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.
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.
What a difference a few weeks has made? Only four weeks ago it was Friday, 13th March and it was Gold Cup Day at the Cheltenham Festival. It strikes me now as mind-boggling to think that 60,000 people attended the famous National Hunt race meeting, but attend they did, visiting from far and wide. It already seems a long time ago as everybody comes to terms with living in a lockdown.
Today is Maundy Thursday and the weather is beautiful and sunny, but there will be no holiday stays at the seaside this Easter.
However, on a positive note it is always amazing at this time of year what a difference a couple of days of sunshine and warmer temperatures makes to the gardens. Overnight the aubretia is blooming . . .
I particularly value the pear blossom as, like many of us, I am looking for any signs of hopeful renewal during this Covid lockdown.
Compared to my old Norfolk garden I only have a small patch of outside space and it is mostly concrete slabs thanks to previous owners with their ‘low maintenance’ mindset. However, I really must not complain as I do have fresh spring greenery and some flowers too. I deeply appreciate my little backyard during these difficult Covid times when many families live in flats and don’t even have access to a balcony.
Fortunately, we are lucky in Ipswich as, so far, the beautiful parks are still open for exercise and dog-walking.
And, you can even bicycle, run or maybe simply stroll along the Waterfront for your daily exercise.
The Red House on the outskirts of Aldeburgh in Suffolk was the home of Benjamin Britten from 1957 to 1976.
Britten shared this extended, late-seventeenth century farmhouse with his partner, the tenor, Peter Pears, until Britten’s death in 1976.
Many of Britten’s world famous operas and music pieces were composed working in his first floor composition studio. Once when giving a talk he said
At the moment in my studio where I work in Aldeburgh . . . there’s a blackbird making a nest just outside my window and I’m very interested to know whether she’s sitting on her eggs when I should be working.
Benjamin Britten, 1963.
When I visited the garden earlier this week it was full of floral potential and already the gorgeous scent of an early flowering viburnum was wafting across the path on the way to the archive building.
There were buds and tightly furled leaves just waiting to burst given a couple days of sunshine.
The orchard has some old apple trees supporting mistletoe and a variety of new fruit trees that were added in 2008 as the garden was rejuvenated and recreated following the 1950s layout. The orchard has been underplanted with daffodils and pale yellow primulas and hellebores are growing beneath the surrounding hedging.
Receipts discovered in the extensive Britten-Pears Foundation Archive show that in 1958 Benjamin Britten ordered 63 fruit trees, 76 roses and two dozen blackcurrant bushes from Notcutts, the local nursery in Woodbridge.
It was a gentle, pleasant English garden and will be worth another visit later in the gardening year.
Although I have finally moved into my permanent house and I do have a small backyard it will be some time before I can start to think about making a garden. Priorities have been sorting out my work and studio space, the main reason for moving, and trying to create a little order from the overwhelming chaos.
Without a garden visiting the local parks has been very important to my sanity
and they are also a great resource.
Drooping catkins, bursting buds and the early blackthorn flowers are all potential motifs to be worked into a silk scarf design.
It’s not just in the parks there’s plenty of new activity, but down on the Ipswich Waterfront building work on the skeletal ‘Winerack’ has begun after standing unfinished for over a decade.
It will be interesting to watch the framework finally become a fully, functioning building. Perhaps it will be a stunning, remarkable piece of architecture, but however it turns out I suspect the good folk of Ipswich will probably always refer to it as The Winerack.
Finally we had a sunny day and I ventured out to have a quick look round the garden. The hellebore flowers and the hebe foliage are looking colourful, but that was about all.
So feeling impatient I’ve cheated for my spring bouquet and bought some tulips to add a little more flower power. These tulips are Libretto Parrot and will open into a frilly, striped affair.
I’m sure I used to have pink and green stripy tulips (Greenland) in the front garden, but I don’t think I planted them deep enough to survive more than one season. Still, these parrots will bring a burst of spring colour indoors.
Unusual for us Brits to get a Bank Holiday with sunshine so I made the most of it busy in the garden. Seem to be snowed under with self-sewn white honesty this year.
All the greens are vivid and fresh and over the pergola the wisteria is just about to burst into its dramatic display.
It’s a busy time in the garden pricking out seedlings, potting on and preparing the raised beds for plantings.
I’m always surprised at how each year the garden is different. Over the winter some plants have survived and others have withered, but this spring the amalanchier lamarkii (Juneberry) is finally looking tree-like after 10 years.
As the year turns nature dresses and redresses herself in a succession of seasonal floral and foliage combinations. Mostly this is a gradual affair in my garden, but the boundary between winter to spring offers the sharpest of the mostly blurred, creeping seasonal changes. There is the fading of the scented, late-winter blossom of Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ whilst, at the same time, along the top of the fence Clematis armandii ‘Snowdrift’ begins opening into small cascades of white flowers as it weaves its way through a climbing rose.
Around the edges of the budding, deciduous shrubs the shy, drooping hellebores take centre stage for a few weeks pushing their way through between a dwarf hebe or two.
And, it wouldn’t be spring if there weren’t patches of light shade lit with clusters of pale sunny primroses.
From March into April the pace of new growth begins to pick up and everywhere new fresh green shoots remind me of the variety of perennials that will take their place in the limelight at some point all the way through to the Michaelmas daisies of November!
Last autumn I hacked back an overgrown climbing rose. I had let it run free to see if it would flower more, but it was still heavily overshadowed by my neighbour’s large conifers.
It is an ongoing problem of gardening that after the first five years of a new planting, serious, annual pruning is needed to keep the more successful specimens to appropriate sizes.
With the rose reduced in size the previously swamped clematis armandii ‘Snowdrift’ has finally started to flower. More of a trickle than a cascade so far.
However, the clematis armandii ‘Appleblossom’, planted at the same time as the ‘Snowdrift’, now cascades down the trellis. The pair make a textbook example of the direct sunlight requirements for most flowering climbers to give a good show.
On the other hand some plants only require the light of dappled shade to produce a display of delicate, drooping jewels.