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.


In a Vase for Monday – a bunch of daffs

Narcissus in a vase

Narcissus tete-a-tete with jonquils

I rarely manage to participate in Cathy’s In a Vase on Monday meme, but sometimes I feel sufficiently inspired to make a modest contribution. As you can see I am a founder member of the “plonked naturally in a jam jar” school of flower arranging.
Although my small bunch of “daffs” may not have great artistic merit, apart from their intrinsic beauty, they are filling the house with the most sublime perfume.
Narcissi are the stalwarts of the cottage garden from February to May. Tete-a-tete is always first to flower and was the first bulb to be planted in the cottage garden. It came from my garden in Worcestershire along with the jonquil (alas un-named) which also appears in my vase.

Narcissus tete-a-tete with jonquills

Narcissus tete-a-tete with jonquills

In the orchard and the cottage garden the cyclamineus narcissi, Little Witch, Jack Snipe and Jet Fire, are already fading, but the triandus varieties, Hawera and Thalia are still to flower. There are also other un-named daffodils which flower year after year in the cottage garden which delight the eye and perfume the air regardless of their unknown provenance.
More delicate species are cosseted in the alpine house until we have sufficient stock to try them in the garden. N. bulbicodium will be planted out this summer, and if it flowers it will be a delightful addition to the garden. N. assoanus was planted in the garden last year, but it will probably take a little while to establish. This also came from my last garden, but I am not sure whether it will flower this far north. A native of Spain it needs a good summer baking to flower, not a regular feature of Hebridean summers. However, N. canaliculatus is reputedly also difficult to flower, but seems to produce some flowers every year despite the rigors of our climate. Sometimes the plants don’t follow the rules, so it is always worth a try.

In a Vase Monday – Sea Sculpture

Horrid Henry is trying to blow the roof off today, so even for Rambling Cathy, I’m not inclined to go searching for the shredded primroses which are stubbornly flowering in a corner of the cottage garden. I very rarely pick a bunch, although they grow in abundance, as they lighten up a few dark nooks and crannies in the garden and remind me to be optimistic. So instead, as one of my rare offering to “in a Vase Monday”, I am featuring the best our wind torn island can offer at present.
The glowing amber of the kelp is intense even on the gloomiest days, with the long, smooth ribbons of the fronds intricately woven through the tangle of thick furry stems. Torn from the off-shore kelp forests, it is thrown up onto the beach and contorted into sculptures by the waves and the wind.
It needs no man-made installation to display its attributes, the contrasting textures of the smooth grainy sand, silver ripples of water and a framing of dark outcrops of rock could not be surpassed. The lighting is subdued, but from time to time, between the squalls, the sun throws a shaft of light through the clouds to burnish the edges with gold.
Nature’s sea sculptures are ephemeral and remind us of our own mortality in the face of the power of the wind and the waves.


In a Vase Monday – Hiding in the Grass

Scientific-arrangement -grassesThis delightful vase with its stylish array of stems and grasses is fairly typical of the kind of jar of specimens which often lurks on the kitchen windowsill. Do not be deceived by this elegant arrangement by the Head Gardener, there is rather more to this than meets the eye.
The arrangement features marram grass (Ammophila arenaria), common reed (Phragmites australis) and with stems of rosebay willowherb (
Chamerion angustifolium).  In more skilled hands there is the potential for a pretty miniature arrangement, however the purpose of this display is not to delight the eye or the senses, but to stimulate the intellect.

common reed and marram grass with willowherb stemsThe  key to this collection of specimens is not what you can see, but what is hidden – microfungi. As gardeners you will have noticed all kinds of blotches and bumps on leaves and stems and these are usually caused by fungi. Some of these, particularly the rust, smuts and powdery mildews, can have serious effects on the health of the plant, particularly in agricultural monocultures. However, most wild plants seem to tolerate their microfungal guests.
Biologically microfungi are fascinating, often with alternating generations for asexual and sexual reproduction which may involve different species of host plants. Some are very host specific, using single species, others will spread their favours within a plant family or beyond. An evolutionary tour de force.
Superficially, when you can see them with the naked eye or under a hand lens, they are unremarkable, but under the microscope they can be stunning, even if you don’t really understand what you are looking at! If you want to have a peep at what grows on marram grass look here
Normally biological specimens are confined to the study, but somehow these seem to have escaped. The coprophiles are, however, kept in strict quarantine until consigned to the compost heap, but that’s another story.
Cathy, the instigator of In a Vase Monday meme, is always encouraging me to think “outside the box” as I often struggle to find flowers to plonk in a vase arrange,  I hope you all enjoy the Head Gardener’s contribution,

In a Vase on Monday: Venetian Glass

Sweet Peas Venetian MixThese are the first sweet peas to be grown in the croft garden. Sweet peas are one of my nostalgia plants and this year I decided that I would try to grow a small number just for the pleasure of having a handful of these beautifully perfumed, delicate flowers in a glass.
The seeds were sown in the spring in cardboard tubes in the polytunnel and planted in the fruit cage in May. The first flowers were just appearing when the weather changed. As usual it was rather windier than forecast and by Friday morning my lovely plants were in a tangled heap. Fortunately they were not damaged and were soon back upright albeit in a corset of green twine. Not elegant but effective.
I have to admit that this is partially my fault, as I didn’t read the instructions on the packet “tie the stem into your framework on a regular basis”. I also now understand why it is necessary to “remove the climbing tendrils as they grow” as the flower stems are more roller-coaster than vertical! However, life is definitely too short for removing tendrils to create the perfect sweet pea stem!
If you are wondering why my Venetian Glass looks like a special offer from the local supermarket rather than a product of the glass blowers of Murano, you are correct, it’s pedigree is not distinguished! A little lateral thinking arrives at Venetian sweet pea mix which comprises three old-fashioned, highly scented varieties Matucana, Lord Nelson and Black Knight. Now that is a distinguished trio with a very superior pedigree.