The Whites of Spring

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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.

 

 

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….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here come the Hellebores

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I think my passion for Hellebores is equalled only by my passion for Dahlias.  I don’t know why it took me so long to discover them. Perhaps, because they are more of a country plant than a city one. It was my loss though, because, like Dahlias, they’re a plant of intense beauty that looks marvellous when everything else in the garden looks….less than marvellous.

The other brilliant thing about Hellebores is that they are happy in shade (if the soil is humus-rich and free-draining). So, not only do they flower when everything else looks grim; they grow where very little else does. All round genius plants!

I wasn’t lucky enough to inherit a garden with mature Hellebores, so I started a small woodland garden from scratch in a shrubby area under a Cherry and two large, but airy, Robinia trees.  Our third winter here, I dug up every random snowdrop I could find in the garden and replanted them in my ‘woodland’ garden. Then I ordered a thousand more from Clare Bulbs www.clare-bulbs.co.uk (not as expensive as it sounds) and put them in when they arrived in March.

Next, came the Hellebores. Mine are Hellebore x Hybridus, or Lenten Roses, which, in England, flower for a couple of months anytime from January till April.  My first plants were tasteful, speckled whites. Lovely enough, but I quickly realised that having only white Hellebores was missing the point completely. Why have white, when you can have smoky plums, dusty pinks, acid yellows, lime greens and utterly true blacks? Hellebore colours are completely extraordinary – which is what makes them so addictive. And don’t get me started on the spots, freckles and stripes (called Picotee in Hellebore-speak).

Showing great self-restraint, I buy only three or four plants each January to add to my collection. Garden centres have limited colours, so try to find specialist suppliers like Ashwood Nurseries – www.ashwoodnurseries.com – who have truly beautiful plants which they breed themselves. I can spend hours on their website – quite literally a child in a sweet shop. In the US, try www.sunfarm.com. At £15-£20 a plant, they are pricey. But they are like little jewels and I think they are worth every penny.

 

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Last year, I discovered anemone-flowered Hellebores. They have a ruff-like ring of mini-petals around the nectaries at centre of the plant.

 

Anemone-flowered Hellebore

Another type of anemone-flowered Hellebore. Look at this one! That dark purple! You can see why they can become an obsession.

 

Speckled double Hellebore

A speckled double. I love doubles, but they do tend to have heads that are even more droopy than normal. Droopy flowers is the only downside to Hellebores.

 

Kermit green Hellebore

Kermit green! What’s not to love? It’s definitely worth looking into green Hellebores because they are quite extraordinary.

 

Yellow hellebores

Yellow hellebores are quite rare and I’m always drawn to them when I’m trawling the nursery websites.

 

Black Hellebore

Velvety and intense, black Hellebores are considered the most chic. I can’t resist them, but always find it tricky to position them. Too far back in the border and they disappear. They need something to set them off.

 

FLOWERS-11

This speckled, anemone Hellebore was a Mother’s Day present last year. Isn’t it irresistible?

 

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Another yellow favourite. Who knew red speckles could look so genius with custard yellow?

 

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

This is one anemone-flowered AND picotee (which means the edge of the flower is a different colour to the body of the flower). Btw, these hybrids don’t have names, otherwise I would let you know them.

 

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

Hellebores amongst my snowdrops. Snowdrops must be ‘planted in the green’, otherwise they dry out. In the green means that they arrive in February/March/April still with their leaves and the remains of their flowers. I get mine from Clare Bulbs, a specialist company who dig them up from managed stocks in Scotland. I love the – rather romantic – idea that my Snowdrops are from Scotland.

 

FLOWERS-4

The blackest of my black Hellebores. This one is almost grey-black, like a chalk board!

 

FLOWERS

Hellebores waiting to be planted. They are deep rooted which means you need to dig as deep a hole as you can – which is not always easy in shady areas where there are often lots of tree roots! I mix leaf mould into the bottom of the hole (but you can use well-rotted manure or spent mushroom compost). Remember to water in and keep them well watered during their first year.

 

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

Even the packaging they arrive in is charming. To keep your Hellebores happy and encourage to them to bulk up, feed them in early spring and again in early September when new flower buds are forming. On the advice of an expert, I use blood, fish and bone – but Seaweed Fertiliser is also good.

 

Garden of beautiful details

Try as I might, I can’t get a great picture of my ‘woodland’ garden. I think it’s because the Snowdrops and Hellebores make it so busy. Perhaps I have to accept that it’s more a garden of beautiful details than a beautiful overall look.