I've just watched the Chelsea 2014 'catch-up' on BBC 2 and realised that I've a lot of catching up of my own to do! All my good resolutions about blogging regularly (so that my personal record of the garden's progress is satisfyingly complete) flew out the window during May. I spent a lot of time in the early morning mooching about and taking pictures - but couldn't quite find the drive to get the record on screen in the evening.
There's no doubt that my favourite garden episode in late April/early May was the long, lingering death of tulip 'Sorbet'. In spite of the heat, the flowers took forever to splay themselves, separate petal by petal, droop, and finally drop their gorgeous colours for another year. The result was pleasure from about the beginning of April (variegated foliage and juicy, stripy green buds) to these pictures, taken on May 5. What a tulip!
Hot on the heels of the tulips were the alliums, starting with Allium 'Purple Sensation'. By now, of course, the alliums have gone to seed. But weren't they pretty? Even in death, just like the tulips.
And finally, after the water vole massacres in 2012, the bronze fennels were able to do what they were born to do - highlight the stars of the show. I have a suspicion that I might be trying a 'Chelsea chop' on the fennels when I get home from Scotland, where I'm staying at the moment. I don't know if it will work, but I think I'd like to carry on enjoying fresh foliage for as long as possible through the summer and spare the roses in the Rose Walk (still struggling) the competition with such tall plants.
Meanwhile, in other corners of the garden, the irises were beginning to offer a lot more than they had in their second year, 2013. My two clumps of Iris sibirica (below) were dragged from their previous home in Ireland and have been quite put out by the drought this April, failing to produce such tall, elegant foliage and dropping buds left and right until we had our first rain.
Fortunately my greed in dividing the one small clump of 'Black Knight' that I purchased last year seems to have paid off and I now have two plants, although neither have flowered. I've tried to grow 'Black Knight' from seed for more times than I can count on my fingers and toes together, but no joy. Has anyone else succeeded in germinating seed from plants of 'Black Knight? And can you let me in on the secret?
The Iris germanica above were planted in November 2011 to fill a weedy gap underneath the pleached limes in the Iris Garden. Behind them is a box hedge and at their toes a young hedge of lavender 'Munstead'. It's hot, hot, hot where they live, but this is first year that their flowering has made a real show.
I added a number of good iris cultivars to the border in the Iris Garden last summer; not much to show in the way of flower this year. A wet winter has left their foliage tatty with slug damage and the drought in April seems to have caused premature snapping and drop of some flower buds. At first I thought that the sad buds I kept finding on the ground in the morning were the result of a wicked brown Burmese cat's acrobatics. (Was he leaping on them energetically from the wall above just for fun?) But when other irises followed suit I realised that he was as innocent as he always likes to pretend. The new irises are all still alive and growing strong (about 10 cultivars) and I think I'll do some shuffling around this year to improve their conditions. 'Langport Storm' (below) was one of the few that lived up to first-year expectations, although I'm hoping its stems will be taller in years to come.
Here we are, not quite June, and the first roses have been flowering for over two weeks already. This is 'Souvenir de la Malmaison', a Bourbon climber. I took her picture early one morning and just couldn't stop circling the open flowers and buds in wonder. In a vase on the kitchen table she's also mesmerising me. How can a flower be that perfect?. It is the second season in the garden for this rose, renown for its wretched tendency to 'ball' in wet weather. Last year was a washout - for the most part I stared at dirty brown balls of misery and tried to think why I was growing it at all. She budded up in the course of our very dry April this year and, bang on time (just when she was about to open), the fine weather ended and we had some welcome rain. Clearly it was going to be another 'off' year for the 'Souvenir'. I was even considering digging it up and disposing of it - what's the fun in a plant that always looks miserable? But gradually, over a period of a few days, I realised that her west-facing wall seemed to be offering a fair bit of shelter from the rain and many of the buds were giving their best. (I've also learnt to pick buds when rain is forecast.) What a turn around - she's gone from being a 'nearly has-been' to the plant producing the most enchanting quartered flowers my rose-turned head could imagine.
'Blairii No. 2' is another Bourbon climber, in flower for the first time in this garden, although I've grown it in the past. The dead cat below the roots is seriously promoting growth (it's a very vigorous rose anyway), and I'm starting to fear for the wall he's growing on! A better scent than 'Souvenir' and beautifully shaped flowers from bud to full bloom.
What a relief! 'Lady Hillingdon' climber is still alive in the Mirror Garden in spite of a bad start in life (the bush version is not so happy down below). This was my husband's choice for a yellow rose in our grey/green/yellow colour scheme up there and she looks as if she'll live up to her promise when she gets bigger. She's a repeat-flowering tea rose whose reddish young foliage in combination with the peachy yellow flowers is particularly pleasing.
'Alchymist' was also planted for Nick, whose favourite colour is yellow. This rose is said to tolerate quite a lot of shade and was planted with its roots in the shade of a hornbeam hedge at the garden gate. A modern climber, he's grown well, but is still on probation. Possibly when a little better established he will grow up to the Mirror Garden terrace above and then we'll see what he can really do. The few flowers he has produced are lovely, however. Those in the photograph are a little too full to show the regular shape and peachy/orangey tones that are so interesting in newly opened blooms.
'Madame Alfred Carriere' is a repeat-flowering Noisette climber, mostly white but with a flush of pink. I think I may have made a mistake, however, in planting her in such a sunny position. I suspect that she'll grow well, since she's tough, but perhaps the pale flowers will not show to best advantage in full sunlight?
I feel another obsession coming on. This is irresistible Papaver orientale 'Karine', with Salvia nemorosa 'Caradonna'. 'Karine' is still wearing a little hat to prove she's 'fresh from the pod'. 'Patty's Plum' is the next pastel-coloured oriental poppy I'm lusting after. I purchased Thompson & Morgan's 'Plum Pudding' seed mix this year and have some youngsters coming along, but I'm not convinced that they can live up to Patty. And I think I might be too impatient to wait and see ...