Les Jardins de Clogs 65

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Les Jardins de Clogs, Gaussan 65, June 2018

Last week, there were about 4 hours in total when it didn’t rain in stair-rods.  Some villages really suffered with flooding, and our local pepinière, Bernard Lacrouts, was almost washed away by a wave of runoff water from local fields.  It was wet.  Biblically wet.  Again.

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The other view from the Basque red gates, Les Jardins de Clogs 65, June 2018

But in those grey, but not wet hours, with the occasional glimpse of watery sunlight, we visited a garden near Gaussan, between Castelnau-Magnoac and Lannemezan.  Les Jardins de Clogs was created by Adrienne Child, who, like us, moved to South West France from Scotland in 2004.  She has cleverly thought about and responded to her garden site that sits to the side of her house.  The site has beautiful mature trees and she has accentuated their planting with some very choice trees and shrubs of her own choosing.  The garden weaves through the landscape, with her paths and interest points responding with great charm to the ups and downs, the twists and turns.

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Hellebore foliage holding its own with great cedar, Les Jardins de Clogs, June 2018

It is a very interesting use of the space- making the very best use of every small point of interest- Adrienne has a really good eye for what is around and she can make use of.  She describes the garden areas as ‘English-style’, which is an important signal to the French gardener who would then understand that there will be billowing planting, there will be some disorder and freedom and probably not a straight line.  But I would probably say that this garden is about how she is interested in space, in combinations and in creating an atmosphere- rather than being traditionally border-bound in the conventionally accepted English sense.

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Lollipop shaped trees create moments of formality in amongst the drapery of the Sassa and the hemerocallis, Les Jardins de Clogs, June 2018

Importantly, this is not a pampered garden.  Adrienne has chosen tough and beautiful plants and shrubs that can mostly take of themselves- and the established trees give a lot of dappled shade which will help with water conservation.  She is also not afraid to repeat a plant that really loves the space- there are swathes of Bergenia that are quite fabulous, a sea of large, textured leaves that look great washing through the garden.

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Swathes of bergenia, the basque red of the Nandina to the left, and sharp grass, Les Jardins de Clogs, June 2018

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An archway, lollipop tree, sharp gravel and the silver grey of Onopodum thistles, Les Jardins de Clogs, June 2018

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The labyrinth garden, Les Jardins de Clogs, June 2018

I have never been a fan of Heucheras.  But I am converted.  I loved the marmelade-apricot colouring with the plum in these two very pretty pots.

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Heuchera-filled pots on the terrace, Les Jardins de Clogs, June 2018

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The fresh yellow of the Euonymus gives way to the field next door, with bergenia again proving lush formality, Les Jardins de Clogs, June 2018

Adrienne also offers tea and a slice of cake so that you can relax and take in the atmosphere of the garden for a little longer.  A lovely idea.  I really miss that unbeatable combination of a Yellow Book garden with tea and cake- and she has re-created that right here in France.

She opens her garden from Wed- Saturday for a small entrance fee each week, with a break in the summer, all the details can be found on her website here.  Treat yourself to an afternoon visit.



Living off the land…

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Early morning landscape, La Burra Verde, nr Orgiva, Andalucia, Spain, June 2018

A great delight of visiting Southern Spain for a couple of weeks, was spending six days off-grid at La Burra Verde near Orgiva. A group of us were keen to learn more about living with nature and wanted to learn about growing food and living off-grid.  Arriving in the dark and walking down the dusty, windy path into the finca or farm, carrying our rucksacks as there is no vehicular access to the farm was a strange and startling introduction to what living off-grid includes.  Of course, our lives in a French village are, just as in a town or city, dominated by street lighting and refuse collections.  When you have to carry out all the things you want to dispose of, it does sharpen your understanding of sustainability, re-usability and the point of most packaging.

Waking up the next day in Casa Luna to nightingales singing, no automated noise at all, and the peace of these incredible views was sheer joy.  Over the few days, we learnt about cooking with solar cookers, permaculture and non-dig methods of gardening and growing food, the everyday challenges of weather, heat, cold and living off the land.  Kate Fairtlough, who rescued this piece of valley and its olive trees, works the farm with four young staff members, producing delicious organic olive oil, trading and swapping with neighbours to share out produce, and letting two Airbnb cottages, Casa Luna and Casa La Parra.  I also spent two nights in the newly built straw bale house.

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View from near Casa Luna, La Burra Verde, Spain, June 2018

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Casa Luna, La Burra Verde, Spain, June 2018

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Straw bale house and the vegetable garden, La Burra Verde, Spain, June 2018

Kate’s passion and experiences through her life of restoring this earth to fertility,  following traditions of harvesting are very powerful teaching tools.  I have always thought of myself as thrifty and careful as taught by my mother, but Kate re-purposes and re-uses more than I could ever have imagined.  I realise that there is far more ‘housewife’ in me than I would ever have imagined, and the cost of that cleanliness to the planet is sobering.

We were so lucky in the rain that had fallen this Spring in the Alpujarras.  Wild flowers and lush vegetation are not a normal sight in late May and early June.  The abundance of the flora was astonishing.  One of our group, another Kate, introduced me to the delicate magic of wild flowers, that I had experienced as a child, but largely forgotten.

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The spring landscape, La Burra Verde, Spain, June 2018

We spent some enchanted hours in the landscape with our cameras, identification books, and Kate’s meticulous lists.  Kate is also a very keen birdwatcher, though we could hear fabulous lyrical birdsong, it was really hard to actually see the birds in amongst the dense bushes and trees.

You can follow the links to the 2 Airbnb houses.  An inspiring, self-revelatory few days appreciating how closely tied I am to modernity and some measure of consumerism.  Now that I realise this, I can try my best to absorb the learning from La Burra Verde.


Amazing bee-orchid, La Burra Verde, Spain, June 2018


Iris xiphium, Orgiva, Spain, June 2018


Helichrysum stoechas with lone blue flower of agapanthus, Orgiva, June 2018


The surreal parasitic Broomrape, La Burra Verde, Spain, June 2018


Massive salsify seedheads, some 8cms wide, la Burra Verde, Spain, June 2018


Rain almost stops play…

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Papaver commutatum, ‘Ladybird’ poppy giving Romneya coulteri a shove-over, Tostat, June 2018

It really has.  I was away for 2 weeks in Southern Spain, enjoying cool, but perfect temperatures for travelling and walking a lot, and have come back to discover a garden that is the closest to a bog you can imagine.  Squelching across the grass, the dry plants in the South-facing border are looking a bit sick, and everything else looks as if it has been on drugs- and not necessarily in a good way.  What had been normal sized Ladybird poppies are now 2 metres tall and out-running the well-known thug, Romneya coulteri.  Weeds have appeared as if in a sci-fi movie, and I can’t quite believe it.  Another 3 ins of rain fell last night, so everything is leaning at 45 degrees, as if being sick in a boat in a storm.  People in the village, never mind plants, are looking very depressed.  Non-stop rain, massive electrical storms which almost shook the earth, and cool temperatures do not suit us here in June.

Roses have been beaten into submission, but not Rosa ‘Kiftsgate’, a thug at the best of times but likeable all the same.  The perfume from the massed swags of roses can be smelt, even by me, from 50m away from the house- and I have never noticed that before.  This rose poses a danger to traffic passing unless we don protection and give it a good hacking every year, but it does hide a horrible bit of wall so I am always pleased about that.

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Rosa ‘Kiftsgate’ battered but unbowed, Tostat, June 2018

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Close up, ‘Kiftsgate’ is almost a sweetie, Tostat, June 2018

Going back briefly to the Ladybird poppies- they are a tribute to the power of the seed.  The only explanation for their appearance is that Andy sowed seed which did not germinate about 4 years ago or maybe more.  In early spring, I cleared and disturbed that ground- and astonishingly, up they popped.  Nature waits sometimes.

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Dripping ‘Ladybird’ poppy, Tostat, June 2018

New to me, and soaked but holding on, are Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ and Ceanothus x pallidus ‘Marie Simon’.  I had a go at growing the Penstemon from seed and drew a blank, so I bought a couple of good sized plants last autumn and divided them- thus making 6 smaller plants.  I had chosen them for their drought tolerance, so I think the wet is not their thing, and consequently, they look a bit weedy- but the sun has got to come out soon, hasn’t it?  Ceanothus x pallidus ‘Marie Simon’ appealed to me because it isn’t blue, but a lovely pale pink with very good green foliage and reddish stems- a feature it shares with the Penstemon.

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Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red’ and Ceanothus x pallidus ‘Marie Simon’, Tostat, June 2018

In both Granada and here, Iris foetidissima is flowering.  Just the concurrence of that is a testament to the weirdness of the weather here in Southern Europe.  Of course, it is more sinister and this is about the growing effects of climate change.  Am I alone in worrying what we are leaving, it would appear, to our children to resolve when it is too late? Or can the human being generate world support for science and technology that can change things?  It worries me a lot.  Back in Southern Spain, I spent a week off-grid on an eco-farm that is single-handedly saving a small piece of the Alpujarras landscape.  It was both a very inspiring and sobering experience. Next post….

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Iris foetidissima, Carmen de los Martires, Granada, June 2018


Inspiration from 2007…

Three years ago, I tried an experiment.  Could I grow a whole area essentially from seed, or self-seeded perennials, with one or two shrubs added in? The last two years have been a waiting game, but now, I can say that I am on the way.  It was only the other day when reading about the founding of the recently established Königliche Gartenakadamie opposite the stunning Botanical Garden in Dahlem, Berlin that I remembered what had been at the back of my mind as images of how I wanted the ‘mix’ bit to be.  Isabelle van Groeningen works in partnership with Gabrielle Pape, the main force behind the new Königliche Gartenakadamie in Berlin- but it was Chelsea that first introduced them to me.

Isabelle van Groeningen and Gabrielle Pape made a Main Avenue garden at Chelsea 2007- inspired by and strongly evoking the matrix- planting style of the reknowned German plant-breeder and nurseryman, Karl Foerster.  I remember that garden, not in detail, but in terms of the unusual effects it created.  Using plants as singletons or pairings, the garden seemed swarming with plants, but not arranged in clumps, but as a tapestry of individuals who all seemed to get on very well one with another, almost a ‘pointilist’ garden.  Back then, I was only at the beginning of my formal garden design study and it was all completely new to me.  I remember being disappointed that the garden only got a silver medal.


Isabelle van Groeningen and Gabrielle Pape for ‘The Telegraph’, Chelsea 2007 photo credit: http://www.telegraph.com

This photograph doesn’t quite capture what I remember, the dotted planting of ones and twos of plants in a tapestry effect, but what you can see is the depth of planting and that crammed impression which I loved.  My version is much more clump-formed than matrix planting in the strict sense, but I have encouraged Stipa capillata to self-seed and this has created a wafty movement at about 0.75m high, which I really like.

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The ‘mix’ in early April, dew on Stipa capillata veiling Cistus ‘Gold Prize’ and Libertia peregrinans in winter orange, Tostat, April 2018

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The ‘mix’ featuring Anchusa azurea ‘Dropmore’, spikes up in blue, red spots of luminous Dianthus cruentus, Phlomis longifolia bailanica, Geranium albanum, Tostat, May 2018

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The edges of the ‘mix’, tall flowerheads of Eryngium eburneum, Anchusa azurea ‘Dropmore’, Monarda fistulosa, Cornus kousa, Tostat, May 2018

A key plant, which has take all of these three years to really get going, is Anchusa azurea ‘Dropmore’.  It is a much more intense blue than the photographs suggest and sits a good half metre above the other planting- so it really reaches for the sky.

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Anchusa azurea ‘Dropmore’, Tostat, end April 2018

It is very wafty so I am hoping it isn’t decked by strong winds- always a possibility.  For the past two months, the two self-seeders. Eschscholzia californica and Cerinthe purpurescens have behaved magnificently.  Purple and orange- so good together. Noel Kingsbury has some interesting and de-bunking comments to make about getting holier-than-thou about any one way of gardening,  but whatever else, closer planting helps but will not remove the need to occasionally sort out thugs and reduce competition.  With the ‘mix’ I am stuffing in and also actively managing, not just the plants but also the invaders.  Good news is that a spot of wild carrot is easily removed.

Lastly, I would like to remember Beth Chatto,  who died last week, and a fantastic visit made to her Essex nursery eight years ago on a wet and grey day- she was a one-off.   What a woman.

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Beth Chatto’s inspirational Gravel Garden, Essex, 2012

Me and the Assistant Gardener…


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The Assistant Gardener resting in the grit bucket, Tostat, May 2018

I am really delighted that the sun has been shining in Scotland, where the Assistant Gardener normally lives, but am pig sick that we are back to 8 degrees and pouring, cold rain and wind for the last 4 days.  I can’t quite believe it, as it had looked as though we were beginning to emerge from a very wintery spring. I try not to moan, but usually don’t succeed.

Still, last week before all this came upon us, the Assistant Gardener volunteered herself into that role and we smashed our way into a much neglected part of the garden- the area in front of the pig shed and adjacent to the sunken gas tank.  It is actually more promising than that description sounds.  But, as the southern outpost of the New Garden, the area which we cleared of snakes and bramble to have a go at making a garden out of the naturally rocky, stony soil and not much else, it merits more work to it.

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New Garden, Tostat, May 2015

This is a bit of a Terminator section.  I have lost more plants than I can bear to remember in taking a long time to understand how to manage a hot, dry, stony garden area which, in the winter, is bleak, cold and half-wet.  What I have learned the hard way is:  that, unless you are an Olympian gardener with muscles to show for it, this area will defeat you unless you can accept a balance between deliberately cultivated plants and naturally arriving plants aka weeds.  So, the last few years have been about building that balance.  The existing planting is mature and so can take a few invaders without complaint- the difficulty arises in getting to that point of mature balance.  And knowing that the balance will need intervention on a big scale in late Spring when the invaders are settling in nicely and can be uprooted when the ha-ha soil is damp.

2015 shows what I was trying to do.  Much of this still remains though bigger and tougher, but in this very wet winter I did lose a super-big and lovely Halimium, leaning out over the gravel in 2015.  Last year, I laid a plastic cover down on the area to combat some of the invaders, and this was largely successful.  So, the Assistant Gardener and I set to, with the new set of hopefuls that I had auditioned for this tricky area. They included:

a dwarf pomegranate, Punicum granatum ‘Nana’, for its glossy green leaves, gorgeous singing-red flowers, and general toughness

Ononis spinosa, a tough dry-soil ground cover

Achillea nobilis, another tough dry-soil running plant

Salvia ‘Anthony Parker’, a fantastic Salvia, sadly not really winter-hardy despite what some say, but it flowers like a train, is a gorgeous deep blue, and I dig it up and stick it in a pot for over-wintering.  It can be huge!

Euphorbia pithyusa ‘Ponte Leccia’, new to me, one of the smaller euphorbias flowering later in June..

and Salvia ‘Hot Lips’, Verbena bonariensis, Echinacea purpurea, some repurposed bits of Sisyrinchium striatum and Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ where the soil is just a tad better.

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Linking the new planting (to the right) with the established stuff, New garden, Tostat, May 2018

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The New Garden planting, pig shed to the rear, Tostat, May 2018

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The New Garden, a long view, pre-planting with plastic still in place, May 2018

We did a good job.  Clearing the ground happened,  the plants went in, and they will have benefitted from the 4 days of rain, even though I moan.  The Assistant Gardener learnt that you bang the plant on the bottom while it is in the pot, not when you have already taken it out.  I was a little slow with instructions.  And so now we keep an eye on it all for the first year and then after that, it’s all on its own.

Must get round to trimming off the brown bits.



Bowing to the lilies…

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Primula auricula ‘Jungfrau’, Tostat, May 2018

My early morning follows a very ritualistic pattern. Up around 8, now I am in a retired state, there is no way I am carrying on with 0600 get-ups.  Dog and cats sorted, then out into the garden for a circuit, carrying a large mug of tea, which gets me half way round and then I make another for the second half.  En route, the strange ‘bowing to the lilies’ thing happens. Were a complete stranger to be observing me, this is exactly what it would look like. A slow dropping bow to the left, and then up, followed by the same on the right.  Of course, I know that I am merely checking for the red lily beetle, but the other day I caught myself at the bowing, and it made me laugh.  So the silent observer would then have seen laughing out loud followed by mad muttering to self.

Lucky there is no-one looking really.  Other strange things happening include double auriculas suddenly deciding to have one single flower or two in the group- very odd.  I bought these auriculas as tiny little plugs years ago at Chelsea in my major plant smuggling period.  They just about hang on here, in the shade in the summer, and then pick up enough to flower in the Spring, usually in March.  Not this year.  I am rather fond of the blackberry custard colouring of ‘Jungfrau’, and I love the deep caramel of ‘Bill Bailey’, but look what he’s gone and done.  Now the odd thing about ‘Bill Bailey’ who has always been a double with deep caramel, as per the two flowers in the photograph, is that Wootton’s show Bill as more like the strange single flower that popped up this year.  I think that auriculas must be more promiscuous than I had realised.  A mystery.

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Primula auricula ‘Bill Bailey’, Tostat, May 2018

Meantime, the part of the garden with a more formal look, low-hedged oblongs with paths crossing them, has undergone a major rejuvenation.  The upside of this is that it is really wearing the transformation well- the downside is that I have promised on a stack of bibles to be tidier around the place.  My hidey-holes for old pots and whatnot, an awful lot of whatnot, have all gone and so I am exposed as a pretty poor tidier-upper.  I am trying to reform.

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View looking South down the crossing path, past my big pot (Xmas), Tostat, April 2018

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Looking the other way in the evening light, Tostat, April 2018

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Featuring the big pot, Tostat, April 2018

I love our old roof tiles edging the gravel- we just had enough as they break so very easily.  And 00s of wheelbarrow trips brought the gravel round from the pile outside the front of the house- thank you Jim and Andy both.  It’s not quite my old, more sloppy way of doing things- and it will be a discipline for me.  But I am reminded, again, of what I know- that jumbly, carefree planting, and the tolerance of a certain amount of weedery, is vastly helped by some formality that creates definition.  You need both- freedom and discipline.  Maybe the auriculas are trying to tell me that.



Back to the blog…

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Allium shubertii, Tostat, May 2018

It’s been a long time.  What has happened?  Lots in the garden and a really welcome pause from writing.  After all, blogging is really addictive.  There is great satisfaction in talking to yourself in a blog, working things out and deciding what matters and what doesn’t.  And, taking a pause whilst either torrential rain kept falling or we had clear spells when big works were needed, gave rise to the question ‘Why do I write a blog?’. And not that I want to go all existential on you, if you are out there!, but it is a good question.  And to my surprise, when in my mind I didn’t have a ready answer, it seemed a good time to take a break.

I don’t think that I have fully answered the question even now.  But, never mind.

So, what’s new and a surprise this half-Spring, half-winter/summer?  Allium schubertii is new to me here in Tostat.  I am really enjoying the gradual popping open of the myriad little flowerheads, and in the rain, they really do look like a collection of crown jewels.  Last year I managed to grow Plectranthus argentatus ‘Silver Shield’ from seed, and even better, I managed to over-winter them on the upstairs windowsill.  They have been surprisingly obliging.  Pruning them down to re-start them this Spring has given about 15 cuttings, which are slowly producing small buds when they can decide whether the weather is clement or not.  The original plants are now re-potted outside and coping pretty well.  In a large burst of rain the other day, they looked sparkly and silvery.

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Plectranthus argentatus ‘Silver Shield’, Tostat, May 2018

In carrying out the aforementioned big works, I stumbled across survivors from the past. Plants that I had bought for good reasons that had then become dwarfed by other things and I had forgotten that they were even there.  In the case of two Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Obelisk’, I had even decided to move them last year and then promptly life got in the way.  So, this year, they are out and potted up, and I will keep them in pots I think.  Although a bit on the bald side this year, so surprised are they to be liberated, I think that they will bulk up nicely into two small fastigiated sentinels that will stand either side of the back door.  The tiny blossoms, again a symptom of shock I think, will be fabulous next year when they are rejuvenated- and were pretty adorable this year even.

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Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Obelisk’, Tostat, May 2018

Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ is now four good clumps and does a great job of looking elegant and snazzy at the same time, especially when first out next to the Spanish bluebells.  I have fallen for Geum ‘Fire Opal’, as the colour is just sensational, even more vivid than ‘TT’, but I am not going there till I have checked it out really well, as ‘TT’ is the only Geum that has ever survived more than a year here in Tostat.

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Geranium ‘Totally Tangerine’, Tostat, end April 2018

I bought Syringa laciniata small last year, and it went into the hot, dry border facing South.  Needless to say, this space has been neither hot or dry, but it will be later on, and so the extra water is a bonus for later.  The Syringa is charming, a soft lilac colour, in droopy swags with a delicate perfume, and foliage-wise, the ferny strappiness of the bright green foliage beats your regular lilac in my view.

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Syringa laciniata, Tostat, end April 2018

Spring bulbs have had a tough time- basically soaked.  Last year’s tulips which were such duds did better this year, and this year’s tulips were weird- not flowering at all mainly or flowering totally green.  But ‘Virichic’ a dud from last year came good. A sensational pink viridiflora look-alike, the petals were really contorted but the colour was lovely.

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Tulipa ‘Virichic’, Tostat, end April 2018