In the garden, the hyacinths are finally coming into bloom. Every year I plant up four pots of them, at five bulbs per pot, to stand by the formal pond. When they have finished they are planted out into the borders, where they prove remarkably long-lived. I went for dark blue in this year's pots, though seeing how pretty the pale blue tinged with pink 'City of Bradford' is in the long bed I might do that again sometime. I'm very fond of 'Woodstock' as well, a purple hyacinth that glows psychedelically in the evening light on those days when you get gleams of sun between rain showers. I haven't noticed any of them out yet, so they must come later than 'City of Bradford'.
The pots are started off under the greenhouse staging, since the sad year when the basal plates of almost every bulb rotted in the wet and the cold, standing outside. Once the buds were starting to show colour I moved them out, mainly so that they would get more light, and tomorrow I must move them to stand by the pond in the Italian garden, as there is no point in their flowering away outside the greenhouse.
In the gravel the pink Chionodoxa are flowering vigorously. I grow the variety 'Pink Giant'. They are larger than the species, but still fairly small, standing no more than fifteen centimetres high. I have found them long lived and persistent in our light and impoverished soil, and recommend them as good doers to anyone who wants easy dwarf bulbs for such conditions. In the Chatto Gardens I have seen the gardeners renovating areas of the gravel garden, scraping back the gravel and adding generous quantities of compost before replanting and top dressing with fresh gravel. I add a little compost and bonemeal around individual pots when planting anything in the gravel, but don't go in for wholesale replenishment, so the ground must be pretty meagre by now.
The bright blue Scilla siberica are putting on a lively show as well. A colleague spoke warmly of them as a good plant for dry places, and they seem quite happy in the gravel. It's still too early for the dwarf tulips. In the back garden, the buds and flowers of most of the little kaufmanniana hybrid tulips were grazed out by muntjac. Pheasants may have helped, but I'm pretty sure that muntjac were involved because the leaves were taken as well, stalk and leaves cut clean across as if in one bite.
The Iris unguicularis, which do not grow from bulbs, are putting on a splendid display. The twelfth of April is very late for them, but most things are late this year, and they were slow to get going. They flowered so poorly last year that I worried they might be congested and need lifting and dividing. I never got round to it, partly because last year was so wet that I didn't get round to all sorts of things, and partly out of nervousness at disturbing them, because they are notoriously slow and tricky to establish. I killed several plants before ending up with a full row of them, although with hindsight that was a blessing in disguise, since I was originally trying to mess around with different forms, and ended up with a uniform row of the straight species, which works much better in design terms. I have not done anything to the Iris to make them flower so much better this year, and am at a loss to explain it, except that something about the growing conditions over the past twelve months must have suited them.
The daffodils are grudgingly opening as well. The Systems Administrator picked a bunch from a clump by the compost heap, that I don't remember planting. We won't get the benefit of them tonight, because they are still in bud, and have been banished to the mantelpiece in the sitting room as being the only place we can stand a vase without risk of the cats knocking it over, while we are back in the study. It isn't that warm, even if it is mid April.