Despite the dreary damp weather, spring is advancing at a pace, and the species …


Despite the dreary damp weather, spring is advancing at a pace, and the species tulips are adding some excitement to the cool early spring colour palette at Highdown Gardens. In this week’s blog Gary has us convinced that we can smell the garden scents from all the way over at Worthing Town Hall! Keep reading for the full story…

It struck me last year that we do well at Highdown to have an annual re-flowering of tulip and hyacinth bulbs. Generally, they tend to get weaker over time and gradually die out. But here, I think, it’s the well-drained chalky soil that help the bulbs get baked over summer: this summer ripening is what these species enjoy in their native habitats of the central Asian regions.

Look out for the hyacinths in the orchard as you enter the garden. They’re just passing their peak, so catch them quick.

The earliest tulip species to flower is Tulipa turkestanica. You’ll see this in large numbers in the lower garden where its cream flowers with black anthers shine out in shadier areas. This species tulip self-seeds, so tends to find its ‘happy place’ in the garden.

On the chalk cliff face you’ll see Tulipa saxatilis, a wild triploid hybrid from Greece. The pink flowers with a bright yellow base to the segments are an interesting mix of colour: pink and yellow are difficult colours to complement each other. It tends to send up its lustrous leaves in late winter, which would be damaged in a more cold-exposed garden than Highdown. The original bulbs were given to Sir Frederick by his friend, the great plantsman G. P. Baker from a collection he made in Crete and Greece.

Opposite the chalk cliff and the nature pond, you may see some groupings of Tulipa humulis, quite a variable species, but here it’s a lovely cerise pink with a yellow centre.

A couple of other plants to look out for if you’re coming to the gardens: the first is a named cultivar of the common plant Honesty, Lunaria annua. I grew this cultivar for cut flowers in France, and the few plants at Highdown are grown from this seed. It’s Lunaria annua ‘Corfu Blue’, a shorter plant than the species, and one that is in flower from February. The tone of the flowers really shines out on dull days, much improved from the dull mauve of the species. You’ll see this plant by the greenhouse as you walk past.

Finally, one of the first group of shrubs to come into flower in spring are the viburnums. This species enjoys the chalky soil, especially those originating from China. One of the best, just coming into flower is Viburnum x burkwoodii, a cross between V. carlesii and V. utile. This evergreen shrub has clusters of very fragrant pink-budded white flowers. The scent is a strong, sweet, daphne-like fragrance, and one that drifts on the breeze. Last year, in the middle garden, I was constantly asked to identify the source of this beautiful sweet smell. Come and experience it for yourself!

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