Diary of a Cultural Gardener - April 2021
27 May 2021
The springtime fiesta of flowers picks up its pace in April. As the white daffodils dance beneath the blossom, the tulips show up on the scene, well turned-out in sassy shades and decisive silhouettes. This peculiarly cold and dry spring has suited the tulips, allowing them to shine with intensity unblemished, but it’s been a concerning month weather-wise with no April showers to speak of.
The fullness of flowers has prompted lots of questions from our garden visitors and so I am turning this month's diary over to answer some of April’s most frequent questions.
Frequent visitor questions
The garden is covered in spring flowers right now – will you have to dig these up to put summer flowers in?
Thankfully not! The garden is planted up with 14,000 herbaceous perennials, which stay in the ground all year-round, growing tall in summer and retreating underground in winter, at which point we cut off their old dry foliage. In between their roots we have planted 60,000 bulbs, mostly hard-working varieties which will come back year after year. Such that in the early months of spring the colour is provided by these little earth dwellers that pop up to steal the show before the perennials rise again.
We do not repeatedly swap plants in and out, as would have been the technique in park bedding schemes of old, but rather every plant is rooted in the ground all year round and has been chosen to have its moment in the spotlight at a particular time, playing together in year-long composition like the individual instruments in an orchestra.
What about tulips? They don’t always come back in the second year – how do you manage them?
Cultivated varieties of tulips are highly bred and do not always perform well in our climate multiple years after planting. However, there are a few things you can do to help them come back again. Firstly, plant them deeply, about 15cm/20cm down and secondly, choose varieties which are known to perform better over multiple years. Species tulips will do this, but we use modern cultivars such as ‘Havran’, ‘Doll’s Minuet’ and ‘Purple Dream’ amongst others, which are thought to perform well year after year. The third piece of wisdom is to know when to deadhead the flowers, as by stopping them trying to make seed, you can encourage the bulb to save energy underground for next year. We chop off the flowerhead just below the cup of the flower when it no longer closes at night.
Each year we will monitor the tulips, adding a few more, or removing groups as the display evolves. Our free-draining soil and relatively dry climate suits tulip growing and so we hope to be able to maintain an annual display in this way.
What about the yellow foliage – what will the garden look like in a few weeks’ time when all the leaves of the bulbs are dying back?
The planting has been designed by our garden designer Tom Stuart-Smith so that when the bulbs are drawing their energy down underground and the leaves go through their yellow stage, the herbaceous perennials are rising up amidst them, like a tide covering the rocks on the beach. They will obscure the old foliage and hide it away for us until the bulbs come again next spring with bright new growth.
Although our Spring Flower Festival is over, you can still find out more about the variety of spring blooms in our garden on the webpage. We are also continuing to fundraise for the garden, so please do support our campaign if you can.