A beautiful tulip for March

Tulipa neustruevae and chionodoxa at Easton

Not a good beginning for a bulb, to have an unwritable and unpronounceable name. This is a survivor though and worth a mention for any garden. I was given this bulb along with a host of others, by Johnny Walkers Bulbs  (superbly successful gold medal winners) to trial in the gardens. Last year I noticed it had made a good clump and rashly divided it in the green, that is, just after it had flowered.
In spite of this, every bulb has flowered and I have introduced it into short grassland where it looks as happy in the sunshine as the shaded border it came from. For us, a tulip that not only survives but actually bulks up is a wonder. It has a great deal of charm particularly amongst other early tulips which seem too large for their short stems. This is gracefully tall (15cms) and with a flower reminiscent of the fading crocuses around it.

Identifying this bulb is not easy. It came to us as Tulipa neustruevae ‘February Gold’ but I cannot find a mention of named varieties. On the internet, some agree with the look of my bulbs, yellow on tall brown stems with brown colouration on outside of the petals, but others opt for pure yellow, floppy stems etc. It is undoubtedly closely related to Tulipa dasystemon syn. T.tarda but comes from lower down the slopes of its native Tien Shan (more of which to follow.) An Australian nursery catalogue suggests that it likes dry acid sandy soil in warmer areas. We have cold alkaline soil but it is dry and free draining.

Now, this description of plant places of origin. It’s all very well saying it comes from the Western Tien Shan in Central Asia but so do circuses, wars and sometimes, Michael Palin, so it’s not very helpful. I  look up Tien Shan and its habitats.My initial research takes me to Wikipedia where I can just about work out from all the geographical data that the Tien or Tian Shan is a huge mountain range covering 6 or 7 countries. Not much information there for the gardener except this little nugget – the lower slopes of the Tien Shan contain forests of wild walnuts and apples. How evocative. Immediately I get a better picture of where my little tulip might grow. Lower mountain slopes, probably shortish on soil and by the forebears of trees that grow in my garden. A little more delving around a travel site reveals that it is full of ‘warm-hearted locals,’ alpine lakes and canyons.

There is plenty more research to do but by now I am really taken with this little fellow who may grow along alpine passes crossed by smiling nomads. I plan to spread him through the gardens under the walnuts and the new apple orchard we plant this autumn.

Sources for this bulb include Broadleigh bulbs and Pottertons Nurseries.

Birdlife at Easton

Winter is a good time of year to watch our native birds.There are no leaves to obscure them and some of the smaller species are easier to spot. Here is a selection of images taken in the gardens over the last few years.
The chaffinch is one of our most abundant and visible birds.In the spring, he sits on a branch while we are weeding calling in a loud monotone.
An assortment of tits. Long tailed tits, great tit, blue tit and willow or marsh tit (I am not sure how to tell the difference between these two but his long shiny black cap should help an expert) We feed the birds during the winter down at the birdhide.

Goldfinches have increased noticeably in the gardens since we started 10 years ago. Here they sit on the high points of the gardens watching and chattering.In late summer, Goldfinches and Greenfinches feast on the sunflower heads in the pickery.

The pied wagtail. In the summer we see grey wagtails busy around the river.

Out in the park that surrounds the gardens are lapwings, buzzards and the french partridge. The buzzards compete with jackdaws, rooks and sometimes, red kites for the skies.

The swallow arrives in April and shown here are two fledglings on the potting shed where they hatched. When we first started reviving the gardens we were down to one pair but since then there has been a steady increase. We cut holes in the doors so they can fly in to nest and the meadows we have developed have bought in plenty of new insect life. Since 2001,we have become a stopping point for migrating swallows, house martins and swifts. 

Annual Seed Lists

Reliable Annuals.

Annuals are an important feature in any garden and may be even more vital this year to plug the gaps left by plants you have lost to the snow and ice. They will also give you colour in the flowering gaps that can occur in June and late Summer. The examples below can be sown from January onwards undercover for early flowering or left until later to fill the high summer garden.You could sow them twice for two hits of colour. Here are some suggestions of seeds that we rely on every year.

Sweet Peas:

This beautiful plant is the mainstay of our Pickery (or cutflower garden) in early summer. We grow over 100 varieties and the scent on a sunny day is pure English summer. We sell mixes and over 50 named varieties by mail order so if you would like to order these, see our shop page or email Mary at info@eastonwalledgardens.co.uk

Calendula officinalis:

This photo shows our heritage sweet peas underplanted with the simple pot marigold. A versatile annual that is extremely easy to grow from its curly seeds; it can be used in the vegetable and herb garden and sown in several batches for a succession of colour. Good for children and, in its simpler forms, for insect life. We offer Calendula officinalis ‘Indian Prince’. It has deep orange flowers with a beautiful red sheen to the back of the petals.


The perfect cottage garden or meadow annual. Really easy, cheap, loved by insects and available in 3 or 4 colours. We sow these early and late.The late sown seedlings are perfect for putting into gaps left by early bulbs. If you leave the seeds heads on the plant you can collect seeds or seedlings from your garden in late summer. We offer individual and mixed colours in our online shop.

Gilia tricolor:

I love this annual, it is not grown nearly enough. We came across this plant when we decided to grow cut flowers listed in the Chiltern Seeds catalogue.It will flower twice in a season without any help from you as the seeds drop early and reseed around their base. Look close into the flowers and they are an exquisite two tone deep purple with yellow throat. Again, really easy and a great cut flower.


Rudbeckia hirta ‘Moreno’ :

Although strictly a perennial this works better in areas with hard winters as an annual. In the past we have trialled 15 varieties of Rudbeckias and this is a beautiful variety. Other good forms include ‘Indian Summer’ (recommended to me by Val Bourne) and ‘Dwarf mixed’ (in spite of the name, not very dwarf and an excellent mix of colours) Suttons sell Moreno and Indian Summer and we offer ‘Dwarf Mix’

Cosmos ‘Psyche White’:

Nailing Cosmos so they grow well for you can be a proper horticultural challenge. At RHS Wisley they grow well over your head but you can also grow them badly as little dumpy things that are all spindly with a sad flower head. This is one we have had had great success with and is more reliable for us than the better known ‘Purity.’ We are going  to grow a range of  Cosmos this year to try and add to this one. Great for late summer colour and the single forms are, like most daisy-type flowers, popular with bees. Thompson and Morgan offer a good range including ‘Psyche White’

And finally, the picture perfect, disease free, flower vase enhancing Clary or Salvia horminum Flowers for ages with blue, pink and white bracts and will resprout throughout the summer if you crop it by cutting down to a shoot.The pink form is shown in close up above with Cosmos. Don’t dismiss the white form, its green veining looks lovely in small posies. We have limited quantities available in the shop.
Salvia horminum
If you can’t imagine summer ever being here again or are looking for a starting point for seed catalogues, I hope this post has inspired you. Happy Christmas x