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front garden tulips April 2015

It’s all looking a little funereal in the front garden. I was aiming for a bright and perky extravaganza that I’ve sometimes achieved in the past (just think Dorris Day singing ‘A Surrey with a fringe on top’).

Gloomy tulips 2

But my fave ‘Curly Sue’ (fringed) tulips seem a tad sombre without any enlivening partners to lift them and ‘Labrador’ (purple/red?) has only added to the gloomy look,

Tulipa Labrador

despite its extra frills (above). I also wonder if the bulb supplier may have sent me some ‘Huis Ten Bosch’ tulips which is a pink and cream combination instead of ‘Joint Division’, which leans more to orange and cream (with a fringe on top). Whichever of the two these are, they’ve also come up all stumpy (again!). Will I never learn! A dry spring and I wasn’t out there watering away! Strange that only some of the fringed varieties have come up stumpy though and on further chatting with friend Siew Lee, we reckon the more complex the flower is, the more stressed it is and more susceptible to difficult weather conditions etc. (By the way, there’s also the remains of some chicories in the mix and the odd sparky glimmer of a yellow and red ‘Helmar’ tulip from previous plantings.)

I recently recorded a podcast about tomatoes with Jane Perrone and Alys Fowler for the Guardian (a jolly good listen should you be interested in all things tomato by the way) and Jane admitted her disappointment when, on occasion, her home-grown tomatoes haven’t tasted that great at the end of summer, despite all her efforts. All that’s how I feel about my tulips. Hours of pouring over catalogues and planning the perfect display, planting the bulbs in autumn and the anticipation of seeing the fresh growth bursting through in early spring and the result is all rather drab!

Tulip joy at Helmi House

On a brighter note, tulips planted at a project I work on in S. London have been a joy! Here we have the gorgeously rich orange ‘Cairo’, the contained rapture of ‘Purple Flag’, the demure ‘Pink Twist’ and the odd dash of ‘Curly Sue’. A much happier combination I feel.

So it’s back to the drawing board for next year for my front garden. I have a friend living with me at the moment who’s an avid Arsenal fan, and she’s requested a red and white display for 2016. So come September, I’ll be plotting away again, and as Doris would say, ‘Que Sera Sera’. (And maybe, just maybe, Arsenal will win the league!)

Naomi's Salad

Ah! Flattery will get you everywhere! Suttons sent out four salad seed mixes for gardening bloggers and journalists to trial in early Feb, accompanied by one’s own personalised wooden growing tray. Now, I have to admit to being the kind of person who buys trainers because the ‘N’ logo matches my own initial, so I couldn’t help but be charmed. Not that this would sway me in any way in regards to the results of the seed trials………….(Hm…).

Confessions over, onto the mixes. None of my indoor windowsills could accommodate my personalised wooden tray, as it measures 53 x 36 x 9cm high, but luckily for me, I have a lovely new greenhouse (hurrah!), so out I popped and got sowing at the beginning of March. I’m a bit of a traditionalist, and like sowing my leaves individually, not all mixed in together, so I must admit to being a little curious as to how I’d get on with these packets.

detail

Growing above is the ‘Spicy Oriental Mix’ (5 weeks after sowing) and I found it to be very tasty. This peppery/mustard mix contains: Pak Choi ‘Cantong White’, Mizuna, ‘Kyoto’, mustard leaves ‘Red Giant’ and ‘Golden Streaks’ and Salad Rocket. All quick growers and perfect for growing in the cooler weather in early spring. However I do like a nice bit of crunch in my salads these days, and these young tender leaves are quite soft, so for me the mix worked best combined with bought Cos type lettuces (my own are still a few weeks away from being ready to pick) for the ideal taste and texture.

Cake Sunday

We held another ‘Cake Sunday’ community get-together this weekend and Suttons kindly donated 50 packs of their salad leaf mixes to give away (huge thanks!). After neighbours nibbled leaves from my seed tray mix, packets flew off the table!

The three other mixes that came with the crate are: ‘French Mix’ containing Salad rocket, Dandelion, Chervil and Cress, ‘Italian Mix’ containing Basil, Dandelion, Cress, Mustard Ruby Steaks and Wild Rocket and ‘Californian Mix’ containing Mustard leaves, Pak Choi, Greek Cress and Wild Rocket. I’ll be growing these outdoors (in my crate once the spicy mix has had its second flourish) over the next few months now the weather is warming up and I hope they’ll be equally tasty.

The wooden crate itself is part of Suttons’ ‘Stacks of Flavour’ range. Crates start at £20 for one slat high (with personalised message of up to 20 characters) which also includes 4 packets of salad mixes and crates come in 1, 2 or 3 slats high and either 18cm or 36cm deep.

You can buy the empty crates or crates with themed seed collections or plants such as the 2 slats high Herbtastic collection containing plugs of Chives, Mint, Parsley, Thyme and Oregano or  the 3 slats high Pizza collection with super plugs of Crimson Crush tomato plants, Basil and Oregano.

Great ideas that make it simple for those who want to grow their own in small spaces (in a beautifully coordinated fashion!).

Lunaria 'Corfu Blue'I bought little seedlings of this lovely perennial Honesty (originating from several Greek islands) around Easter last year from Special Plants in Bath and this spring they have started flowering. I had to move the plants last autumn to make way for my new greenhouse and was surprised to see that their roots were akin to Dahlia tubers, big and chunky, storing up plenty of energy for gorgeous blooms this year. This variety will grow in sun or light shade, with rich purplish seed pods, and if you sow seeds in late spring this year, they should flower next year. I’m hoping they’ll start to self-seed in my garden for the years ahead as it’s only a short-lived perennial.

Green leaved and Variegated Honesty in a crack

I spent a few inspirational days volunteering at Great Dixter last week, where self-seeding is always encouraged to keep planting dynamic throughout the garden.  Both green-leaved and variegated biennial Honesty (Lunaria annua) self-seeds freely in their borders (and in cracks in-between paving and buildings) allowing for some serendipitous planting combinations and I hope to get back to see some of these over the next few months. Special plants offer seeds for both biennial and perennial Honesties, including Lunaria rediviva, another perennial with lavender flowers and elliptical, more pointy seed pods.

These seed pods are a great childhood memory, sliding off the outer coats carefully, to reveal that delicate pale papery translucent film underneath.  It’s only now that I’m realising what useful spring colour they can add to a garden.

Leucojum and lunaria

At the moment ‘Corfu Blue’ is looking great alongside some nodding Leucojum aestivum (summer snowflake).

20th April Postscript

Lunaria annuaHere’s Lunaria annua (confusingly a biennial) on a very sunny day at Great Dixter, contrasting brilliantly with some rich yellow tulips.

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