My Top Five… Spring Flowers

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.

Aubrieta on South Cottage

Aubrieta on South Cottage

Aubrietia

Aubrietia

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.

Scilla messeniaca in Delos

Scilla messeniaca in Delos

Blue Scilla messeniaca

Blue Scilla messeniaca

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 meleagris

Fritillaria meleagris

Fritillaria meleagris in the Orchard

Fritillaria meleagris in the Orchard

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.

Fritillaria michailovskyi

Fritillaria michailovskyi

Fritillaria michailovskyi

Fritillaria michailovskyi

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.

Joshua Sparkes

17 thoughts on “My Top Five… Spring Flowers

  1. Just read this as I came in for a cup of coffee whilst replanting one of my borders. What fabulous photos, Joshua, thank you so much for sharing them with us. I will go back outside with that usual fantasy I have that my garden will look like Sissinghurst if I work hard enough at it!

    Like

    • Yes, the winter aconite is one of the first to brave the cold and for that alone, it’s worth a place in any garden. I went to the Great Dixter Plant Fair a few weeks ago and saw lots of lovely corydalis but I resisted the temptation to buy! I’d like to grow Corydalis flexuosa though. Helen

      Like

  2. That’s a great tip about the Fritillaria meleagris Joshua. The bulbs I planted this year have not come up, so I suspect I did not prepare them correctly. I have cheated and bought a big pot of fritillaries that have been nursery grown and will plunge them in the ground after flowering. Have a Happy Easter.

    Like

      • Hi Helen, yes when the fritillaries have finished they will be removed and something else planted. Claire is in charge of all the pots and containers, and plans a succession of bulbs and plants for the whole season. There are a lot of pots whizzing around the garden and in and out of the nursery! Helen

        Like

      • I was mored concerned about the reverse to be honest, it’s very damp, which I thought they liked. Never mind, plenty of other things seem to be revelling in the same spot – one of which is Anemone blanda, which I thought liked drier conditions. The joys of trial and error! Dan

        Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Tamara, we are lucky to have so many mellow brick walls here at Sissinghurst as there are so many flowers that look good against them (including aubrietia). However, for those of us not lucky enough to have metres of brick wall in our garden, aubrietia will fortunately live happily in any sunny, well-drained position! Helen

      Like

  3. Great photos!! I especially love the Fritillaries, such an amazing & beautiful flower – all types. I appreciate seeing them even more as I can’t grow them ‘down under’! Unfortunately by the time I get there in late May (with the gang from Great Dixter), they will be finished. I fly out tomorrow for London, so I’m hoping to see some spring flowering bulbs at Kew & other parks before I head off to Portugal. See you in a few months!

    Like

    • Hi George, hope you are enjoying your travels and managing to see lots of interesting spring bulbs. By the time you visit Sissinghurst, the irises should all be out and probably some of the roses too, so you’ll be visiting at a perfect time. Helen

      Like

  4. chequered fritillary always strike me as both unbelievable, and beautiful. The only one I’ve ever seen growing was a waif and stray in an enclosure at London Zoo.
    Currently building a Terraforce retaining wall whose row of open tops will give me an ‘Alpine trough’ for our autumn bulbs.

    Like

    • Hi Diana, if you ever visit the UK in April, make sure you visit one of the few fritillary meadows that still exist; they are spectacular and very beautiful. Hope the alpine trough works out well and good luck with the nerines this year! Helen

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s