Tulip cheer

Don Quixote tulip

We’ve had a couple of beautiful days here in Bedfordshire, but looking ahead it seems that we’ll be back to chilly temperatures and grey skies. But at least we’ve had the chance to enjoy a little bask in the sun, just as my tulips have this week.

Planting tulip bulbs in Autumn

Last autumn I threw a couple of bags of tulip bulbs in the ground, hoping to add a little more spring cheer into the long borders. I’m really pleased with our mini display, as the colour and vibrancy is a great antidote to the dull days we’ve had to encounter so far this spring.

orange tulips

But on the few sunny days we’ve had, the tulips have turned their faces to the sun and it almost looks as though, like us, they’ve been basking in its warmth.

Tulips in the border

If the grey, dank days of winter are like a sickness, spring flowers are like a soothing antidote. A remedy back to full health, long summer days full of warmth, light and the vivaciousness of nature in full bloom.

Tulip 'Shirley'

More flowers, please

Thistle flower

I’ve always been a keen veg grower (not always with the best results), and generally prefer to read or watch programmes about growing and eating fruit and veggies. But that’s not to say that I’m not interested in flowers, because I am. I love an abundance of colour, texture and scent in the garden, but my enjoyment of it seems to much more heightened when I know that my flowers are a food source for the many pollinators that live in my garden, or pass through.

Morning light

I almost always choose flowers based on whether they’re beneficial to pollinators, with the exception of the scrambling Spanish Flag that I grew (and loved) last year. That’s not to say it was completely useless for insects and wildlife; many spiders and little critters lived in it during the summer and autumn, so providing housing is the next best option!


But this year I want more flowers in the Smallest Smallholding. Generally I prefer perennials like lavender, echinacea, rosemary, heleniums and erysimum because I just think they’re better value for money, more efficient and a little bit more sustainable. But I thought that if I opt for non-F1 annuals I can always seed collect and re-sow as I do with (bi-ennial) honesty, aquilegias, hollyhocks, poppies and foxgloves (and there just seems no stopping the borage regardless).

echinacea in autumn

The sad truth is that, like many, I’m on a budget so although I would gladly snap up a catalogues’ worth of seeds and seedlings, I’ve got to reign myself in and be sensible about how to get my borders bursting this year.

So what’s on the list?

California poppy

Oh, hang on, there’s more…

Verbena bonariensis
Some sort of climbing rose
Chocolate vine…

… Oh let’s be honest. I am not going to be able to control myself this year.

Seedlings aplenty

purple tulip

Spring has well and truly sprung and the days are so much longer, meaning we’ve been spending more and more time outside and getting ahead before everything explodes into life. The recent bout of unseasonably warm weather has accelerated us out of the arctic-tinged days of early spring and right into the belly of the season that kick starts the growing year.

In the past few years I’ve been making a concerted effort to fill our borders with plants for every season, and this year we’ve enjoyed even more daffodils, hellebores and the most sumptuously jewel-coloured tulips in the borders. It’s a kind of therapy that has lifted me out of my winter-induced slump – the colour, the scents and the warmth gradually weaving threads of joy through my veins.  Already the alliums are shooting up and in a month or so we’ll be getting ready for the stunning display of purple sensation that should complement the bees’ favourite, Himalayan crane’s bill along with the round-headed allium sphaerocephalon.

Cristo garlic

Usually at this time of year I’m lamenting about how far behind I am with the planting, but even despite Spring’s early surge, I’m keeping up. I have really high hopes for this year. Really high hopes. The onions are already in and looking strong and healthy, the shallots are in and looking promising. We’ve got parsnips on the go, and in the greenhouse – which was completely out of commission last year – is crammed with seed trays and pots.

Each morning, as the sun swings round from the east, higher into the sky and bathing the garden in a watery light, I take a trip down to the greenhouse to see what’s unfolding. The day to day progress of my little seedlings is astounding. In the course of one day I’ve seen squash and courgette plants almost literally burst into life, casting aside the hard cases of the seeds as the thick, sturdy seedling leaves push through the soil. They’re now growing and growing into strong plants and I’m actually where I should be in the growing season.

Rondo peas

Seeing my greenhouse and veg plots come to life after a quiet winter… well, there’s a certain special kind of satisfaction in that, isn’t there? The next job is to get the polytunnel up this summer. We will get there!