Everything’s coming up roses.

This is the month for roses. Classic roses that adorn our walled kitchen garden are at their peak around the middle of June.

At this time of year, I love nothing more than going into the walled garden first thing in the morning and taking in the wonderful, rich, sweet fragrance of the roses. These include the sumptuous overlapping magenta petals of ‘Tuscany Superb’ – a strongly scented rose that was one of Vita Sackville West’s favourites and is loved by bees, Rosa gallica ‘Versicolor’ which is a very old variety of rose with large splashes of pink and white on a crimson background and Rosa ‘Rhapsody In Blue’ which is the closest to a blue rose you will find, with clusters of blue/purple blooms. Rosa ‘Charles de Mills’ is a superb rose with very striking blooms of maroon and purple that is sweetly scented. And one of my all time favourites for fragrance – Rosa ‘Blairii No. 2 – a beautiful climbing Bourbon rose with full petalled pink blooms that are pale towards the edges and the scent is absolute knock-out.

Everything's coming up roses.

Unlike hybrid tea or floribunda roses – classic, or old roses produce only one batch of flowers – this is their time. Classic roses include the groups gallica, albas, damasks and rugosa. Their astonishing beauty is reason enough to grow them, but the truth is that few plants are as trouble-free or easy to grow. All are really tough shrubs and will grow in almost any soil or position.

Roses have had me under their spell ever since I was a young girl. I adore them for their beauty, wonderful fragrance and amazing versatility. There are roses for every plot and spot. Roses are not just things of great beauty. They have the power to express emotion, which is why Keats, Robert Burns and so many other poets were inspired to write about them.

Columbine, its roses and its countryside – is at its very best. So much is still yet to come even though the garden is brimming over with beauty. June must be savoured to the very last drop.

We’re awash with cow parsley

For me, nothing celebrates the glorious month of May more than the wonderful froth of cow parsley. It is, I suppose technically a weed but it is a most beautiful one and at Columbine we love it.

We have it growing in our orchards, moat banks and under pleached lime trees planted with ‘White Triumphator’ and ‘Spring Green’ tulips. It is a dreamy combination. Cow parsley is an umbellifer and a good thing to have, as they attract a range of beneficial insects such as hoverflies and ladybirds into the garden. When crushed between my fingers, the leaves produce a wonderful, strong aniseed scent.

Cow Parsley

There is a cultivated variety called Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’, with purple leaves and brown stems beneath the lacy, white flowers. It does cross-pollinate with the wild cow parsley, which means that the offspring quickly lose the intensity of their purple leaves, so if it is the main attraction for you then keep it away from its wild form. I confess I don’t mind at all as I am besotted by cow parsley in all its variations.

I try and capture the effervescence of cow parsley later in the year by planting annual umbellifers. Ammi majus is perhaps the best replica for wild cow parsley and there is Ammi visnaga that lasts well into July or even August. Orlaya grandiflora or the white laceflower, is another superb and graceful annual that flowers constantly all summer. But now, no other plant is giving us as much joy as cow parsley.

Tulips Galore

April begins with bare brown branches and bare brown soil and ends with long days full of the majesty of Spring.

This is the best month of the year for blossom (isn’t that the most lovely word?) and tulips are at their peak. Who can resist a tulip? What better way to herald the arrival of spring? There is something so joyful about the intensity of them. They are the first real blaze of colour of the year and are the most silky of all flowers. I adore them – they have captured my heart. They are the stars of Columbine’s spring garden, with their vibrant forms they bring the garden alive after its winter rest.

I have many favourites (see my Oct 2021 blog), but if I had to choose just one, it would have to be Tulip ‘Exotic Emperor’. We grow lots them in our walled garden. It is the most magnificent tulip and deserving of its name. It flowers for at least six weeks and looks good from the moment the buds begin to develop until it is almost dropping. It has large, double white flowers with a delicate green flame held on strong stems above sword-shaped leaves. It adds such elegance and class to the garden here. It is a joy to behold and impossible not to love. And at dusk – when all white flowers look at their very best – they shimmer and shine out from the soft falling light.

Without question, this is my favourite time of year. I am dazed by the emerging greenness of everything. That luminous lime green that begins speckling the hedgerows and by the end of the month all the hedgerows are out and clothed in blossom.

There is still so much more to come and that is why I love April so much. It delivers all you might possibly desire along with the absolute certainty that there’s even better to come.

You Know You’re Getting Old When…..

I turn 41 next month, still a youngster I know, but I’ve been noticing recently signs that I’m getting older…..

Thinking about the good old days, and the older I get the more good old days there are to look back on. Trying to remember where I left things and I find myself walking in the tool shed and trying to remember what I went in there for. People now tell me I’m young-looking rather than telling me I’m young. I’m finding conversations with friends usually turn into a bout of “ailment duelling”.

Watching antiques programmes and seeing items on there I had when I was a child. My ideal night is a comfy armchair, TV remote at my fingertips, the kettle boiling gently in the background ready for a lovely cup of tea, a nice piece of cake and my comfy old slippers.

I’m starting to groan when I get in and out of a chair and when I get up from having done some weeding. And have you ever bumped into someone and can’t remember their name so you have to employ the greeting “Hello stranger” – yes that happened the other day.

Still, they say life begins at 40 so I’m looking on the bright side – my glass is always half-full. Oh yes, I have many years yet before my teeth are floating in it.

Only one leg to stand on

We don’t just have one one-legged pheasant. We have two. A male and female with two legs between them that Hew has named Percy and Percina.

While it can be distressing to see a bird hobbling on one leg, ours are perfectly happy and seeing how they adapt has strengthened my respect and appreciation for just how resilient birds and animals can be.

We will probably never know how they became disabled, whether it was caused by a deformity or injury, but we’re putting ourselves in their feathers and making sure they are well looked after by feeding them on the ground and they also take advantage of the availability of our bird feeders.

We often have pheasants in the garden strutting around. And although they are so common here, they are still an extraordinarily gorgeous bird. Females are much paler and drab but a male pheasant is a splendid sight with his iridescent green and indigo neck and bright red face with a yellow beady eye and rich speckled plumage ending in a huge long tail. He is made to be seen.

At dusk, the loud call of the males, answering each other across our fields is as beautiful and evocative as cooing from wood pigeons. And although they peck at the primrose flowers and emerging snake’s-head fritillaries in spring, we love them in the garden and whether they have one leg or two, feel honoured they have chosen to make their home here.

Twitching

I realise that many moments I have in the garden amount to bird-watching. I love sitting with a mug of tea, hands dirty, watching the birds watching me.

At this time of year, I am often accompanied by a robin or more timidly by a wren, flitting along the bottom of the hedges. How many other wild animals do I have the opportunity to observe so closely? Who else but gardeners are so regularly in such a good position to watch and share this glimpse of life?

A garden like this – full of seeds, fruits, berries and leaves plus unknowable numbers of insects, caterpillars and creepy crawlies – provides the perfect home for song and woodland birds of almost every type. These birds – finches, blackbirds, tits, thrushes, robins, sparrows, starlings and wrens inhabit the garden just as much as we do or the plants.

Owls toowhit to each other throughout the night and in summer, the swifts, swallows and house martins dip in and out of our sky. Because we have a moat we have ducks, moorhens, Canada geese and a pair of herons. We have crows, rooks, magpies and jays and loads of wood pigeons and doves.

We are privileged to have one of the most magnificent birds of prey here – the buzzard. Or as Hew affectionally calls him ‘Buzzy’. I heard it today – a distinct ‘keeow’ sound, sharp and clear in the cold air. I glanced upwards, craning my neck and shading my eyes with one hand and there, directly overhead was that distinct silhouette. And as Robbie (robin) burst into song close by me, I was reminded of the poem by Emily Dickenson ‘”Hope” is the thing with feathers’:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers,
That perches in the soil,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops – at all.

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard,
And sore must be the storm,
That could abash the little Bird,
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea,
Yet – never in Extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Tulips from Columbine

There’s been a delivery……..of 9,150 bulbs to be precise. It includes alliums, daffodils, Fritillaria meleagris, crocus and Iris reticulata but it mostly contains tulips.

There is something so joyful about tulips – their intensity and they are the first real blaze of colour of the year. We don’t start planting our tulips until November. They will only start to put roots down about then and the cool temperatures help to wipe out viral and fungal diseases which infect the bulbs. Planting late prevents tulip fire disease which can ruin tulip displays producing brown spots and withered leaves and are aptly named as plants look like they have been scorched by fire.

Tulip Bulbs

Here are some of my absolute favourite tulips that we’ll be planting and that I couldn’t be without:

‘Exotic Emperor’ – flowers for at least six weeks and looks good from the moment the buds begin to develop until it is almost dropping. Large double white flowers with a delicate green flame. A magnificent tulip.

‘Princess Irene’ – this tulip has it all – a beautiful colour combination and a sweet scent. It has a chocolate stem and orange flowers that are flushed with pink, plum and a touch of green.

‘Queen of Night’ – one of the darkest tulips you can grow with glossy dark, purple flowers. An amazing tulip. ‘Recreado’ and ‘Black Hero’ are also fabulous dark tulips.

‘Spring Green’ – a real stand out tulip with very long lasting ivory-white flowers adorned with green. Pure class.

‘China Pink’ – a lily-flowered tulip that flowers in light and dark pink shades. Really catches the eye.

‘La Belle Epoque’ – an incredible coffee coloured tulip that flowers for weeks. Very trendy.

‘Ballerina’ – one of the most fragrant tulips you can grow with orange flowers. So graceful.

‘Slawa’ – we grew this tulip for the first time last year and will definitely grow it every year from now on. Deep rich crimson and apricot in one flower that really puts some punch into a colour scheme.

‘Angelique’ – delicate, soft pink double that can easily be mistaken for a peony. Fabulously elegant and fragrant too.

‘Accuminata’ – makes a stunning display en masse. An heirloom variety that’s scarlet and yellow with unusual spiky petals. They will multiply from year to year.

Tulips are the stars of Columbine’s spring garden, with their vibrant and elegant forms they bring the garden alive after its winter rest. And yes……I have the deep heat at the ready.

Dahlia Mania

Dahlias are back in vogue. Once dismissed as being terribly old fashioned and vulgar – gardeners and florists can’t get enough of the enduring charm of dahlias. Thousands of varieties exist but ‘Cafe au Lait’ is possibly one of the most beloved dahlias ever. With sophisticated, huge billowing blooms that open pale pink and then fade to the most perfect colour: a cream blush which mixes so well with other colour combinations – this dahlia is quite simply sumptuous.

Dahlia

We have them growing in our walled garden where they are looking at their very best right now. Dahlias thrive in hot weather but these cream, pale pink flowers always look cool and elegant. Imagine rich cream with a dollop of beige-pink and you get the idea.

Flowering from mid-summer until the first frosts, they are very easy to grow and care for, and make superb cut flowers too, lasting for ages in the vase. I start by planting the tubers in pots in our greenhouse in a peat-free multi-purpose compost in March or April. After approximately 2-3 weeks, shoots will appear and I pinch out the tips of the main shoot to encourage more flowers later on. I plant them in the ground when all risk of frost has passed and I insert a strong stake for support. They are thirsty plants so I water well and make sure the soil has had lots of organic matter incorporated into it before planting.

I cannot recommend this dahlia highly enough. We adore it – it’s like a Fantin-Latour come to life.

Happiness is a Butterfly.

Leslie wrote such wonderful, witty blogs for our website – I hope I can do her justice.

I have been taking part in the Big Butterfly Count which has been running from Friday 16th July to Sunday 8th August 2021.

All I needed to do was to spend fifteen minutes counting the maximum number of species I could see in the garden at a single time. I got to seven enjoying our buddleias outside our walled garden – including Peacock, Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Orange Tip, Large White and Gatekeeper.

I am fascinated by their beauty, delicacy and energy. The Butterfly Conservation Charity that runs the Big Butterfly Count says last year a record 145,000 counts were submitted but shockingly 2020 saw the lowest number of butterflies recorded since the event began twelve years ago.

Happiness is a Butterfly

If we all encourage butterflies into our gardens by growing plants to attract them such as buddleias, lavender, marjoram, sedums, hebes and verbena bonariensis – what a difference we would make. Observing these captivating creatures is seriously addictive. I love to wonder at how beautiful their wings are, and how graceful their flight.

As William Wordsworth wrote in his poem “To A Butterfly” (1801)

I’ve watched you now a full half-hour
Self-poised upon that yellow flower
And, little butterfly! Indeed
I know not if you sleep or feed
How motionless! – not frozen seas
More motionless! And then
What joy awaits you, when the breeze
Hath found you out among the trees
And calls you forth again.