outside-in: April 11/12

Outside-in charts my attempts to bring the garden into the house with haphazard English Freestyle flower arranging.

Sarah Raven brandy snap mix, cottage garden, gardening blog

Our vases have been full of tulips this month.

My favourites for picking were Sarah Raven’s brandy snap mix.

Their colours seem to suit the garden and the house. Steve prefers tulips in bright reds and yellows – I like them too – but these softer colours are more harmonious and gentler on the eye.

I’m especially smitten with a variety called belle epoque. It reminds me of the coral charm peony we have by the back door. I find it difficult to pick peonies since their flowers are so fleeting, but it feels far more acceptable to cut a few tulips. These lasted a good week in the vase, and smelt wonderful – almost summery.

belle epoque cottage garden, gardening blog

an overblown belle epoque tulip is almost peony-like

In fact, some of them looked a little nondescript in the garden, but came alive on a windowsill when they caught the sun.

Tulip Cairo and Ronaldo, cottage garden, gardening blog

this rust-coloured cairo tulip looks more remarkable in a vase than in the garden

Its hard to believe these flowers came from the dry bulbs I planted on a bitter day in November.


stirring dull roots with spring rain

I don’t know exactly when it happened. But at some point in April the garden came back to life. Where we had bare ground and dead-looking pots we now have vigorous new growth and the promise of flowers.

Some perennials reawaken eerily.

hosta shoots, cottage garden, gardening blog

hosta shoots clawing their way out of the ground

Hostas poking finger-like out of the soil. Ferns unfurling their fronds almost before your eyes. And the blood-red peony shoots that bear so little resemblance to the blooms that will soon be weighing them down.

Dry dahlia tubers I stashed in the garage took me by surprise this week. I walked past their grubby window and saw leaves had quietly materialised with precious little care or attention from us.

The allium bed is about to burst into a sea of sparklers. I’ve left it too late to support them with a web of string as planned. I’ll just have to hope they don’t topple.

allium bed, cottage garden, gardening blog

alliums bursting into purple balls of bee-manna

All around us is the magic of germination. I can see tell-tale patches of nigella, foxglove and poppy seedlings where their parents lived last year. They aren’t always exactly where I want them, but for now I’m leaving them to their own devices.

bean germinating, cottage garden, gardening blog

french bean pushing its way towards the light

The lengthening days and the spring rain have got every growing thing stretching towards the light.


Back in September when I was ordering tulip bulbs, I thought I’d been a bit extravagant. But now I wish I’d doubled or tripled our budget.

lilac wonder tulip, cottage garden, gardening blog

‘lilac wonder’ looks gorgeous from every angle

We plant most of our tulips in pots. It means we can plonk them here and there around the garden wherever it needs brightening up, and put them out of the way when they start dying back.

A lesson I learnt last year was to plant bulbs in layers, cramming as many as possible into a single pot. It gives a more impressive display, and doesn’t do them any harm as long as they aren’t touching each other.

synaeda king, cottage garden, gardening blog

I put three pots of ‘synaeda king’ around the base of the pear tree. Six or seven pots would have looked better

The only problem with the cramming technique is that I ended up with just two or three pots of each colour. Next year I’m going to plant more bulbs overall, but use fewer varieties so they make more impact.

honky tonk tulip, cottage garden, gardening blog

‘honky tonk’ are lovely and unassuming – I think they’d look better planted en masse

Ranging from the purest, simplest flowers to sumptuous peony-like blooms, tulips perfectly bridge the gap from spring to summer.

tulip groenland, gardening blog, cottage garden

I think these are ‘groenland’…the writing washed off the label*

There’s definitely room for more in my garden.

brandy snap mix, cottage garden, gardening blog

I’ve pictured some of my favourite tulips here – most of them came from Kelways.


* 25 April, update: looking back through my bulb orders, I realise these must be Belle Epoque. I planted them in December after picking them up cheap in  the Sarah Raven end of season sale. They’ve turned out to be my absolute favourites and will be at the top of my list for this year’s bulb order – I won’t want to chance waiting until the sales. But it begs the question – what happened to my groenland tulips? I should have ten of them kicking around somewhere…maybe they were pilfered by the squirrels.  

butterflies and bees

We’re making a deliberate attempt to provide non-stop fodder for bees and butterflies right through to autumn this year.

bee verbena, cottage garden, gardening blog

Spring and early summer are easy enough. The bulbs and blossoms overlap with the catmint and hardy geraniums. Then, before you know it, the nigella and larkspur are coming on full force. But last year we had a bit of a hungry gap at the end of July into August. The earlier flowers were getting tired or going to seed, but the rudbekia and verbena bonariensis weren’t quite ready, and nor was the angelica gigas that proved so popular with insects.

gardening blog verbena butterfly 2

So at the moment I’m busy sowing half-packets of nectar-rich flower seed under cover, with a view to sowing the rest direct into the ground mid-May. My hope is that this will spread out the flowering and ensure the two ends of the season meet in the middle. Although if it’s anything like my attempts to stagger our veg production, the ones I sow later will simply catch up.

seedlings, cottage garden, gardening blog I think the fact that we’re growing a wider variety this year – all favourites of our six-legged friends – has got to be an improvement though. New additions to our seed list include cleome, corncockle, borage, calendula, ammi majus, didiscus, cornflower and lots of different poppies. The echinacea Steve grew from seed last year are springing back to life in the greenhouse too, along with eryngium and some single dahlias (single flower varieties are better for bees and butterflies).

I can’t wait to see how all these plants turn out. And since our three year old is well and truly hooked on mini beasts at the moment we should have a lot of fun watching any garden visitors they attract.


Untitled-3If you want to attract more butterflies to your garden, this is a good month to join Butterfly Conservation.

All new members receive a gardening booklet in their welcome pack, authored by my favourite wildlife gardening writer Kate Bradbury.

Membership is half price until 30 April if you use the code GARDEN50, and the first 100 new members also get a free pack of flower seeds known to be attractive to butterflies and moths.


My sister Lucy shared this with me the other day. It’s from a Canadian Firm called Victory Gardens that encourages community veg growing – what a fab idea.