Hello, Chelsea!

Charlotte-Anne Fidler, Lifestyle, Countryside, English country, Country house, English Houses, English Home, Gardens, Flowers, Cutting, Gardens, Nature, English, gardens, Roses, Rose garden, Sweet peas, Spring bulbs, Spring gardens, Spring planting, Summer planting, Summer gardens, White, Blooms, Home design, Interior design, Interiors, White interiors, House beautiful, Homes and Gardens, Maine Coons, Cats, Motherhood

It’s been far too long since I visited The Chelsea Flower Show. When I was a Vogue girl, we used to get first dibs on the press tickets. And – being a junior member of the team – I usually got Sunday, the crowd-less day before opening day, where I could witness the last-minute tweaks and dramas. I saw Dan Pearson’s genius for the first time there and persuaded my editor, Alexandra Shulman, to let me do a feature on his new, dark and velvety aesthetic.

I stopped going when I had children. Babies aren’t allowed at Chelsea. Quite sensibly, for the baby and the parent, I realise now. But, at the time, I thought it was a case of the Royal Horticultural Society, who run the show, being patriarchal and thoroughly old-fashioned. Besides, I was finding the crowds hard to deal with.

Going back after fourteen years, I realise how much I’ve missed this annual shot of garden excellence and inspiration. Some things are different – there are noticeably less show gardens now that sponsors are thin on the ground – but, reassuringly, so much is the same…or better.

I went on my own this year. Which could have been a little lonely, but, in fact, was the best way of staying focussed and seeing exactly what I wanted to see. Going in the morning, just after it opens, is a very good idea. The light is prettier, if you are taking photographs, and you are always just ahead of the crowds. The show gardens – inventive showcases for established and up-and-coming garden designers – are the biggest attractions and the best horticultural theatre, so I head to them first. Then I duck into the main pavilion, which is always quieter, and absolutely my favourite part of Chelsea

There is so much that I saw and loved and so many beautiful plants and ideas, that I’m dividing my Chelsea post in to two parts. Here is Part 1, focussing on my favourite flowers:

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Roses! Peter Beales and David Austin, the two biggest rose growers in Britain – and, no doubt, arch rivals – always create the most fabulous stands. It’s the best kind of floral one-upmanship. Obelisks, arches, arbours and borders overflowing with their newest and best varieties, all at their peak a good month before they are flowering in our gardens.

 

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Visitors get to walk through the gardens and under the arches. It’s like being in cross between Heaven and a Hollywood movie set – but one full of people burying their faces in flowers.

 

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The scent, as you can imagine, is extraordinary.

 

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Two roses I plan to add to my Garden are David Austin’s Vanessa Bell, launched in 2017 and a perfect,  sorbet yellow and Peter Beale’s fabulously blowsy and deliciously scented climber, Sir Paul Smith (climbing up the pyramid in the first image).

 

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I’m also adoring this combination of palest yellow and pink here – the pink is David Austin’s classic, Queen of Denmark, the yellow is my new favourite, Vanessa Bell.

 

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Some stands are brilliantly naturalistic, others, like these Alliums from Dutch bulb specialists W. S. Warmenhoven, are fantastically graphic. What’s brilliant about Chelsea is that you can see the flowers and order them on the spot for next year. This stand had 52 varieties of Allium on show…!

 

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More single species – Foxgloves – but the effect couldn’t be more different. I have quite a thing about Foxgloves and had no idea there were so many different varieties. I could have spent all day working my way through this beautiful stand, but was thrilled to see that The Botanic Nursery, who had created this dreamy display, were only a ten minute drive from where I live.

 

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The peony stands always remind me of how much I’m missing out on by growing easy-to-find favourites like Sarah Bernhardt and Duchess de Nemours (beautiful though they are). At Chelsea, you have the chance to meet the specialist growers and see the very latest varieties, sometimes fresh from the United States (where they seem to be leading the way with Peony growing).

 

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I’m always drawn to Intersectional Hybrid Peonies. The rather unromantic name does nothing to describe the glamorous beauty of these flowers. A cross between Tree Peonies and herbaceous peonies, they are like a floral version of silk taffeta ball dresses. I definitely need some of these in my life…..!

 

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These beauties were on the Kelways stand. Heaven!

 

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This divine, butter-yellow Peony is Lemon Chiffon. Love at first sight! And I’m determined to get my hands on it, even tho’ the grower, Primrose Hall Nursery, told me it was the most expensive plant on the stand….Gah! Why am I always drawn to expensive things??!

 

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Downderry Nursery is a family-run specialist Lavender grower. I first discovered them when I was looking for white Lavender for my London garden (they’re used to catering for strict colour schemes!). Their nursery in Kent is surrounded by fields that look like something out of the South of France. Again, I had no idea there were so many lovely varieties….

 

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Here I am shopping for Clematis. These stands also give me great ideas about colour combinations. How lovely does this double white, Duchess of Edinburgh, look with the velvety plum, Fleuri?

 

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Or this delicious double red, Charmaine, with the pale lilac (whose name I, stupidly, didn’t write down…)?

In Part 2 of my Chelsea round up, I’ll be writing about my favourite colour trend, more brilliant single flower specialists (I love a garden nerd!) and inspiring ideas for planting, pots…and sheds.

Roses – www.davidaustinroses.co.uk and www.classicroses.co.uk (Peter Beales)

Lavender – www.downderry-nursery.co.uk

Peonies – www.Kelways.co.uk and www.primerosehall.co.uk

Alliums – www.warmenhoven.co.uk

 

 

The Whites of Spring

Charlotte-Anne Fidler, Lifestyle, Countrside, English country, Country house, English Houses, English Home, Gardens, Flowers, Cutting, Gardens, Nature, English, gardens, Roses, Rose garden, Sweet peas, Spring bulbs, Spring gardens, Spring planting, Summer planting, Summer gardens, White, Blooms, Home design, Interior design, Interiors, White interiors, House beautiful, Homes and Gardens, Maine Coons, Cats, Motherhood

I’m not someone who loathes winter. I love the way it strips everything away and reveals the bones of the landscape. I love frosty mornings and the how the cold and wet drives us inside to create cosy days and evenings in our homes.

But the way I feel about Spring is something else. Spring literally fills me up. I can look out of my window at the greener grass and the trees in bud and the borders filling up with fat tulips and, no matter what else is going on in my life, I feel an enormous surge of joy and hope.

March and April are the months in the garden where almost anything is possible. Incredible when you look at these pictures to think that, less than a month ago, things were buried under two inches of snow.

Now everything is clarity and freshness. A surge of growth and green. Incredible the speed Spring races away!  I want it to slow down. I want to have time to take in the froth of wild Cherry blossom in the hedgerows around the house. I want to enjoy the white Narcissus Thalia nodding in the grass beneath the newly planted Crab apples. I want to catch the bridal sprays of  Exochorda x macrantha and the fleeting, star-like Amelanchier flowers.

You might have noticed that all of the flowers I’ve named are white. I might welcome the cheery, yolk yellow of early Narcissus in the pots around my front door in early March (golly, do I need that after the browns and greys of Winter!), but for the rest of Spring, I want white. White flowers have a perfect clearness, a lovely transparency against the rush of Spring green. They also have a simplicity and purity. Like a palette cleanser before the pinks, purples and blues of early Summer.

When we bought the house, the garden was full of blousy, yellow trumpet daffodils (my theory is that it was an economy bag planted that year to make the garden more appealing to potential buyers!). Over the years, I’ve slowly dug them up, created new borders and planted them with my favourite Cyclamineus Narcissus (delicate, windblown petals that are…white). The mishmash of yellow and purple crocus under the Copper Beech are now outnumbered by my white Species Crocus. And the boundaries dotted with my favourite Crab apple, Evereste. The all-White palette only lasts about a month, but I think it’s that transience that makes it more magical.

 

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Mousling looking out at a rather chilly April day. I don’t mind cold Springs. Spring flowers – particularly blossom – are so delicate that they can last less than a week. Cold days keep them going for longer. More time to look and enjoy!

 

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It’s not easy to find a good white Crocus. I tend to like Species Crocus because they are smaller and more delicate than the border varieties. This is Crocus Chrysanthus, Snow Bunting – ivory flowers with a lovely, golden throat. That is one happy bee! Spring flowers, like Crocus, are essential for bees emerging from their winter hibernation.

 

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The crocus under the Copper Beech. My mistake was to plant them in clumps rather than individually. What’s happened now is that they’ve multiplied and the clumps look like blobs of clotted cream on the lawn. Not a bad thing – but not the effect I had wanted…!

 

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The Yew borders, by the Boot Room door, are the newest part of the garden and replaced a gnarly Ivy hedge and ugly, tarmacked drive. I think they are probably my most successful Spring planting scheme. Thousands of Snowdrops come first….

 

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….followed by Narcissus Jenny (windblown, creamy petals, completely divine) and then the nodding, shimmering white heads of Narcissus Thalia. Win! Win! Win!

 

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White Narcissus from the cutting garden. I’ve experimented a bit with what works here. Narcissus Actea – with its orange-red centre – is late-flowering and a winner. Narcissus Pueblo has pretty little creamy heads and is great for cutting with a good vase life. Narcissus Silver Chimes – lots of white heads – is a headache, despite being recommended by the likes of Sarah Raven. The heads are so heavy that the stems collapse and your flowers end up being enjoyed by the slugs. And the bulbs often don’t come up at all. One to avoid, even if it looks pretty here.

 

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This is the view, through my baby Victoria Plum tree towards the house. I planted six fruit trees when we moved here, and now, rather grandly perhaps, call this part of the garden, ‘the orchard’.  Because life is too short, I ordered well established standards with good, five foot stems (harder to find than you think!). Every year, I will them to grow and grow. I can’t wait till this part of the garden is more mature and a froth of blossom in May.

 

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Narcissus Jenny is followed by Narcissus Thalia on the bank of the Orchard.  So easy to put in (under three young Crab apples) and always absolutely beautiful from every angle. Particularly, on a blush-skied Spring evening

 

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I wish I had a Magnolia! My village is full of seriously impressive Magnolias at this time of year. I inherited a very sad Magnolia, planted painfully close to a boundary wall. Within two years, it had succumbed to Honey Fungus. I haven’t dared to plant another, so this picture is me stalking my neighbour’s very fabulous tree (so beautiful against their equally fabulous Yew hedge).

 

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And this is my stylish France-living friend, Sharon Santoni’s, heavenly, Magnolia-filled garden in Spring. I love how she has created what is essentially a tumble-y, English country garden around her beautiful French house.

 

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A beautiful late Spring white for walls, fences and buildings is Clematis Montana Wilsonii. I have planted two and they have romped away, covering my garden walls with their star-like, Almond-scented flowers.

 

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My one Cherry tree – and it’s a good one! Prunus Ukon has extraordinary blossom which is a pale, pistachio green that fades to white over the week it is in flower. It’s set the Spring colour scheme for the borders around the dining terrace, which are filled with dwarf Narcissus Jack Snipe followed by deliciously scented Narcissus Cheerfulness, which mirrors the Cherry’s pom-pom flowers.

 

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When the evenings are clear, the light through the Prunus Ukon is….well, you can see what I mean…

 

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And then at twilight, white flowers really come in to their own. Here, blossom and Narcissus Geranium looking luminous around the dining terrace on a warm April evening.

 

 

Bed Time Story

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I love a beautifully made bed. I also love unmaking it and curling up for eight hours under a cloud of goose down and crisp white bed linen. And the crisp linen part of that is crucial. Don’t talk to me about ‘easy-care’. My bed linen doesn’t have to be easy; but it does have to be Egyptian cotton, a high-ish thread count, and, ideally, a cool and airy Percale (more on this later).

Where did I develop my bed linen high standards? I used to have a job where I travelled a lot and was lucky enough to stay in some pretty snazzy hotels. I slept in real linen, cotton Sateen, high thread count Percale, and, once, a silk mix (great for the skin and hair, I hear). I got to understand the difference between good linen and not-so-good linen. I became an expert on pillow fillings and duvet types (it’s Hungarian Goose Down all the way for me).

I learned that, where bed linen is concerned, you usually get what you pay for. And, like buying good shoes or handbags, when you spend a little more, you will have something that makes you happier and, importantly, last longer. Decades in the case of very good linen.  I got clever about where I bought my linen from.  I looked for brands that made their linen in Europe (where there is a tradition of great linen making) and used ultra-thin, long yarns (this is far more important than thread counts for softness and quality). I bought in the sales when I couldn’t afford full price.

I know the brands I love (Frette and The White Company’s  Savoy and Linen ranges) and I pretty much stick with them. But I’m open to change, which might be why, when my very stylish friend, Charlotte, sent me a box full of beautifully wrapped Draper London linen last week, I was very excited.  I hadn’t heard of Draper London, which launched last year, but I had heard of its big sister, Josephine Home (who provide seriously upscale bed linen for the Mandarin Oriental and Soho House hotels). The brilliant idea behind Draper, is to create superior bed linen with all their luxury know-how about yarns, thread counts and European craftsmanship, but sell it at entry level prices. Pretty genius, I’d say.

We’ve been road-testing our sheets for a week and, so far, they’ve proved a winner with me….the girls…and, of course, the cats.

So that you can up your bed linen game, too, I’ve arranged a 20% discount off the Draper London Collection. Simply type in ELFCAT when you checkout at www.draperlondon.com to access the discount until 15 April 2018. Terms and Conditions apply (see their website). 

 

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The cats have very refined taste in linen. When I put on good bed linen, like the Draper London Hero Set, here, they like to ‘help’. This means hiding under the sheets (to check the weight….)

 

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….and kneading the duvet covers with their outsize paws to check the softness.

 

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Draper London is a light and airy Percale in 300 thread count Egyptian cotton which they think is a ‘perfect all-rounder’. Poff, agrees…..

 

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I love a well-made bed, but I don’t have hours to spend fluffing and tweaking in the morning. My best bed-making routine: put a quilt or coverlet over the duvet (folding a good foot or so of duvet over the pillow end of the quilt). The quilt covers any wrinkly bed linen and everything looks neater instantly. I then put square ‘continental’ pillows up against our sleeping pillows – again hiding any creased pillowcases. They are outsize and plump, so look particularly inviting. Confession: I carry my own pillow with me when I travel (I hear that the Queen Mother did the same). It’s a way of ensuring that, wherever I’m staying, I’ll have a pillow with the plumpness I need to sleep properly.

 

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We are big sleepers in this house. I have a teen who will sleep 12+ hours if I let her. And three cats who are probably asleep 23 out of every 24 hours.  I am in awe of the cats’ sleeping regime. Think about the all cell repair and mental sorting that they get done. No wonder they are always so beautiful and chilled.

 

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Good linen will age beautifully and keep getting better with time. But spending a little time on their care will help. Following Draper London’s advice, I wash mine at 60 degrees and always leave a bit of space in the drum so that the water can circulate properly through the fabric.

 

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Great sheets are greater when they’re crisply ironed. Ideally, iron them while they are still very slightly damp and store them in a linen cupboard, airing cupboard or drawer. Here is my linen cupboard (one of my favourite pieces of furniture in the house). I push lavender bags in between my sheets to make them smell even fresher.

 

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Let’s talk about thread count. Actually, let’s not, because it seems it’s all a big marketing ploy to make us think that thread count equals quality. What you need to look for when you shop for sheets is the quality of the fibre (look for ultra-fine and long) and where it’s made (ideally Europe, where they’ve been weaving high quality fabric for centuries).

 

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What’s the difference between cotton Percale and cotton Sateen? Percale, my favourite, is crisp, matte and cool like a good man’s shirt. Sateen is sensuous and super-soft.

 

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I’m a big believer that good bed linen promotes good sleep. But, if that’s not enough – often the case with my youngest daugher, Bo – we try mindfulness apps. And Epsom Salts baths laced with a couple of drops of Lavender essential oil.

 

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A bit of pre-bed quiet time with Poff helps, too.

 

Remember to type in ELFCAT when you checkout at www.draperlondon.com to access the 20% discount until 15 April 2018. Terms and Conditions apply (see their website). 

 

The Cat in the Window

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I’m not sure how other people first start their blogs, but I think it’s important that I spend some time setting the scene. With that in mind, I’m using my first few posts to introduce all the different elements that make up my life – my home, my family, my garden, my animals.

This post is about my view.  This is the view from my bedroom window.  From my bed, to be more precise. It’s what I wake up to every day and what I see, often by moon- or starlight, just before I go to sleep at night (I always look – except in the winter when I’ve closed the shutters at 5 pm because of the cold!). You might recognise it from my Instagram feed. I’ve spent the last five years recording it. Not every single day, but almost.

It’s a stop-you-in-your-tracks view. The proof: when I first saw it, I didn’t even notice that the room was painted a rather horrid shade of salmon! I just stared and stared. Out past the garden and the slightly wonky rail and post fence; out past the neighbour’s land and the lone Lime tree; out to the fields and farms and hedgerows and the hills rising beyond them in the distance.

I couldn’t work out why it was so extraordinary, at first. Like the backdrop in a film, or, on a good day, a Gainsborough painting. I didn’t realise that the house sits on a 100 metre high Green Sand ridge, so, when you look south, you see for almost ten miles across the edge of the Vale of Pewsey to the start of ancient Salisbury Plain.

I like to think that what I’m looking at hasn’t changed for centuries. That someone in 1710, when this part of the house was built, would have looked down on exactly the same patchwork of fields and trees that I see. But, at the same time, this view is always changing: changing skies, weather, light as the hours and the seasons pass.  Every time I look, it’s different. Scroll down and you’ll see what I mean…..

 

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The cats enjoy the view almost as much as I do. When I’m photographing it, they often jump up and become part of it. Convenient, because it makes a better picture. Poff is the main Cat in the Window. Nim sometimes gets a look in; and Mousling, cleverly has her own view, from the back of a chair out of the other bedroom window.

 

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I love the point in March, when after waking up in darkness for months, I’m woken by light through the shutters. And then, when I open them, the view is hazy and pastel like some soft-focus photograph.

 

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When the cows appear at the edge of the field in late April, I know that summer is almost here. They like to follow the sun, so they are there in the morning and when the last rays are hitting the top of the hill in the evening. I enjoy watching them moving slowly through the frame and then disappearing as the sun sets.

 

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We get mist in the valley some summer mornings and most autumn mornings. When it sits in the valley like this, it looks so watery that it turns the view into a beautiful sea-scape.

 

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The other thing I watch is the Horse Chestnut tree that is always in the right hand side of the frame. Watching how that tree changes as the seasons progress is how I map time. Winter with it fat sticky buds; Spring with its silky leaves so much earlier than all the other trees; high summer with its billowing greens; then autumn with the copper leaves and conkers.

 

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In high summer, Poff and I like to do a bit of cloud watching. At least, I watch the clouds and he watches the birds. It’s extraordinary how the clouds change depending on what month it is. In July, it’s all about big, puffy Cumulus Nimbus.

 

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The window that frames the view is in the Georgian part of the house which was added, in around 1710, to the main house.  I have a thing about Georgian houses (don’t we all?)! Particularly the windows which are so large and perfectly proportioned…..

 

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….And the beautiful shutters, which we discovered nailed in when we first moved here. The room side of them was painted black. True, I swear! Perhaps an 18th Century version of black-out blinds?

 

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The light is always extraordinary. My theory is that it’s to do with being on top of a hill, so, when the sun rises and sets, the light is always angled upwards bathing the garden and the landscape in a golden glow.

 

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The window faces south, south-east, so I have a ring-side view of the sunrises most days. Look at this one! (Note how Poff is doing his best Scarlett O’Hara…). I don’t think I ever saw the sun rise in London.

 

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In the winter, the sunrises are riveting pink things over a landscape turned Eau de Nil by the frost.

 

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Fog! I always get excited when this happens, even though it means that there is literally no view. But gradually, the valley begins to appear – one tree at a time. It’s fascinating to watch.

 

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I’ve waited seven years to get a picture of the view with snow.  It completed the series for me.

 

 

 

 

Spring Pots (In 10 Easy Steps)

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You might have noticed that I have a bit of a thing about pots.  My family says it verges on an obsession. But I say it’s perfectly understandable and, actually, quite sensible. Pots, you see, are the easiest type of gardening – and the most instantly gratifying.  Think about it like this: something that takes 20 minutes to create and minimal maintenance, can keep you happy for weeks…months even.  What’s not to love?

Pots have always been a big part of my garden plans. I loved them even when I had the tiniest basement flat in London (pots are brilliant in tiny spaces!). And judging by the number of questions I get whenever I post pictures of my pots, I think they are also a big part of your garden plans, too.

So, I thought it would be useful to do a post that sums up my pot philosophy and also gives you some pot pointers….(can you see how much I’m loving the alliteration here?!). Think of it as Spring Pots In Ten Easy Steps…or something similar. Here goes:

* Pots are herd animals. They get lonely on their own – so give them some other pots to sit with. Try to mix sizes and heights as much as possible otherwise things will look a bit flat and uniform. The only exception to this is if you’ve blown the budget on an extra large pot – and even then, you will really need a pair to make things work visually….

* Decide on a pot material and style and stick with it. Two many different types of pot will look messy. I’m trying to create a classic, English country look, so I use Terracotta pots. The advantages of Terracotta? They are pretty. They age beautifully. They come in many shapes and sizes. They last for years and years. And you can buy a decent sized one for about £4.99. The disadvantages? If they are not labelled ‘Frost Proof’, they can crack when the soil freezes and expands (which makes them a tricky option for cold weather zones). And some people think they dry out more easily….but I haven’t noticed this.

* Consider splurging on at least a couple of handmade pots. They are to Terracotta pots what Prada is to handbags and will make everything look SO much better. I’ve slowly built up a collection of handmade Whichford Pottery pots (drool over them here https://www.whichfordpottery.com/) and, while they are pricey, they are so exquisite, that I think they are worth every penny.

 

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My collection of terracotta pots clustered together around the Boot Room door. The pots on the left are mostly cheap ones from the garden centre. The ones on the right and centre are handmade Whichford pots. Nim, just seen in the window, is priceless, obviously….

 

* If you ask people what sort of potting compost they use, you’ll get a million different answers. I find straight multi-purpose potting compost to be a little ‘light’ and it dries out easily, so I do a half-and-half mix with soil-based John Innes No 3. Yes, it makes the pot heavier, but it gives the plants a little more to live on and that’s important, because pot-living is tough on plants! Another important thing: I never use potting composts with peat in. That’s a major environmental issue which gardeners don’t need to add to (Google it!). Oh, and don’t forget to add a layer of crocks to the bottom of the pots. Crocks are broken up pots (gravel will do if you don’t have crocks) which help your pot’s drainage. Your plants – particularly bulbs – will not be happy if your pots don’t have good drainage.

* Think of your pots as a snapshot of the garden and the season. So plant them with a variation of what is happening in the rest of the garden. In Spring , that means Narcissus, Crocus, Grape Hyacinth, Tulips and a froth of Pansies and Violas. Pots are also a chance to showcase low-key, but beautiful, flowers that might be lost in the general busy-ness of the garden (I’m thinking of that special, dark Hellebore). Or a flower that is so amazing, it needs to have its own showcase (stripy Tulip, anyone?).  Put them in a pot and they are the star!

* Don’t scrimp! Less is most definitely less where pot planting is concerned. Work out how many plants you think you need and just about double it. My Spring pots are bulb-based and I have a rough idea of how many bulbs I can get in each pot (ie 10-15 in one layer). But, to have a great display, it’s a good idea to layer your bulbs. Plant your first layer about three inches from the bottom of the pot, add an inch of compost and then do another layer of bulbs above them. The flowers somehow work their way around each other and come up together looking plump and lushly planted. That is the look you want!

 

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In March, these pots are chock full of Narcissus Tete a Tete. It’s probably the best early flowering dwarf Narcissus out there – flowers for weeks, smells delicious, loads of flowers on each stem…

 

* For Spring pots, plan ahead. And I mean way ahead. Spring bulbs should be planted in September/October the year before flowering. Buy good-sized bulbs from reputable suppliers (I use www.dutchbulbs.co.uk and www.dejager.co.uk  in the UK and have been recommended www.floretflowers.com and www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com in the US) and choose varieties that flower for weeks and, importantly, at different times to give you a succession of flowers that starts in March and goes on till May. With Bulbs that is truly possible – another reason to love them! If you haven’t been this organised, you can buy ready-planted Narcissus, Crocus, Grape Hyacinth and Hellebores in good garden centres. It’ll cost you more than planting your own bulbs, but it will give you this effect instantly.

* What varieties do I plant in my Spring pots? Through trial and many errors, I’ve found that larger Narcissus varieties don’t fit the scale of pots. Too clunky and far too tall! Dwarf Narcissus and Cyclamineus Narcissus (a divinely delicate variety that looks like the petals are being blown back by a strong breeze) are my favourites. First to flower in early March is tiny, canary yellow, Tete a Tete, which has the added bonus of multiple, cheery flower heads on one stem. I bought extra large bulbs last year and they flowered their little hearts out for weeks. Next comes Jenny – another dwarf, but fantastically elegant with its milky-white windswept petals and creamy yellow trumpet. When the Tete a Tete are finished, Thalia appears. Thalia is a Triandrus Narcissus bred just over 100 years ago. Delicate, green-white petals, multi-headed and scented, it might just be my favourite Spring flower.  Last to appear – and at the same time as the Tulips in May – is Narcissus Geranium. Geranium breaks my rules about full size narcissus in pots. But it gets away with it because it smells absolutely delicious and it’s yolk-orange trumpet and white petals are so fresh and zingy.

 

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This is April/May and the white Narcissus and Tulips are now the stars. At the back, is supremely elegant, Narcissus Thalia, and in front of that, Narcissus Jenny (see what I mean about the petals looking windswept?). The Tulips are White Parrot and Blueberry Ripple.

 

* Choose a limited range of colours. With Narcissus, that’s a no-brainer as they only really come in yellow and white. But, with Tulips and other Spring bedding – pansies, polyanthus, violas – you need to curb any desire for garish multi-colours and pick a colour family that will work harmoniously together. Dark purple tulips with lilac and white violas; Candy striped tulips with white pansies…you get the idea.

* The Best places for your Spring pots? Cold and unpredictable February, March and April weather often means we are confined to our houses – so put them close to the house. Cluster them around your front door so that they are the first thing you see when you leave the house and the first thing you see when you arrive home. An instant mood lifter! Finally, don’t ever think your pot collection is a static thing that has to stay the way it is for all time. I’m always rearranging my pots; bringing forward whatever looks best at the time; hiding what’s looking dull at the back; playing around with colour combinations and shapes. Switch things around! Be creative!

 

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This is the view I have when I arrive home: a ‘herd’ of pots full of cheery colour set off by the formal shapes of my potted box balls and cones. That little tree on the left of the picture is a dwarf Cherry tree (Prunus Kojo-no-mai). I brought it from my London garden when we moved here. It’s name means ‘flight of butterflies’.

 

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See what I mean about how potting up a plant makes it the star? This is Tulip Raspberry Ripple. Completely delicious! Tulips are unreliable in pots after their first year, so, once they’ve finished flowering, I either plant them in the cutting garden or put them on the compost heap.

 

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Early evening in March. Did I mention how good fairy lights look with Spring pots full of Narcissus? I put these on the Box balls and cones one Christmas and never took them off again. These Narcissus will be happy living in the pots for two to three years. I then dig them out, plant them around the garden and replace them in the pots with fat, new bulbs.

 

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The same view (minus Poff) about six weeks later. You can see how I break my rule about full-size Narcissus where Thalia is concerned. And those cheery flowers with the yolk-yellow eye at the back are Narcissus Geranium (heavenly scented in the Spring evenings). The pots of Tete a Tete have been moved to the sides or back to die back quietly.

 

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A little closer, so you can see Narcissus Jenny a little better. And take a look at the lattice pots from Whichford – they are my favourites. This is late afternoon, when this part of the house is bathed in the most extraordinary, golden light.

 

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I love putting Spring flowers like these Snakeshead Fritillary in a pot so that I can admire them up close. I grow some under a tree at the far end of the garden, but I’m not down there every day.

 

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The same goes for crocuses. They’re often overlooked in the garden. But potting them up brings them brilliantly into focus.

 

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This is the May finale of my Spring pot display: Recreado Tulips and Wisteria by the Georgian front door.  Proving what I was saying about keeping things in the same colour family….