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.