I find this time of year at Sissinghurst very exciting. After a few bleak months with only the snowdrop and hellebore to keep me company, I now get to wander around the garden and see all the new treats of spring appearing. As a relatively new horticulturist, I savour this time of year, as it creates a great opportunity to learn new plant names, as well as creating those ever important plant connections that every gardener needs. In some strange way it’s also very exciting, as any plant lover reading this will know; you almost become a fantasy plant hunter scrambling around the garden searching for anything new and interesting to write, sketch, document and add to your ever increasing plant knowledge, whilst at the same time conjuring up a ridiculous but fun fantasy that you’ve discovered something new like the great George Forrest or David Douglas once did (well maybe that’s only me!) Thankfully, Sissinghurst has no bullock traps like poor Douglas fell into! So here are my own personal top 5 plants growing at the moment in the garden from my recent fantasy plant hunt.
Aubrietia: The brick walls here at Sissinghurst make the garden; they create the romantic atmosphere that Sissinghurst is famous for. With their weathered dusty bricks, cracks and crumbling lime, along with the odd bent rusty nail protruding from the wall (which I like to think that maybe Vita herself hammered in,) their presence is an important part of the garden.The romance of the walls is enhanced by the addition of the different plants growing in the open spaces and cracks. Out of all the plants, the aubrieta is my favourite. The purple flowers complement the reddish walls perfectly, along with the green mound forming foliage that thrust the flowers at you, catching your attention straight away. To me, they are perfect on their own as a centre piece to look at without interruption from neighbouring plants, and look best when planted to create the illusion of an accident, as if a stray seedling had found its way into a crack on a random gust of wind.
Scilla messeniaca: This has to be one of the most underrated bulbs at this time of year. Whenever someone mentions a scilla it’s always Scilla siberica that is discussed. Scilla messeniaca, however, is so much more handsome. It can have over nine flowers per stem with cool blue coloured petals and almost purple veins piercing through, and I love the dark purple anthers that rise from the centre of the flower. It colonizes an area quickly and creates a sea of blue and white, and is perfectly happy in sun or light shade which makes it perfect for Delos below the magnolias and quercus. Hailing from southern Greece this long lived perennial on its own isn’t much to gloat about, I admit, but en masse it has to be one of the greatest early spring sights before the bluebells hang their heads.
Fritillaria meleagris: If anyone knows me on this blog they will know that I am a wild flower fanatic from my previous posts and I really do love them, so I couldn’t leave out the beautiful Fritillara meleagris; the jewel in the native flower crown and possibly my all-time favourite flower. We grow vast amounts of these amazing plants at Sissinghurst, mainly within the Orchard and Nuttery. They are so special to our landscape with many of the wild locations in the countryside now gone (97% loss of wetland meadows) although there is some disagreement about whether this was ever was a native or just a garden escapee. They have dark red petals with white flecks like a chequer board [Fritillaria derives from the word, dice box in latin] and hang their large heads like giant church bells. When planting, I was always told to soak the bulbs in warm water with a bit of washing up liquid, as this re-hydrates the bulb more effectively.
Fritillaria michailovskyi: The top courtyard at the moment houses a very unusual Fritillaria compared to our native species. The fritillaria genus, in general, is huge, spanning the globe and this one is known as Fritillaria michailovskyi. If the species name didn’t make it interesting enough this alpine is a real show piece. I find it slightly rugged, with its dark maroon petals ingrained with a slight chequered pattern, that can only be seen with the “down on one knee observation” . Its yellow pointed petal tips, which again to me don’t seem to gel, look almost as if a gardener has painted them on in a fanatic and eccentric manner like the Queen of Hearts, in Alice in Wonderland. Ruggish, however, isn’t all bad, as the flower creates a strong presence, instantly drawing your attention to it.They enjoy and flower best when grown in an alpine garden situation and we have them growing in our alpine troughs with lots of grit to create good drainage. In this location they go so well with our Tudor walls and the blossom from the chaenomeles.
Anemone apennina: Where would spring be if I didn’t mention the Anemone? Throughout our woodlands nemorosa is flowering along with the much loved garden species blanda. The one I wish to talk about though is apennina which, once again, is not one of the popular species but still, in my opinion, one of the best. A great colonizing plant like the scilla, this plant grows in sun and partial shade and its rhizomes will even tolerate drought in the summer. Much loved by William Robinson for its ability to finish and disappear quickly without any interference from the gardener, making it a labour saving plant. Apennina grows throughout the garden, either through planting or its own colonies and you can find it in the White Garden, Nuttery, Delos and the Orchard. One of my favourite combinations at the moment, are the purple and white flowers of apennina forming a colourful mosaic carpet, with the lime green flowers of Euphorbia amygdaloides var robbiae towering over them.