct sunlight for good flowering. The pear tree blossom has been and gone and currently there’s only the tulips, a small clump of forget-me-nots and some sparse cherry blossom. However, there are also nine pots that look empty, but actually, hopefully, contain dahlia tubers that might just have survived last year’s freezing winter weather. Fingers crossed that there will be more flowers . . . eventually.

Tulips in the backyard. (Photo yesterday afternoon.)

Surprise flowers, lasting well

Every year my birthday falls near Mother’s Day and occasionally on Mother’s Day itself. I am not usually sent bouquets of flowers as I am not keen on the commercialization of ‘special’ days, but this year with the Covid thing and no visiting allowed I received a bouquet of pink flowers from my daughter.

A birthday bouquet that arrived in the post.

The beautiful roses arrived as semi opened buds and unusually the bouquet included some white foxgloves in bloom, all of course grown under glass probably in Holland.

Naturally, after about two weeks the flowers gradually began to fade and we arrived at the cut-down stage for some, and the transfer to a different vase stage for others. This transfer trick also included adding a couple of stems of hellebores from my backyard.

Unlike the roses and carnations the hellebores from my garden completely drooped after a single day, but as many of you know these flowers can be seen so much better when cut with a very short stem and placed in a bowl of water. And, I can report one week later the floating blooms are still looking fresh and catching the light as they bob around.

Perhaps pristine is not always best

It’s that time of year again when desperate for spring colour indoors I buy a bunch of tulips, then watch them slowly fade away. It has taken just over two weeks in my cool, basement kitchen for these pink ones to drop their petals. And, I think I have decided that there is something more beautiful about their fading glory than the stark, brash pinkness of fresh tulips.

Spode jug and flowers.
The close-up focusses on the shrivelling process of the petals revealing the stamens strong mustardy yellow against the fading pinking.

There is something gently mournful about this process and this year it is more poignant than ever as we mark this day, March 11th 2021, when one year ago the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a pandemic.

The solitary single stem. Could be the visual metaphor for a solo lockdown?

Buds of Potential

It’s that time of year again when I am out in the backyard surveying the residual winter mess and examining the plants already budding with potential.

Leaf buds on Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Schneeball’.

I have also been spending a few minutes poking around in the sodden vegetation to find any discrete beauties preparing for their floral entrance.

Unfurling leaves of the Lenten Rose, Helleborus orientalis.

And, to my surprise these hellebores had just started to bloom as the last of the snow finally melted away.

Another pink hellebore. The first flower.

Not all the plants in my backyard coped as well as the hellebores with the -5 degrees centigrade and 20 cm of snow. All of last summer’s pelargoniums that I had moved up close to the house are now a sad, blackened gloopy mess of vegetation. That is they are dead. Fortunately, last autumn I brought three indoors; one white single zonal, one dark pink regal and one pink scented-leaf variety. Overwintering in my kitchen isn’t ideal, but at least the are still alive.

Pelargoniums overwintered in my kitchen.

It isn’t only the temporary residents in my kitchen that are doing well, a couple of cuttings taken from the Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Schneeball’ seem securely rooted and have recently burst into leaf.

Cuttings sharing a small pot – two hydrangea and one Crassula ovata aka Money Plant.

Now, I must come clean. I don’t normally buy imported flowers but I couldn’t resist having some of these sweet pink beauties. I think it was a Lockdown 3 thing.

Of course, I could be mistaken regarding their provenance and they may have been grown under glass in Lincolnshire, but somehow at £1.79 a bunch (worryingly cheap) I think probably not.

A Winter Still Life

Across the UK we are all now living in a lockdown of one kind or another, again. As the winter weather makes outside experiences more challenging, I am guessing that there is going to be more online content featuring interior images.

And, who doesn’t love some flowers in winter, especially when they are grown in the UK.

Left or right? With or without?

This beautiful bunch of the scented ‘Paper White’ narcissi was a Christmas gift from my sister and they were grown by the folk of ‘Blue Box’ based in the Isles of Scilly. The flowers arrived tightly furled, they slowly unwound and released a gorgeous perfume. They have lasted remarkably well and are only just going over.

Scent, perfume, fragrance is part of our lived experience. Humans in the techie world have done so well digitising the visual and the auditory, but the olfactory . . . iSmell (I kid you not, ask Mr Google) so far, has not been a success.

Saved from the rain

On Tuesday I saw that the weather forecasters were telling us to expect the arrival of autumn proper. This was code for prepare for a noticeable drop in temperatures accompanied by wind and rain.

Dahlia ‘Blue Bayou’ – Mother Nature (with a helping hand from the plant breeders) offering a fuchsia pink with strong yellow softened with dark red.

Just as the light was fading, I grabbed my secateurs and nipped out into the backyard to cut any blooms that still looked half decent.

Sunflowers in their full glory as the paler pink cosmos is already shrivelled.

I cut dahlias, cosmos and sunflowers. It was more in error than by design I had planted three sunflower seedlings six weeks later than the main sowing and they only started blooming last week.

And, the dark pink cosmos has been very late this year getting into its stride. With the bright yellow sunflowers and the deep fuchsia pink of the cosmos I didn’t think I’d be able to make a tolerable arrangement, but it turned out that the dark red dahlias saved the day.

What a difference a backdrop makes? I prefer the black to the more contemporary choice for floral images which, I have recently noticed, is grey.

Growing towards the light

It might be August, just, but it looks as if the weather has decided that that’s it for this summer. I suppose we can still hope for a few bright and balmy days in early autumn.

As a child when we used to come to Suffolk for our family holidays the neighbouring back garden was full of one type of flower – hollyhocks. The entirety of their little plot was hollyhocks. I suspect now that they were mostly self-seeded as it was an open area of free-draining soil and hollyhocks seem to do well in our part of the country. Ever since then hollyhocks have been in my top ten of favourite flowers. Wherever I have been gardening I have tried to squeeze in a few of these essential, cottage garden beauties.

This year I have had pink, white and a very dark, dark red and they have all managed to flower. It is just as well that I took a moment to get some photos of these naturally tall plants before Storm Francis blew in.

Hollyhocks aren’t the only tall flowering plants I’ve grown in my backyard this year. As usual I have grown some cosmos from seed. The packet for this pink variety definitely said ‘dwarf’, but they have grown to over five feet tall, searching for the light. I do think they would have started blooming much earlier and remained dwarf if they had full sunlight all day. As you can see from the almost ‘ethereal’ photo above, the plants only get full sunlight in intermittent bursts. Obviously, this has not been enough and the plants have become etiolated.

At least most of the pink cosmos eventually flowered, but then Storm Francis decided to take down a few plants pulling over the pots at the same time. Luckily, and surprisingly no pots were broken and who doesn’t appreciate having plenty of cut flowers to bring indoors.

Concrete yard or garden?

It’s one of those everyday, standard gardening problems – how to deal with the backyard of the classic Victorian terraced house. Famously, these yards are long (or longish), narrow, rectangular spaces, frequently shaded by taller urban buildings or inappropriately planted, large overgrown trees.

Daylilies, cosmos and ammi visnaga in pots.

My problematic space has been made worse as over three-quarters of the ground has been covered with concrete in one form or another by previous owners. Luckily, when I moved into this house as I was able to bring with me all of my pots from my previous gardens, but sadly none of the old plants that they had contained.

Bronze leaf dahlia and courgettes in pots.

This is now my third summer here and my second where I have been able to get to grips with the ‘garden’ and plant up the pots. They are all now in use and I even have a couple of courgette plants cropping in containers.

I have tried to take a full garden photo in the garden, but without success. However, I have managed to show nearly all the yard from an upstairs window. I would just say that if I had unlimited funds this would not be my solution to the long, narrow backyard problem. To begin with there would definitely be no concrete, however there would be water, a brick path, tall trellises across the narrow space and flowerbeds where plants could be planted directly into the soil.

View from the first floor back bedroom window. Hydrangea and a couple of clematis in pots.

You have probably noticed on the right of the above picture a corner of a slate roof that looks very much the worse for wear. It is the roof of the partially derelict outhouse. The surveyor who produced an extensive (Dickens’ length) report on this house before I bought it, assured me, much to his surprise, that the brickwork was sound. Although he did add that the roof slates were perished and the woodwork was decayed and rotting. I call it the Urban Folly!

The Urban Folly.

Time for the scented and the colourful

Although the weather has not been quite what we would want for July, the flowers in my backyard are flowering well, especially the sweet peas. Naturally, flowering plants like plenty of sunshine, but not necessarily tropical temperatures and this is certainly true of sweet peas.

This is the fifth bunch of this size I’ve had over the last three weeks – and their fragrance is intoxicating.

Good daylight is essential and I have planted mine against a southwest facing fence. However, to flower well they prefer cooler temperatures, moist soils and a feed once a week with tomato food or similar. It’s been a good season so far for them.

Of course, the heavier rain showers ruined the delicate pink roses and also battered the big old hydrangea. The larger, soaking wet mopheads weighed down some of the sappier stems as the whole bush became a drooping mass of pink mopheads. I nipped out and cut back some of the stems where the flowers were hitting the ground. The plant’s loss was my gain and I filled a vase with them together with a few white lilies that have also done well this year.

One flower that can be cut for the house, but is too much of a faff for me, is the daylily. I prefer to leave them doing their thing in the garden. At least their blooms speckled with rain made a vibrant, almost zingy photograph.

Parched in May, Sodden in June

We’ve had some strange ol’ weather adding to our already strange times. As if we weren’t all living in an upside down world, the weather is all over the place. According to the Met Office we have, in England, just experienced the driest May on record.

And, now it’s June and we have these monsoon-like downpours. My roses bloomed so early that the first flush had near enough finished before the arrival of June and despite the rain, there’s no sign of ‘balling’ of the next flush as they are still tight buds. For once, I feel the roses have outwitted the capricious English weather.

However, it has been another story in the local park as by the end of May the lawns were turning brown,

and the ornamental grass display looked so parched it could have been mid-August in a heatwave.

A few white alliums in bloom are the only clue it isn’t high summer.

It was also a shame to see some of the frilly poppies (papaver somniferum) failing as they are normally so resilient. Their heavy heads drooped and their leaves withered. Following the past month without rain even a good watering would probably not save them now. I think perhaps it’s more the fact that the soil is baked so dry that the roots have become entombed.

Papaver somniferum – only about one in ten were successfully blooming.

Hopefully, there will be other poppies germinating from a later sowing that will fare better now June has brought us plenty of rain.

Of course, there are other features of Holywells Park where the heavy rain has been most welcome. It has topped up the ponds, re-greened the grass and provided moisture to the sheltered areas beneath the trees. This amazing palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) grows well in its sheltered position. It stands tall as the monsoon-like deluge penetrates the overhead canopy and gives this little corner of an urban park in Ipswich a tropical atmosphere.

But, there is no doubt about it – the plant that has benefitted the most from all those hours of Maytime sunshine is the banana plant in the park’s Victorian Conservatory – it’s been growing like Jack’s beanstalk.