Dreaming of a purple patch

February into March is all about snowdrops and daffodils in the garden but I’m ready for that purple patch that follows. Perhaps it’s the need to move on after months of the limbo of online and in-school teaching. Usually I savour the here and now but the thought of Spring sunshine, more time spent outdoors and a bit of colour in all our lives is a strong fillip right now.

In fact, the tulips I planted during the Christmas holidays are beginning to poke through the top of the pots where I stowed them. In this cottage garden, tulips are planted in trenches to be harvested for indoors or in pots to be enjoyed whilst sitting on the terrace with a cup of coffee. In borders they tend to flop and look somewhat unkempt. Not unlike me after weeks of teaching and no visit to the hairdresser.

Spring flowers

The sun’s out, the sky’s blue and our tulips are blooming. I love a tulip but there was a time when I wasn’t quite so enamoured. When they are planted in groups in the borders they tend to flop and look a tad untidy. I had a Damascene moment when I decided only to plant tulips in pots (like Nigel Slater, who has been tweeting pics of his beautifully structured garden where pot after pot of tulips flank a gravel path) or close together in trenches for harvesting.

I order mine from Peter Nyssen during the summer holidays. I prefer to order from a specialist bulb merchant rather than a garden centre. The bulbs seem more reliable and they arrive in timely fashion to be stowed away in the garden shed until November, when I plant them. Tulips need a period of cold in the ground to grow long stalks. Even though last Winter wasn’t particularly cold, these have done okay – but they wouldn’t win prizes in a show.

They are good enough for my kitchen table jug nevertheless.

Pop a note to order tulips on your calendar in July or August when, God willing,  today will be a memory only. And not a wholly bad one if we focus on the sun, the blue sky and the tulips.

Tulips, books about compost and the start of Summer.

tulips

It’s May Day. How did that happen? I’ll tell you how. In between all those trips to the hospital with the member of the family with the smashed elbow and the frenzy of mothering, writing, teaching and allotmenteering which is my life, the blossom unfurled, tulips blossomed and slugs munched happily on new shoots. I admit to being a little out of kilter when it comes to seasonal preparations this year as a result. My seed sowing was late; the Simnel cake got its marzipan covering on Easter Monday five minutes before tea and a flurry of family birthdays were handled with military precision at the last minute rather than in my usual, relaxed way. And now it’s the start of Summer – at least if you’re a Celt.

Beltane, May Day, Calan Haf – whatever your take on this time of year, know that my ancestors and probably yours were bedecking themselves with flowers and ribbons, dancing round the Maypole and driving their cattle out to Summer pasture through the smoke of bonfires lit to bring health and fertility to their crops and livestock in the coming year. In this house we are celebrating with a working oven which should bring health to the cook in the household as the stress of living in an episode of Butterflies was all too much.

Talking of stress, I can’t recommend enough growing tulips as a crop in trenches as opposed to spending hours placing them in groups in your border, only to see them open, flop and look messy in the blink of an eye. It took me half an hour to plant loads on the allotment. They looked a picture and I have brought bucket loads home to place in vases round the house and to give to friends. We picked up a couple of bags for next to nothing at the Sarah Raven sale and popped them in a trench bed at school (as you see above) and have sold them to parents on our Friday afternoon flower stall. I’ll never plant a tulip any other way again.

My second stress buster has been turning the compost. I’m evangelical about compost as you know and was delighted to find out recently that another Wiltshire resident is equally committed to getting the compost message out to the next generation of gardeners. Ben Raskin is Head of Horticulture for the Soil Association. He’s written a great family friendly book about making great compost. Kids will love the format and parents will find the information useful. If it doesn’t have you getting out your hammer and knocking a bin up from old pallets, nothing will. Ben was kind enough to talk to me about the background to the book and his own experience of gardening as a child and as a father of two. You can read the interview in full here.

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