About croftgarden

Gardener; ecologist, birdwatcher, biological recorder, web designer, slow lifer, island lover, bibliophile, cook and bottlewasher, retired?

The smallest thing

Early Marsh Orchid Dactylorhiza incarnata coccinea

Early marsh orchid Dactylorhiza incarnata coccinea

Dactylorhiza incarnata coccinea

Early marsh orchid mature plant

There are times when the small irritations in a gardener’s life can begin get out of perspective e.g. when the rabbits start digging up new plants and eat all the flower buds off the alliums or when you realise that the only way to get the mint out of the herb garden is to dig up the whole bed or that the bittercress is joining the chickweed in the race to swamp the vegetable garden.
Usually five minutes listening to the skylarks with a cup of tea is enough to raise the spirits and restore the equilibrium. But sometimes even this incantation fails and something special is required. Yesterday, with rain threatening, the grass to cut in the cottage garden, the fruit cages to weed and the prospect of clearing and replanting part of the giant hedge the under-gardener was a trifle grumpy and there was no tuneless whistle accompanying the squeak of the wheelbarrow. Then when checking to see if the cowslips had dropped their seeds to enable us to cut the grass along the drive, a flash of dark red caught the eye – the tiny flower spike of an early marsh orchid.
Early marsh orchids grow in the grassland on our headland and are relatively common in the islands and I had been hoping that eventually they might appear in the cottage garden. The strip of grassland along the drive has not been sown with grass and is a natural wildflower meadow – full of daisies, bird’s-foot trefoil, self-heal, red bartisa, plantains, clover and other machair flower species. There was always a strong possibility that there would be orchid seed in the soil or that seeds would arrive from one of the nearby populations, but after eight years I was beginning to become less optimistic. It was worth the wait, the grumpiness dissipated, it didn’t rain and my smile was as bright as my canary yellow gardening gloves.
Eventually this tiny plant may become as magnificent as some of its siblings and in time we might have a small sward of orchids spreading up the drive.Dactylorhiza incarnata coccina swarda-plants

In a vase on Monday: Tulip Time

Tulip Big Smiles

With the promise of northerly gales and wintry showers it is time to harvest the tulips from the cutting bed. I had not attempted to grow standard tulips in the garden as I doubted that they would survive our cold, blustery spring weather and so concentrated on growing species tulips in pots in the alpine house. However, last autumn two redundant vegetable beds were converted into cutting beds to grow flowers for the house and holiday cottage and were planted with an assortment of bulbs.Tulips in the cutting bedI was pleased with the result, although I felt the Queen of the Night was rather insipid, but I suspect that this is may be a due to my very alkaline soil. Now I have harvested the flowers I will give the bulbs a good feed and see if they can be persuaded to flower next year. I’ve still not decided whether to dig up the bulbs, “bake” them in the cold frame and  them put them in pots for next year. I suspect that the absence of hot dry summers may explain why so many tulips are reluctant to flower in subsequent years. The “baking” treatment certainly works for the smaller species and in theory it may work on the standard varieties.
For once I have some flowers for a Monday vase and can join Cathy’s meme.Tulips in a vase
I’m not totally convinced that I have chosen the right variety – Big Smiles is an apt name, the beautifully golden yellow is enough to raise a smile, but the flower is perhaps a little too blowsy. Perhaps they would look better in a taller vase rather than a jug?
I think, on reflection, that I still prefer the smaller species and this autumn I will be planting Tulipa clusiana and Tulipera hageri in the cottage garden, as the Head Gardener is not convinced they are not worthy of space in the alpine house. I’m inclined to agree as clusiana is perhaps too tall for a pot and I was also disappointed in the colour of hageri which is more pink than the promised scarlet. It will be interesting to see how they survive the harsher climate of the garden, although I will tuck them in a sheltered corner.
These two species are a little taller than Tulipa tarda and Tulipa urumensis which grow in the rock garden. These are very dwarf, the almost sessile flowers sitting snuggly in the leaves – perfect for a very windy garden The soil in the rock garden is very well-drained and very sandy, which helps the bulbs bake in the summer and mimics their natural environment. They’re also beloved by the bumblebees when pollen and nectar are in short supply in cold springs when the machair is late to flower.