Sunday, 8 May 2011

Deadheading in the rain

Rain at last! This means goodbye to almost all of the tulips, and this year Tulip 'Queen of Night' wins the prize for last tulip standing - or rather leaning - and very delicious it looks too, bedecked with raindrops.

Tulip 'Queen of Night'

Tulip 'Picture' in a Great Warwick Pot
Tulip 'Picture' is one of the latest to colour up and has lasted as long as 'Queen of Night'. It isn't to everyone's taste, being such a strangely curly tulip, but it it has strong stems and a clear colour and is one of the sturdy, tall tulips that I can safely recommend to people who are nervous of tall plants in pots and think that everything "suitable for container planting" should be stunted and squat.
Tulip 'Carnaval de Nice' in a Basket Lily Pot
I'm writing this at home, so I can't see, but I am pretty sure that Tulip 'Carnaval de Nice' will have been dashed to pieces by the heavy rain; a few days ago it had opened as far as it possibly could and once tulips have done that the tepals are much more likely to be knocked off by wind, rain, dogs, children, handbags, hosepipes and the fairies at the bottom of the garden.

Off with their heads.
Now is the time to dead-head them. If you only have limited time just make sure that you snap the developing seed-heads off the tulips so that the bulbs don't waste energy on seed production and have a better chance of producing flowers next year. It is, however, worth going further than that: I always underplant tulips with other plants, especially violas and pansies, and in order to keep these in good enough condition to rise up and take over from the defunct bulbs I normally cut the tulip stems down to just above the first big leaf.
Cutting off tulip stems
In theory this does reduce the amount of energy going back into the bulb, but I want my plantings to look good until it is safe to get all the summer bedding out of the greenhouse. Most of our tulip bulbs either go on the compost heap or get planted in my or Jim's gardens, so I don't really mind if they are a little bit weakened. My priority is to keep the other plants happy, so if some of those big floppy tulip leaves are sitting on them I will take those off too by twisting them at the base.

Removing a lower leaf

Before - the remains of the tulips dominate
This means that the plants around them get more light and air and will soon fill the space and carry on flowering. I try to remove just one big leaf per tulip to give it a sporting chance. Doing this and making sure the violas are dead-headed regularly will make your pots look better immediately, it prolongs the display and you will get your money's worth out of your plants instead of letting the bedding languish and rot under dying bulb leaves.

Where did those pop up from?
It's amazing what a visual distraction the redundant tulip leaves and stems are. As soon as you remove them you will find that people suddenly start to notice the other plants in the pot.

After - Blue conifer Chamaecyparis pisifera, Violas, Anemone blanda 'White Splendour', Pinks and delicate white Allium cowanii can all see the light of day again

The four pictures above were taken at my house, so you won't see this potful at the Pottery but there is plenty more to see there at the moment. I have just recently taken the two Echium pininana out of the polytunnel and put them in the courtyard garden - these are officially biennials but I have had to keep them going for three years until finally they decided to flower.

Echium pininana

Echium pininana is the kind of thing you might see on the mild coasts of Cornwall growing outside, but in darkest Warwickshire it needs to spend the winter in shelter. Pots are a great way to extend the range of things you can grow, many tender-ish plants can be sheltered in garages, summer-houses or porches if you don't have a greenhouse or polytunnel.

Tasty trilliums
And finally I'll leave you with the still-fresh Trillium chloropetalum  - I have a small collection of Arisaemas and Trilliums at the Pottery, which do surprisingly well in pots in shady areas and help to provide interest during the pause between the tulips and the lilies. If you have a crowded garden - as most plantaholics do - pots can be a good place to keep such unusual treasures because they disappear so thoroughly when they are dormant that it is easy to lose them in flowerbeds.
Trillium chloropetalum with Heuchera 'Key Lime Pie'

Oh all right, here's one more - this is a pot of Trillium flexipes, photographed last week. Sometimes it's best to keep things simple.
Trillium flexipes in a Long Tom

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