This is long blog but useful for those wanting to warm their garden early in the year with continuing flower colour.
Deciduous shrubs are leafing up now, losing their skeletal looks and herbaceous perennials are rapidly putting on fresh green growth. Like many gardeners I am eagerly looking forward to mixed and herbaceous borders full of colour.
Last month I carried out the final stages of my spring tidy, trimming back broad leaved evergreens just before growth begins. I leave them till spring so I do not have to look at cut leaves and stems during the winter months. Any late frosts and desiccating winds will not leave long term visual damage as emerging new growth covers any wounds. When my snowdrops and daffodils finished flowering I lifted, split and replanted the larger clumps to increase their number but also some were in the wrong place such as large daffodils at the front of the mixed border which look fine when in bloom but their dying back foliage looks unsightly at the front of the border . Large daffodils are best at the back of borders where their dying back foliage can be hidden by the foliage of emerging herbaceous perennials.
Snowdrops provided the bulk of colour in February joining winter flowering hellebores. Iris reticulata cultivars and winter aconite followed on in late February early March but not in large enough number to make an impact so they are on my shopping list together with Anemone nemorosa and blanda cultivars which I want to plant en mass in my mixed borders to contribute colour from March into May. They will take a few years to establish and provide the effect I want.
The small number of cultivars I have did well this year, providing a small but lovely show in my containers. I want to plant as many as I can afford to increase colour during March, filling the gap when snowdrops and winter aconites fade and before the majority of daffodils flower. I am staying away from crocuses at the moment because they only open fully in sun and most of our winter days are too dull and I find myself looking at closed flowers. Small flowering bulbs such as iris and anemone species are perfect for naturalising and providing colour in herbaceous borders sown amongst existing herbaceous plants. Those that are lifted when adding or splitting herbaceous plants are easily returned to the ground and they do not interfere with the growth of perennials.
Hosta and muscari living in the same space quite happily
In my garden May and June is the stumbling block for colour. The woodland section has lots of candelabra primula varieties so no problem there and the mixed borders are greening up well but in the true spirit of successional planting I want more colour. Early leaf shape, texture and colour works well in my lower border early in the season because it is protected to fair degree from strong winds but the mixed borders on my slope are continually battered by strong winds and it will take a few more years for my shelter planting to mature to a size where it effectively filters the wind giving early and evergreen foliage of plants a chance.
Lower border showing decent flower and leaf colour, shape and texture early April
This is the best time of year for lifting and dividing herbaceous perennials, just as they are starting to grow. Returning divisions where I want them and potting surplus divisions for selling on to my customers. They will root in their pots well in a few weeks and I quickly see the ones that look good enough to sell on, rather than dividing and potting up in the winter monthshaving to look after plants which do nothing for months and find that they are sorry looking specimens not fit for selling.
With my herbaceous plants in their coming season positions I have taken photographs of their positions and spaces between them which will remind me where I want to plant the spring bulbs when they come on sale in the autumn.
Photos of my beds will remind me of where bulb planting spaces are in autumn
I have put together my order from Parkers, a bulbs specialist, and I will send it off in July. They will send me my order when they become available. I prefer this to buying bulbs in retail outlets as often the bulbs have dried out and do not come to anything.
Deciding on which tulips to buy has been a bit time consuming, there are hundreds if not thousands of cultivars, grouped into catagories which for the novice tulip grower does not help much. In the past for me tulips are mainly temporary bulbs that you plant and discard after a few years. Many groups do not regrow well after their first year in and those that do often grow with pathetic looking smaller flowers . They can be lifted and stored in a dry place over the summer as they like moisture when in flower and baked in dry soil when dormant but that is an activity I do not want to get involved in. They do however withstand wind surprisingly well and give attractive colour displays before the summer bedding is planted.
Two years ago I had fifty of these late season tulips (Ballerina) and evry year their numbers decline.
In the end I have picked one colour from three different catagories, kaufmanniana, Greigii, and single early to see how they look and do. Kaufmanniniana and Greigii tulips flower on short stems and unlike other groups are said to come up year after year. I have chosen all early flowering forms as I live in an inland glen and they will probably flower more mid season. If I like them I can top them up or replace them with another colour or catagory the following year. From Parkers I can get I a hundred bulbs for less than a bunch of flowers for the house which lasts about seven days so I will not begrudge my little experiment.