Spring awakening

Tulip 'Orange Favourite' and Tulip 'Rococo'

I’m back! Sorry it’s been so long. I’ve been snowed under with freelance work, and I’ve been ill, and it’s been the longest winter ever. So much so that I haven’t been out much, or had the opportunity to just wander about with my camera.

I’ve also been wondering what to do with this blog. It strikes me that much of what I do on here – taking pictures of things that provide inspiration my own garden (and, I hope, you too) – is now being done very well by many people on Instagram. I too have an Instagram account, and it’s much quicker and easier to post on there. But what I can’t do on Instagram is write a great deal, and that’s what I love to do. So I’ll carry on doing that here when I feel I have something to say. I’ve also been working on a little project with Naomi over at Out of My Shed – more about that soon.

In the meantime, here are some tulips for you. They’re from my cutting patch, and have all flowered at once – I’ll have to plant more varieties next year for a longer period of interest. They’re ‘Orange Favourite’ and ‘Rococo’, and they positively glow.

Arundel Castle


Arundel, West Sussex

As I have previously reported on this blog, my boyfriend is a fan of castles. That was fine by me, until we started visiting them. I soon realised that I don’t like castles much. As far as I’m concerned, if you’ve seen one castle, you’ve seen them all. They’ve all got a gatehouse, a portcullis, a drawbridge, tricky spiral staircases and slitty windows for shooting arrows out of. Some are just ruins that you still have to pay to get into, then imagine where those features were. I’m rarely bored, but I am bored by castles, and find it difficult to hide – so much so that when we visited Caerphilly Castle (one of my boyfriend’s favourites, one of my least favourite ever) I couldn’t hide my desperation to get out of there. It has given rise to the term ‘Caerphilly Face’ in our household.

As Christian gamely trudges around gardens with me without complaint, I have vowed to never again show my Caerphilly Face when visiting a castle. To lessen the chance of it happening we have agreed that it’s best for all concerned if the castle has a tea shop, and, ideally, a garden. Which is, of course, the case with Arundel Castle. So off we went to coincide with the Tulip Festival.

Judging by the Caerphilly Faces of the French and Dutch teenagers trudging around the castle I am not alone in my castle-phobia. But actually, I quite enjoyed this one. For starters, it’s intact. It has lots of life-size models and recordings that give you a sense of life in the castle. It even has soft furnishings.

But of course the garden was the main draw for me. It’s awash with tulips at this time of year – over 20,000 of them.  Some of the displays were a bit too garish for my liking (I guess you have to go for the wow factor in a garden like this) but here are some ideas that I could see myself replicating in my own garden.



Arundel Tulips-by-steps


Messing about on boats




I always thought I might like to live on a houseboat until I went on one. The boat was rocking very slightly, and I felt instantly nauseous. Back on dry land, I felt as if I was swaying for hours afterwards. Plus I just do not understand locks, am not remotely practical and am not a tidy person. So all in all, I don’t think it’s the life for me.   

On a glorious spring day it did look like a very tempting proposition, though. I loved the little gardens that the houseboat residents have created – everything from wheelbarrows filled with aubretia and beds of tulips to chimineas, little veg patches and window boxes filled with herbs. Very cute.

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Tulips in Regents Park

Regents Park
Regents Park

I came across this raised bed a while ago when I was lost in Regents Park. It was summer then, and it was stuffed with marigolds, heleniums and fennel. I found it for the second time last week when I was lost all over again, experimenting with a new route to work. It was a pretty silly idea as I have no sense of direction, and even the helpful ‘YOU ARE HERE’ signs are lost on me.

None of the tulips directly pick out the colour of the door, although the yellow and red ones come pretty close. Which begs the question: if you have a strongly coloured feature, should you match your plants to it, or just grow what you fancy?


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Four seasons in one windowbox

Regents Park
Regents Park

A lot of plants are stuffed into this window box – two ivies, four skimmias, three standard olives, several violas and about 10 tulips. It’s more than most people would bother with (and it wouldn’t have come cheap), but it looks gloriously exuberant. The olives, skimmias and ivies are evergreen and so look good all year; they also provide the basic structure. Only the bedding plants will need to be replaced when they run out of steam. Classy.

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Inner Temple Garden

If you’re feeling glum because the days are shortening, the temperatures are falling and everything is dying back, take yourself to the Inner Temple Garden without further ado. The High Border is still a riot of colour, and for a few glorious moments you can kid yourself that it’s still late summer.

The border contains many of the plants you’d expect in a late-season garden – grasses, dahlias, rudbeckias, asters, cosmos etc – but head gardener Andrea Brunsendorf puts them together in an original and adventurous way. She chooses varieties for their form, flower shape and colour, and thinks carefully about how they might complement other plants; the centre of one flower might complement the petals of another, for example. And she isn’t afraid to mix colours in combinations that more traditional gardeners would shy away from: orange, pink and red sit happily next to each other in the form of Tithonia rotundifolia ‘Torch’, Dahlia coccinea ‘Mary Keen’ and a red rose (above), as do red roses, magenta dahlias, blue salvias, purple aconitums and yellow rudbeckias (below).

The border also looked pretty amazing when I visited the garden in May. At that time it was filled with alliums, aquilegias and oodles of tulips; oriental poppies then carried it through until June. Andrea admits that the border has a ‘June hole’ when she lifts the tulips and replaces some early flowerers with the tender late season plants such as dahlias. But for a border that powers on until the first frosts (which can be as late as December in central London), that’s a very small price to pay.

Guest post 1: Danny’s garden

Walthamstow (by Paul Lindt)

My current accessories, a Nora Batty-style bandage and a crutch, are not conducive to taking pics for this blog. So it’s time to call in some favours. For the next few posts I’ll be employing some roving reporters to take pics on my behalf.

First up is Danny’s garden, taken by Paul Lindt. Danny is a man of many talents and his garden is a wonder, cleverly designed and laid out with his own fair hands, and packed with plants. Not that an estate agent liked it much, though – when he came round to value the house a while ago he informed Danny that the garden ‘could be very nice’.

Anyway, Danny’s front garden has been shortlisted for a ‘Best Kept Front Garden’ award in Walthamstow, and deservedly so.

Over to Danny…

‘In a blatant attempt to curry favour with the judges, and tick the criteria boxes (attractiveness, creativity, wildlife friendly, choice of plants), my supporting text for my entry read:

“Chock full of year-round interest, subtle colour, texture and some unusual plants. Danny’s front garden rises to the challenge of dry, summertime shade.He’s combined woodland plants like thalictrum, astrantia, tricyrtis, anemones, phlox and hardy geraniums. It’s peppered with self-seeded michaelmas daisies and softened by puffs of deschampsia.  The house is clothed in spring-flowering clematis and white wisteria and a headily scented trachelospermum (a surprising success in shade).

Architectural plants include acanthus, phormium and fern while the front door is flanked by a pair of cypress trees.  A wall-trained pyracantha has been home to nesting blackbirds again this year, and the soft dry soil provides nesting sites for solitary bees and the ubiquitous ant.  And he’s a martyr to the snail.
Come late summer spiders strike up instant webs between tall stems, and autumnal yellow and golden hues suffuse the foliage. Fading to a garden of evergreens and dried seedheads. When spring comes around the garden is soon awash with mauve clematis and wallflowers and tulips, bluebells and alliums until the street trees draw the curtains on the sun for another summer. 

It’s not the most manicured of gardens, ‘natural’ you might say, but Danny’s crammed it to the gunnells with lovely plants that vie for the attention of passers-by.”

Let’s hope he wins, eh? I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime if you spot a nice garden on your travels, please take a pic and send it to me via the Contact Me tab!
PS You can see more pics of Danny’s garden here. Well worth a look.


On the shelf


When I had a balcony I was tempted by shelves as a way as cramming more plants in, but I couldn’t quite figure what to do with them. But I see now that the trick is to fill them with the same type of plant in the same type of pot for maximum effect, as they do at East Ruston Old Vicarage.

At the moment I could fill this blog with weird planting combinations that should never be seen together – such as wallflowers and roses, shown here.  Suffice to say that I saw daffodils and roses flowering on the same day, and I’m still recovering from the shock.

Tulip mania


When I first went to East Ruston a few years ago I was amazed by its flamboyant spring pots – and they were looking just as exuberant this time around, stuffed to the gills with tulips and hyaciths in every colour imaginable.

Co-owner Alan Gray was on Gardeners’ Question Time last summer, talking about how he keeps looking his pots so good, and I seem to remember that the summer ones at least involve copious amounts of manure and feeding. But I think the lessons I’d take away from these pots are: 1) Use the biggest pot imaginable 2) Use twice the number of bulbs you think you’ll need and 3) Go mad with colour.