The Peerless Primrose of the Bristol Channel – a detective story

N x medioluteus_Landing_Bay_150510_MR_Keith_HiscockI have lived in Somerset for 40 years and my regular coastal walks have been punctuated by the tempting sight of Lundy Island peeping through the sea mist and each time I saw it I made a promise to visit it. Thus it was that one sunny day at the end of April 2011 we finally took the 2 hour boat trip to see the puffins. Sadly it was still too early for them but we had an excellent walk clockwise round the island. As we made the return leg down the more sheltered east side back to the ferry we passed through the long uninhabited hamlet of Quarry Cottages –little more than a few walls, perched on the top of the 400 ft cliffs. Continue reading

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Daffodils and Tulips in Containers

Christine Skelmersdale gives some advice on choosing varieties for decorative containers

Pots must be the simplest yet most rewarding method of growing any bulb, but especially daffodils and tulips. It needs no special skills and is virtually fool proof: just a matter of put them in and stand back. It is rather like the bold council spring bedding displays that fill every roundabout, but on a small scale. No garden is too small to squeeze in a couple of containers of bulbs and many will even make themselves at home in that tiniest of gardens, the window box. Pots can be used singly or in pairs to mark focal points in the garden, to frame a door or gateway, to draw the eye along a path or just clustered joyously on a patio. Daffodils and tulips start flowering early in the spring and continue through to early May so a succession of pots can be used or one large pot can be planted with a succession of bulbs. These containers really do shout spring is sprung! Continue reading

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Jonquils in the garden

Scent must be the first thing to spring to mind when the name jonquil is mentioned. The well known late flowering Narcissus jonquilla, with up to 4 small bright golden yellow flowers is understandably a garden favourite. Jonquil hybrids also have a long history. The cross between Narcissus jonquilla and Narcissus pseudonarcissus – Narcissus odorus has been in cultivation for at least 300 years.

Division 7 however encompasses a much wider and rather disparate group of plants. Even the official classification is very broad. They can vary from tiny, near species hybrids only 7cm tall to stately plants some 50cm tall, and by no means all are scented. Generally speaking they tend to have rather flat flowers with small cups, often with two or more flowers per stem. Jonquil hybrids can be broadly divided into 3, each having its own specific cultural requirements. Continue reading

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Crocus laevigatus ‘Fontenayi’

A neglected Christmas flowering charmer


The contrast couldn’t be greater. After the violent gales of the last two weeks, today sees a welcome return to our more normal early December weather for here in the South West. I was frantically trying to catch up with the last of my bulb planting accompanied by the exuberant song of a robin, presumably urging me to even greater efforts to find his lunch, when I noticed that the leaves of Crocus laevigatus ‘Fontenayi’ were well through, which is always an encouraging sign. Continue reading

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Tulip Purissima

Serendipity must happen more often in the word of gardening than anywhere else, and like all the best discoveries this one also happened by chance. When I first planted our new garden it was natural to add a collection of bulbs to the fledgling herbaceous border. Tulipa fosteriana ‘Purissima’ or ‘White Emperor’ as it was known then, was the only possibility. Although it is considerably taller than our usual selection of dwarf species tulips it had been included with the rest of the fosteriana cvs for completeness, and was the only candidate in our catalogue tall enough for the middle of the border. It was a sure-fire winner, rising majestically up above the emerging foliage of the herbaceous plants. Later that spring I also saw it used to great effect in the silver garden at Tintinhull House where the combination of grey foliage and creamy white tulips is magical. From that time on ‘Purissima’ was guaranteed a place in my garden. Continue reading

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Fritillarias – a very personal account

Fritillarias can be bought between May and November from our Autumn Catalogue or in season from our Online Store.

Although I have been in professional horticulture for 30 years, prior to our purchase of BG my experience of growing bulbs was limited to the few ‘normal’ daffs that every garden has. BG introduced me to the magical world of small bulbs- narcissus in particular, and our first RHS spring show introduced us to Michael Upward who quickly parted us from our profit for that show, converting it into life membership of the AGS. From that beginning our knowledge of small bulbs expanded rapidly indeed. Continue reading

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Shady Characters

How often do you hear the cry – nothing will grow under my tree, it’s too dry, too shady. With the proviso that the trees or shrubs in question are deciduous nothing could be further from the truth. It is true that in full growth the foliage will act as a very effective umbrella, considerably reducing both light and rainfall, but we tend to forget that for 6 months of the year those leaves are absent. During those months – October to April – your Cinderella really can have a ball.

One has only to think of the rather limited bulbous native flora – bluebells, wild garlic, wood anemones and lent lily daffodils, which are all primarily woodlanders, to realize this. They are a perfect example of evolutionary adaptation to a cool, but wet, winter/spring followed by a cool, dry summer when the tree’s leaves not only cut out the rainfall but act as a sunshade as well. There are a host of other bulbs, both common and unusual, that will similarly take advantage of this temporary availability of light and moisture and flower here happily prior to their natural summer dormancy. Continue reading

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Winter Iris

Article published in Gardens Illustrated Feb 2011

Brisk walks, warm fires and plant catalogues sum up winter, a time of bare branches rather than brightly coloured flowers but there is one group of plants that defy the elements to produce their jewel-like flowers in this most inclement time. These are the surprisingly sturdy winter flowering iris. There are 2 distinct groups of these – the rhizomatous I. unguicularis which flower from October to March and the bulbous I.reticulata group which flower in late winter. Continue reading

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Dwarf Bearded Iris

Article published in The Garden April 2009

The genus iris is one of the most diverse and popular garden plants with flower shapes and colours almost as variable as their habitats. Iris were named after the Greek goddess Iris, the personification of the rainbow, in recognition of their rainbow hued flowers. Iris species are found throughout the Northern temperate latitudes, growing in conditions as diverse as high mountains pastures to hot Greek hillsides. This means that their cultural requirements are equally diverse, some preferring a cool water’s edge location whereas others require a hot dry situation. The bearded iris fall into the latter group. They have been cultivated since Classical times and depictions of them have appeared in literature and painting for more than 2 centuries. They are pictured in the palace at Knossos on Crete and the French heraldic device, Fleur-de-Lis, was an iris not a lily. Continue reading

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Iris in the Garden

This article is split into Iris for Mixed Border, Water side, Semi-shade and the Rock Garden. There are cultivation notes at the end.


Whether its a haze of flag iris shimmering in the heat of Monet’s garden or rimming his waterlily pool, a bowl of stylosa on a winter windowsill or a bunch of Dutch Iris in a florist’s bucket the word iris conjures a host of different images. Not only do they flower for more than 6 months, from Nov-June, each has very different cultural requirements. Appropriately named after the Greek goddess of the rainbow, they are found wild throughout the Northern Hemisphere and have long been cultivated for their colourful flowers. In Turkey one has always been used to decorate grave yards whilst in Italy another is an important ingredient in the perfume industry. I have seen them massed in high Himalayan bogs, clinging to life on an arid Greek hillside and lining the banks of our local canal. With such a disparate distribution there is sure to be an iris suitable for virtually every part of the garden. Continue reading

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