Ideas for May Blossom

Towards mid-May, Easton Walled Gardens is filled with an avalanche of blossom. The early blackthorn on the hedges around our village and its’ associated weather pattern (‘a blackthorn winter’ = a spell of harsh weather while it flowers) is over for another year.

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Now the hawthorn hedges around the carpark and village are covered with small white blossoms arranged in clusters. The dense wood and knarled outline of a mature hawthorn trunk gives the appearance of extreme age. When the tree is festooned with blossom, the combination of age and vitality is a potent emblem of spring.

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The trees form a cascade of white that splashes onto the cow parsley below.

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Seen in detail, there is an unexpected sophistication to these generous white flowers.

The growth rate of hawthorn trees is quite fast so they may be pruned in winter. Hedges should be pruned after flowering and, to keep it neat, again in autumn. Leaving the second pruning, will give you more flowers in spring the following year. Typically, we have a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ approach and opt for one late summer cut which is when the birds have finished nesting and we have time to tidy the hedge up. As you can see, we still get a smattering of flowers.

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Apple blossom is showing for the first time in our orchard.

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We have an infestation of apple capsid bug which shouldn’t affect fruit production but will lead to marks on the ripe apples; a pity, but for now we are just grateful for the first ever blossom on our young trees. The tatty foliage on the greengage trees is also caused by these little bugs. We don’t like to spray while the trees are in flower; it is far too indiscriminate and will harm pollinators like bees so we may try a wash in early spring to attack the eggs early next year. The adults will lay eggs in nooks and crannies for overwintering.

Speaking of damage to blossom, the lilac blight on the rare shrubs in the meadows, has become too serious to ignore. This is a bacterial infection and is highly localised at the moment, just confined to the lilacs in the rose meadows. Suggested treatment includes copper sulphate in late winter which we will try next year. Incidentally, Syringa vulgaris ‘Zulu’ seems the most resistant to blight.

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This image is of a very beautiful old double lilac that survives in the gardens from 100 year old stock. At the time, lilacs symbolised the remembrance of a first love. We have established this sucker in a large tub by the entrance to the gardens. It greets visitors with its beautiful scent.

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Elsewhere in the garden things are much rosier. The crabapple blossom has turned pure white and sends showers of confetti onto the long meadow grasses and under your feet as you walk.

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Nearby, the wisteria is spectacular this year.

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This is Wisteria floribunda ‘Burford’ taken from an original climber at Burford House in Oxfordshire. The very long racemes with dark purple and lilac pea flowers and a beautiful scent require a pilgrimage every day while they are in flower. Long whippy growth on wisterias will need pruning twice a year, once after flowering back to 3-5 buds and then again in late winter back to 2-3 buds. It is also a good idea to give them a slow release, high potash feed in Spring to boost flower production the following year. This is particularly important if you see the foliage turning pale or chlorotic later in the year suggesting it is under stress.

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For totally undemanding blossom, you could try Weigela florida which, here, is confined to some of the most unpromising parts of the garden where it is dry or in semi-shade. Completely uncomplaining on our alkaline soil it will produce corymbs of flowers on last year’s growth. Like many spring flowering shrubs, it should be pruned after flowering.

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Viburnums are excellent sources of spring blossom but the queen is really Viburnum opulus var. roseum better known as the snowball tree. The lime green buds open to become pure white and are excellent cut for the vase if you split the bottom of the stems with secateurs. Here they are in the White Space Garden.

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Beyond the hedge is our ‘Sakura’ moment. Sakura is the Japanese for cherry blossom and the source of a traditional Japanese folk song of Spring, the season of cherry blossom.

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As you round the hedge alongside the velvet border, 16 cherry trees are in full bloom. Our variety is Prunus ‘Shogetsu’, chosen for the broad shape of the trees, the exquisite blossom in white and pale pink and for the later flowering period. This is one of the last of the flowering cherries to break out in all its spring glory.

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The great cherry, Prunus ‘Tai Haku’ is already going over at the top of the gardens. These are ornamental cherries and the glory is in their flowers. If you want fruit you will need to chose sweet cherry cultivars (usually prefixed Prunus avium) or cooking cherries (usually prefixed Prunus cerasosus.) We grow P. avium ‘Stella’ and ‘Early Rivers’ on the wall of the old peach house – they are supposed to be sweet but in our experience, are better for cooking. Our ornamental cherries will now recede into the landscape until Autumn when their leaves colour up in orange, red and yellow.

Tulips

Ideas for working with tulips

We are in mid-tulip season. Tulipa ‘Albert Heijn’, one of the earliest to flower, is going over. He is a particularly luscious pink with a smoky sheen on the outer curve of the petals. His (and it probably should be ‘her’ with all that feminity but with a name like ‘Albert’ I feel compelled to stick with the masculine) foliage is a gentle grey green that matches the emerging foliage of Nepeta faassenii.

IMG_0754 Tulipa Albert Heijn with Nepeta at Easton Walled Gardens

As the flowers fade, the growth on the Nepeta picks up speed and engulfs the tatty, dying foliage of the tulip. We try and consider the effect of mounds of extraneous leaves when we plant our bulbs. Some alliums and large daffodils cultivars are the worst offenders and should be carefully sited where they won’t distract from nearby flowers in mint condition.

See how the tulipa and catmint foliage match?

Tulipa Aibert Heijn and Nepeta at Easton Walled Gardens

It took some research to come up with this combination and we will grow it every year in front of the alpine bed unless replant disease becomes a problem.

In the White Space Garden, Tulipa ‘Diana’ is in bud. Just a single, white tulip but one with a very long flowering period that means we choose her over other popular whites.

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Early in her flowering she has the bed nearly to herself but as the petals fade she is joined by a chorus of silvers and whites.

EWG 28.5.15.-5 Tulip Diana flowering in the white space garden at Easton Walled Gardens

Here she is in close up:

EWG 1.5.14. Tulip Diana at Easton Walled Gardens

A new white tulip to me this year, is Tulipa ‘Exotic Emperor’, a fosteriana hybrid that I saw in pots at Coton Manor. The outer tepals streaked with green and the sumptuous creamy interior make this tulip worthy of a pot on its own.

IMG_0849 Tulipa Exotic Emperor

Another combination that I liked at Coton Manor is Tulipa Gavota with Ligularia foliage. A very fine tulip that we have used in our pickery or cut flower garden; it’s good to see it used here in a border setting.

IMG_0862 Coton Manor Gavota with ligularia

Back at home, Tulipa Ballerina is flexing her petals in the sunshine.

EWG 4.5.14.-10 tulip ballerina at Easton Walled Gardens

EWG 4.5.14.-12 tulip ballerina and wallflowers at Easton Walled Gardens

Wallflowers make an obvious complementary scheme but we do find them a bit hit and miss as we have a no-slug-pellet policy and, in a hard winter, the wallflowers may not make it. This image shows that even after the flowers are pollinated and the petals start to fade, Tulipa Ballerina is as elegant as her namesake.

IMG_0960 spring plant combinations tulip at Easton Walled Gardens

Tulips don’t need to be used formally. In our meadows and the woodland walk we use species, early and late tulips to complement the planting. Like the other tulips, these will need to be topped up every year. We order around 10,000 bulbs of which about 2,000 will be tulips.

You may also like: Spring Containers

Spring Containers

Using plants for spring containers.

After a winter of black grass, milky snowdrops and white double daisies, we have changed the planting in this terracotta pot for the technicolour flowers of spring. Blue anemones and muscari perfectly complement golden tulips. The colours are linked together in this spring container: golden tulips match the faces of the little viola and the whole is framed by white in the tulips and daisies.

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This pot is placed in the corner of the little meadows outside the history room.

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Behind, the hedge Osmanthus burkwoodii is in flower. In between squally wintry showers, the sun is strong enough to bring out the scent from the small white flowers dotted along the stems. This shrub is fairly slow growing but will eventually make a dense evergreen hedge. Osmanthus hedges should be clipped immediately after flowering.

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Here’s a close up of the tulips. The purple white tall tulip is Tulipa ‘Blueberry Ripple.’ We have grown this for a few years (always from new bulbs each spring.) It is particularly good for pot work.

The golden apricot tulip is Tulipa praestans ‘Shogun.’ Usefully, it starts to flower just before the main tulip season. It’s distinctive feature is that it is multi-headed, so the flowers in the bottom left hand corner of the picture join to one stem. Those that were left in large containers for a second year didn’t manage to make big enough bulbs so they only have one flower.

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Anemone blanda is, perhaps, a surprising choice for a pot but it has proved to be excellent. The clean blue-violet petals (for the botanically minded they are actually sepals) surround the yellow stamens which makes them very satisfying to look at. (Hence the latin name; blanda = charming.) Peeping out from their foliage is the double daisy Bellis perennis which has been in the pot for some time, flowering all the way from February to April without complaining.

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Nestling into the foliage near the bottom of the pot is fritillaria meleagris. We have trouble with this beauty but are trying to get it established in the meadow along the river. Lily beetle, pheasants and slugs all like the taste. We grow a few in pots each year and then transplant them after flowering to the river meadow (also known as the ‘soggy meadow’ because it floods regularly.) We haven’t had great success but here’s a white form that survived this year so I am going to persevere.

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Look at how elegantly the narrow leaves frame the flower; they swirl around the flower like a courtier doffing his cap.

Speaking of elegance, I wanted to include this picture of some of our very old daffodils in this meadow.

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We split the bulbs last year (after flowering but before they died right back) and have been rewarded with ten times the number of flowers this year.

Back to the pot, this scheme doesn’t need a huge container to work. Here are the same flowers, with a change of tulips (Tulipa ‘Apricot Beauty’), in much smaller pots outside the tearoom.

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In this arrangement, the muscari are more prominent. This is Muscari latifolium (which could be loosely interpreted as a ‘musky grape hyacinth with broad leaves.’) Like Tulipa praestans ‘Shogun’ it flowers at a very useful time; after the big hyacinths but before the main tulip season. In the pickery we have combined it with the acid green flowers of Smyrnium perfoliatum (this time the latin means ‘pierced leaf’ – you can see that the stem appears to go straight through the leaf)

Smyrnium perfoliatum in the pickery at Easton Walled Gardens IMG_0888

Here is Smyrnium on its own in the cottage garden sheltering under Rosa ‘Cottage Garden’ while we get on with jobs in the sunshine. It’s the epitome of the bright green new growth of spring.

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