Diary of a Cultural Gardener - March 2021
07 Apr 2021
It felt like spring arrived with the equinox all of a sudden. Cherries and amalanchiers which wore the winter in outline were swiftly filled with flowers. Daffodils briskly opened with freshly laundered energy and a sea of blue bulbs woke from the soil to catch the blossom petals blowing like confetti on the breeze.
Barbara Hepworth said in 1959 that ‘Spring is the manifestation of all that is laid down in the autumn’ and this has been especially true in the garden this year, as six months ago, in the midst of October we undertook a mass planting of thousands of additional bulbs. These were primarily blue, March-flowering gems – Scilla siberica, Scilla luciliae, Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica and Anemone blanda which we planted in repeating clusters throughout the perennials.
Blue is a singular colour; it is all around us in the sea and the sky and yet in nature it is a precious thing when you can hold it in your hands. In renaissance Europe they prized blue in the rocks and minerals which could be ground into precious pigments, – ultramarine, meaning ‘beyond the sea’, was worth more than gold and made from lapis lazuli, mined in Afghanistan, far beyond the shores of the Mediterranean.
The cobalt blue of certain flowers brings this colour to us in springtime like nothing else. Visitors to the garden this month have said that the flowers of the perennial Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’ look so blue that your eyes can barely take it in. Blue seems to spark that conversation about the bluest blue and our little Scilla flowers certainly look bluer in combination with the pale clusters of aquamarine Puschkinia and the deep ruby of the hellebores.
As well as colour these little bulbs begin conversations around names, the story that is built into a botanical name, both genetic and linguistic. I enjoy the journeys these conversations take us on. The Scilla look like little blue bells, though they are not the same plant as the bluebells, Hyacinthoides, which we enjoy in woodlands in May. With visitors I sometimes talk about Scilla’s origins, as a plant native to South Western Russia and the Caucasus. We might talk about the name Scilla, which happens to sound like Cilla Black’s first name, but has an ‘S’ on the front. We find that we started our conversation talking about this small blue flower and have moved on to music of the sixties, Blind Date and Surprise Surprise – all through that linking avenue of similar sound. In fact, the plant name derives more from the Greek and I enjoyed it one morning when a garden visitor told me the Greek myth of the legend of Scylla, the sea monster that guarded a waterway.
That is what I like about plants and gardens, as when you look closely at their names and histories, everything is interconnected – stories, culture, colours, myths, history and politics are all interwoven in the world of plants.
We are delighted that we are going to be holding an online spring flower festival from April 19 to May 2 and we will be sharing lots of stories, facts and know-how about our blossom and bulbs, so do join us then and you can find out more.