Last call for Spring Bulbs…

October and November are when most spring flowering bulbs become available at garden centres and nurseries. The priority for most people tend to be Daffodils (Narcissi) and Tulips (Tulipa species). The time at which they actually flower varies from one variety to another – by choosing varieties carefully you can have daffs and tulips in flower over a longer period. Daffodils will flower from Feb to April, Tulips in April and May.

Narcissus ‘Thalia’

Daffodils can be planted in the ground in October, but for tulips, it’s best to leave it until some time in November, particularly if your soil is heavy, as the bulbs can rot in damp soil (putting a little grit at the base of the planting hole can help to give more drainage to avoid this).

It’s not too late to plant daffodil bulbs now, or indeed many other, earlier bulbs such as snowdrops, though they may not flower quite as early as if you’d got them in the ground in October. The bad news is that retailers tend to get all their bulbs in at one time, and by now they’re running out. The good news is that they’re now heavily discounting whatever they have left. So while you may not get the full choice now, you can still create a stunning display, and at a much lower cost than if you’d been more organised and got your bulbs earlier.

Tulipa ‘Couleur Cardinal’ & ‘Spring Green’ naturalised in the garden

Many people use bulbs to create displays in pots. When it comes to tulips, growers supply bulbs that have been grown under ideal conditions, so that they will produce a large flower. The following year, the flowers are never as big, so won’t provide such a good display. But so long as you’ve chosen varieties that will naturalise, you can plant them in the garden when they’ve finished flowering, and they’ll come back year after year.

Here are the pots that I’ve planted this year, tucked away in a sheltered position by the house over the winter, and the remaining packets of bulbs that will be planted in the garden:

I’ve put the pots on blocks to keep them off the ground (pot feet are a better option, but expensive!) and covered them with netting to stop squirrels, voles, mice etc digging them up, as they sometimes do. I’ve planted daffodils ‘Hawera’, ‘Ice Follies’, and my favourite ‘Thalia’; and tulips ‘Spring Green, Queen of Night, and ‘Ballerina’.

Tulipa ‘Konigen der Nacht’ (Queen of Night)
Tulipa ‘Ballerina’

For a fuller display, you can mix different types of bulbs in the same pot, with tulips and daffs planted deeper, and smaller flowers such as chionodoxa, snowdrops, scilla, etc. set higher in the pot. I’ve been a bit lax on that front this year – I did throw in some chionodoxa and snowdrop bulbs I had from last year, but it’s mainly daffs and tulips.

The bulbs for the garden are fritillaria meleagris (snake’s head fritillary) and Camassia quamash for around the pond, and snowdrops and anemones for the shaded area under the lilac tree and rhododendrons.

Snowdrops (Galanthus)

Garden centres and nurseries are also selling summer flowering bulbs, such as lilies, which don’t need to be planted until next spring, and alliums, which should ideally be planted now (though like tulips, they prefer good drainage).

Allium hollandicum

Whichever bulbs you choose to plant, from the diminutive earliest flowering snowdrops, through daffodils and tulips, to the largest, most flamboyant lilies and gladioli; bulbs will give you welcome bursts of flower to look forward to next year.

text & images ©strelitzia garden design 2021

Plants For Free…

Growing annuals from seed can be a time-consuming process, fraught with worry. Will the seeds germinate? Will the seedlings be eaten by slugs. Will the stems succumb to rot (known as damping-off). Will you forget to water them, so they wilt and die? But then, there are some annuals that take care off all this themselves…

This is borage, flowering in our garden last week; putting on a fantastic show very early on in the season. I grew borage from seed last year. The plants flowered, and distributed their seed, and now, as if by magic, there are new borage plants in various stages of development, from just-hatched, to fully-formed, all through the long border…

Three metres deep in places, and running the length of the garden, this is a big bed to fill, and while the shrubs are still small, and the perennials are yet to clump up, annuals have an important role in filling in the gaps. When they do it themselves, so much the better. Above you can see some of the borage seedlings, in among newly-planted white phlox (‘Peacock White’) and Echinops (E. ritro ‘Veitchs Blue’ – incidentally, also grown from seed). Another plant that I grew from seed last year and which is prolifically self-seeding is Ammi major, a lovely, frothy white umbellifer that adds depth, cohesion and mystery to a planting scheme. This is how it looked in the bed last August, engulfing a young Cornus koussa

The garden has farmland bordering it to three sides; it’s quite exposed to wind, and we get some cold nights, so I wasn’t sure these auto-didactic annuals were going to make it. But they’re coming through nicely. Of course, they don’t necessarily come up exactly where you want them, so they will need to be moved around. Other desirable self-seeders coming up in the garden are foxgloves (Digitalis) and forget-me-nots (Myosotis). This year I’ve sown some sweet rocket (Hesperis matronalis) and honesty (Lunaria) to add to the mix of regenerating annuals (and biennials, in the case of the foxgloves and honesty).

Elsewhere in the garden, the tulips are in full flow. This is ‘Princes Irene’…

And here’s another of my favourites, ‘Queen of Night’…

Due to on-going, delayed building work (will it ever be finished?) the pots of tulips have had to be located in front of the workshop, by the veg patch, nestled behind last year’s rainbow chard (still cropping well, but about to bolt)…

There’s a varied and interesting collection of daffodils around the garden (from before my time) including some that are absolutely tiny. I’ve added my favourite, which is ‘Thalia’…

Last year’s tulips were planted into the beds, where they should hopefully come up year after year. In addition, there’s a clump of a variety I hadn’t tried before, a red ‘lily’ tulip called ‘Pieter de Leur’, looking good with ‘Spring Green’…

The heavy rain over the bank holiday came just in time to rejuvenate the garden, which was looking parched. You can already see the plants on the starting blocks, ready to grow. With so many new shrubs and trees, it’s an exciting time. There are two established trees; a large birch in the back, and a crab apple in the front, by the side of the drive. The crab apple was very congested, and obviously hadn’t been properly pruned for some time. I cut out quite a lot of wood, and this year it’s rewarded me with an impressive show of blossom. I believe this may be Malus ‘Torino’…

Spring blossom is such a spectacular show. It may not last long, but it ushers in the main growing season and, hopefully, some warmer weather pretty soon…

text & images © Graham Wright 2021

Wooden plant label trials

I’m trying to get away from using plastic as much as I can. I have a supply of plastic plant labels that I re-use and re-use, but they’re getting worn and brittle, and so I’ve started to look for more sustainable replacements. Over the winter I did a little trial of wooden labels. I planted up pots of bulbs – tulips, daffodils and alliums – and labelled them using a variety of wooden labels. Some were re-purposed, others were shop bought; specifically intended to be used as labels. I wrote on them in pencil, as I’ve found this to be by far the best implement when it comes to the plastic labels – I haven’t come across any ink that doesn’t get washed off in time. They’ve only been in the pots since November, and so I’d say the results were disappointing.

The first is a wooden toothbrush handle (I cut off the bristles!) The writing is still there, but it’s barely legible…

The emerging leaves tell you more. If I zoom in to the photograph I can just about read ‘ Allium christophii‘. And on closer inspection, I can pick up ‘Queen of Night’. Interesting that the alliums are more advanced than the tulips.

The next pot has two labels…

These haven’t weathered too well either. Curiously, the writing is much clearer in the photo. There’s that old cliche of the camera never lying – well I can barely read these in real life. The one on the right (for Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’) is one of the shop bought labels. They’re laminated, and as you can see, the layers of wood veneer are separating. Unfortunately I’ve thrown away the pack, and I can’t remember the make (or, fortunately, for the manufacturer and the garden centre!) In fairness to them, this hasn’t happened with all of these labels. The one on the left (for Tulipa ‘Princes Irene’) is a very thin, balsa wood type which I believe was handed out free as a drinks stirrer (I don’t usually accept these, but it was during the pandemic, and I think I wasn’t given the option). Despite their flimsy nature, these stirrer have fared the best. As you can see from the next shot…

They’re both the same shape, I just tried them different ways up. The writing is still relatively clear on this one (reminding me that I’m lucky enough to have Tulipa ‘Princes Irene’ in two pots – Hurrah!)

So, not exactly a scientific study, but it has given me an indication of just what a challenge it will be to find plant labels that perform as well as the plastic ones. It isn’t easy being green! I’d be interested to hear any experiences you may have had with plant labels in sustainable materials…

Allium christophii, just before reaching their full, spherical shape. Christophii are one of the most unusual, interesting alliums. They look almost as if they’re made of metal; very striking, and very beautiful.

Text and images © Graham Wright 2021


After the winter we’ve had here, the term ‘evergreen’ may have to be reviewed. Sadly, I’ve come across a lot of evergreens that will now be forever brown. The following two sad specimens illustrate the point rather well.

The first, a low growing Ceanothus, went into the winter thriving; full and with lush, dark green foliage. Ceanothus usually sail through our winters, but this year many have been badly damaged and may not survive (this one included). At home, we’ve got a Ceanothus growing against a north-facing wall (I know; it isn’t recommended, but I saw one flourishing in the same position on a house down the road and decided to ‘borrow’ the idea). It was hit by the cold weather, and suffered quite a bit of browning, but it pulled through, is greening up nicely, and is about to burst into flower. Despite the north-facing aspect, I suspect the wall helped to protect it.

The next is a Mahonia. I have a difficult relationship with these spiky characters. The flowers are impressive (if a bit on the yellow side) and come at a time when there isn’t much else in flower. But they can be very uncomfortable to work with. And the fallen leaves don’t break down, and even through gloves will prick your hands when you pick them up. And the plants have an unfortunate habit of going very leggy. You can do what’s known as ‘crown lifting’, which is where you cut away the lower branches and shoots to show the bare stems even more, turning them into plants on sticks, or mini trees. Come to think of it, once they start to go leggy, this is probably the best strategy, because even if you don’t like the look of the stems, you can hide them with some under-planting.

Over the last few years, with this specimen I’ve been trying the other, rather more difficult approach, which is to prune it to reduce the height, and to encourage it to produce new shoots from lower down on the stems. It’s responded only grudgingly, but I was getting there. I don’t suppose this weather damage is going to help the process, but I think that this plant should at least pull through, in spite of the damage.

On a brighter note, many plants don’t seem to have been affected by the weather. The tulips, for instance, were safely tucked up underground and sensibly waited until the winter was over before doing their thing.

Tulipa ‘Purissima’ ‘The first of the tulips in our garden to start doing it’s thing.

Narcissus ‘Thalia’ – it’s still my favourite daffodil!

Two of my favourite tulips: ‘Balerina’, with ‘Queen of Night’ just coming through

Queen of Night in their prime – a great tulip, named for a great opera

Whether it’s the affect of low temperature, snow, or the icy, burning winds; or a combination of the three, I’ve come across a lot of evergreens, of various species, that have been damaged in this way, with brown, scorched, dead or dying leaves. I’ve seen examples of Viburnum tinus, a stable of municipal planting and domestic gardens, which, having taken a hammering in recent years at the hands (or rather, jaws) of viburnum beetle have lost most of their leaves, this time over the winter. They’re having to start again now, pushing out new leaves, in the same way as deciduous plants do in spring. We call these plants evergreen, but if winters continue to be as harsh as the last one, we may have to refer to them as semi-evergreen, or even deciduous. That’s assuming they survive…

Text and images ©Graham Wright 2018

Pulverised Penstemons

Penstemons grow so well here in Cardiff by the sea that unless you have a bad aversion to them, it would be rude not to grow a few. It’s the gulf stream. Being a little on the tender side, further inland they get knocked back by the cold. You should cut them back by half in autumn so that there isn’t so much top growth left that they get pulled about too much in the wind, but there’s enough to protect the stems (and shoots) at the base of the plants from the cold.

My rather sad looking Penstemons (unknown variety)

Here, in the mild sea air, they can often get through the winter pretty much untouched, and the purpose of cutting them back is mainly to stop them growing too big and leggy. Not this year though. This year my penstemons came through the winter looking worse than Monty Don’s, even though he lives in Herefordshire, which is generally much colder than here. Maybe he got less snow than us. I was away, in warm sunny Australia (more to follow in later posts) so I didn’t see it, but I’m hearing tales from my customers of how the snow drifted and piled up against their doors five feet high, so that they really were snowed in. Will the Penstemons pull through? I’m keeping my fingers crossed, but I’m quietly confident.

And the Penstemons aren’t the only casualties of the weather. Here’s that Kangaroo Paw I was crowing about before I went away, but which took a pounding once the weather turned.
Anigothanthos manglesii (Red and Green Kangaroo Paw) – though I doubt even it’s mother would recognise it now.

The perennial wallflowers can make a good show. I particularly like Erisymum ‘Bowles’ Mauve’. They’re short lived plants, quickly going leggy and unsightly, but it’s really easy to take cuttings. Taking the cuttings might be easy, but I’ve never had much luck growing them on. Maybe they don’t like my soil, but they never seem to make good, bushy plants. But the snow seems to have just about finished them off.
Erysimum ‘Bowles’ Mauve’ – Not exactly gracing the garden.

Still, at least not everything in the garden is looking sadder than Harvey Weinstein at an awards ceremony for gentlemanly behaviour (what – too soon?) Here are a few of the success stories:
Camassia cusickii – I split one clump into six at the end of last year, and they’re all romping away. The flower spikes are a lovely pale blue.
Some of the lilies in pots are beginning to get going – this is ‘Original Love’, a large, deep red variety.

We’ve quite a few other bulbs coming through as well, in pots as well as in the ground. We’ve got Tulips, including ‘Ballerina’, ‘Prinses Irene’, ‘Purissima’ and ‘Queen of Night’. We’ve got Daffs, including ‘Hawera’ and the lovely ‘Thalia’. And we’ve got some very pretty little blue numbers, including Scilla sibirica and Chionodoxa.

Chionodoxa luciliae Boiss



Text and pictures © Graham Wright 2018