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March 2009

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First signs, ‘Topolino’, mauve tulips and the oak garden

The pleasure I get from the emergence of the spring bulbs never diminishes. The first signs come when the autumn leaves have hardly finished falling and bring the promise of next year's new growth. Snowdrops, snowflakes, crocus and winter cyclamen are among the early arrivals, but by March there is a fantastic range of bulbs in flower. The most showy of these are the narcissus family, though with careful choice of varieties we can have daffodils in flower from February till May.

Each winter I add to my bulb collection and this year I planted 200 narcissus ‘Topolino'. This is a short, sturdy, vigorous variety that should tolerate our weather conditions. I have given up growing double varieties, as they get flattened by strong winds. I also planted Viridiflora tulips , for instance, ‘Spring Green', green and white, which will blend into my informal planting better than the brightly coloured ones. I was given a present of some beautiful mauve-grey and white tulips for Christmas, Tulipa polychroma, and these should flower mid-May, despite the late planting. Tulips do not really enjoy the high rainfall of the West, so I try to place them in well-drained areas. The Tulipa polychroma are in a container, so they can be placed somewhere warm in the summer to dry off.
Each year I keep to a fairly organised schedule that enables me to look after the garden single-handed, but I have learnt the importance of being flexible. Usually I start the year by developing a new area, or changing an existing one, and then start garden maintenance in February. However, this year I changed my pattern and started the annual clean up in January to take advantage of the long dry period that began two weeks before Christmas. I tackled the bog garden first. This area had been flooded continually throughout the autumn and it seemed sensible to take advantage of the unusual weather and the radically improved soil conditions.

The maintenance of the garden is now complete and I can start on my design project, which is to make The Oak Garden more interesting. This is a section in the woodland that was first developed in 1992 and it now needs more light and a good focal point. As it lies between two Japanese style sections, I intend to simplify it and give it an oriental flavour. Most of the existing plants in the area are from the Asian continent, which will help - bamboos , cryptomeria, cercidiphyllum, azaleas, fatsia, dwarf pine and Dissectum maple. I shall remove a number of hazel trees and severely prune back hydrangeas to get more light and a less cluttered feeling.

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