My anxiety in case my three bulbs of Tulipa sprengeri should turn out to be something else were unfounded. Each sent up a flowering stem, and each stem bore single, long bud, which gradually swelled until opening into the real thing. Later than all the other tulips, Tulipa sprengeri still has the air of the wildling about it, although it has not been seen in the wild in its native Turkey since the 1890s and my stock must have been in cultivation for over a century. The petals are long and pointed, like a tulip from a Mughal painting, so that the flowers look starry when fully open. Closed, you see that the backs of the petals are a soft, glowing orange.
I was mystified why the bulbs are so expensive, when the plants set seed so readily, but apart from the fact that the bulbs pull themselves deep into the soil and are pigs to extract, according to Avon Bulbs the seedlings resent handling until almost of flowering size. If my flowers set seed, and there is no reason why they shouldn't, I had better sow it in little pinches in small pots of gritty compost and then plant the contents of the pots out in their entirety (assuming that the seeds germinate). I've a feeling they take about six years to get to flowering size (another reason why they are expensive) but deferred gratification is a large part of gardening. I am only regretful I didn't splurge on a few bulbs a decade ago, then I could have a proper colony of them by now.
In the back garden Paeonia rockii is in full flower, and it is astounding. I was astounded last year and probably said so on this blog, but this year it is even better because it has grown bigger. P. rockii is a tree peony from Gansu province in China, with vast, scented, soft white flowers blotched in the centre with purple. Or at least that is the theory. According to the website of the Peony Society, which I had never heard of until just now when Googling Paeonia rockii, and whose credentials I have no idea of, many of the plants sold as Paeonia rockii are not the real thing at all. Speaking as a gardener and not a botanist I am not too fussed. The plant in our garden is absolutely stunning. It must be eight feet across by now, and I have not attempted to count the flowers, but there are loads. The whole bush is covered in them.
It is growing on a north west facing slope, with a bay tree and other shrubs to the south, so is in partial shade but open to the sky, not under the canopy of anything else. The soil is light though if you go down far enough you would hit London clay. I have no idea how far the peony has gone down. The spot is fairly well sheltered from the wind now the surrounding hedges and our neighbours' trees have grown up, but air circulation in the back garden is pretty good. It was planted as a little, single stem twig in September 2005, and tied to a stout, short stake so that it would not thrash and break itself in the gales and I would not tread on it. The first year it attempted to produce one flower I cut it off because I was worried about the extra top hamper and risk it would snap itself. It has never been pruned except to remove old flowers and any dead wood, and there has been very little dead wood. According to Wikipedia it is noted for its resistance to drought and frost, and certainly in the past dozen years it has been exposed to both.
I am terribly pleased with it. I have never seen a better specimen anywhere else. I feel rather nervous writing that, in case I go out tomorrow morning to find that a freak tornado or marauding deer, or wild boar, or a lump of ice falling off a passing aeroplane have pulverised it.