Wild Places, Wild Flowers

April is a busy month for gardeners and the sheer amount of flower can be a little distracting.  Plants are elbowing through to the fore, hurling themselves into flower and screeching, “Me, me, me.  Look at me!”  And very pretty it all is too but I do wish (a little) that they would just calm down a bit.  I find myself whispering, “Very nice, but just take it easy, OK.  Slow down pal, slow down; there’s plenty of time.”  As distracting as it is, I want the show to run and run.

But realising that they won’t take a blind bit of notice, I continue to edge and dig, mow and plant; all the while taking time to enjoy the spectacle.  Even plants that I wouldn’t have planted myself, such as …

Forsythia in bloom. A neighbour's cottage at The Old Forge.

… forsythia, are looking mighty fine in this, their lime-light moment.

There is a forsythia up against the house and under a window at the Priory.  Seems an odd place to plant one as, once the main event is over,  it is a dull shrub.  But, with an underplanting of forget-me-nots, I have no plans to remove it.  Yet.

Something I would have planted (had there not already been one) is Magnolia stellata.  Such perfection is rare on this particular little tree but the absence of late, hard frosts this year has left the delicate blooms unblemished.

Tulipa bakeri 'Lilac Wonder'

I must stress that, actually, I have planted some stuff myself (this is important; it’s my job).  Here Tulipa bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’ flowers against a backdrop of fresh crocosmia leaves.

Primula denticulata with the first Peacock butterfly of the year - 28 March.

And beneath a young fig tree, a clutch of primulas attract an early visitor; always gratifying that I have helped to attract wildlife.

But as much as I would like to claim credit for all the beauty in the gardens, sadly, I can’t.  One of my favourite areas of the Priory is a bank, running down from the greenhouse to a drainage ditch.

I strim it once or twice a year but certainly not in Spring when, after the crocuses are over,  it is speckled with primroses, the odd daffodil, wood anemones and cuckoo flowers.

Primroses (Primula vulgaris) grow throughout the estate.

Here forming a carpet (or at least a rug) in the wild-flower meadow,

here popping up in the lawn and …

… here self-seeding themselves into places they really shouldn’t.  But, bad as such behaviour is, I can’t always bring myself to root them out.

Usually I’m unimpressed with pink but, while I still prefer the common yellow primrose, I do rather like some of the variations; such as this one.

Viola odorata

Even more widespread than the primulas are wild violets (Viola odorata).  A visitor to the gardens was really quite excited when she noticed the white form …

White Viola odorata

… as she thought them quite rare (though a quick internet search seems to dispute this).  The white violas don’t mix with their common-or-garden cousins; remaining haughtily separate and aloof.  We have several patches of them along the drive and by the river-bank.

Cardamine pratensis

The Cuckoo Flower or Lady’s Smock (Cardamine pratensis) is common in these ‘ere parts, lining hedgerows and field margins, and is now spreading into the meadow; which pleased me no end.

Under three large oak trees, on the east lawn, is another area of grass which I leave uncut until the autumn.  Chiefly because later in the summer it is home to a small colony of …

Dachtylorhiza fuchsii. June 2011

… Common Spotted Orchids (Dachtylorhiza fuchsii) which I wish to encourage (obviously) but also…

… because of a growing spread of bluebells and …

Erthronium pagoda

… a little something extra that I have added:  Dog’s Tooth Violets (so-called because of the shape of their bulbs).  I have planted three different varieties but only this one, Erythronium pagoda, has deigned to flower.  The un-mown grass is also home to a steadily increasing number of wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa).

I’d like to say that their gentle, perfect spacing is down to me.   But that would be a lie.  I know how tricky naturalised planting is to achieve and it doesn’t come any better than this; careful where you tread.

I first noticed wood anemones as a twenty-one year old visiting Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire.  Coming from the city, I had no idea what it was but, thinking it gorgeous, plucked one to press within my angsty journal – for later identification.  Now almost thirty years later, the pressed flower is still in my angsty journal and, remarkably, perfectly preserved.

Up on the drive, where it passes through Margaret’s wood, anemones grow much more abundantly.  They have erupted in number since the  trees were thinned a couple of years ago and sunlight now washes the woodland floor.

Caltha palutris

In the water margins of the gardens, I have added Kingcup (or Water Marigolds if you prefer; either way: Caltha palutris) and, unsurprisingly in this perfect habitat,  it is thriving.

Another Marsden introduction (and mentioned in a recent post) are Fritillaria meleagris.  I boasted then that there were hundreds of this handsome charmer dancing across the meadow … but only posted photos of single flowers.  So were proof needed …

Ranunculus ficaria

Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) is endemic at the Priory and (very annoyingly) infests some of the formal borders.  But here in the meadow, it may do as it likes – and does.

Nearby is a swathe of wild flowers that, were they not already well established, I certainly would have planted.  Along the river bank, on either side of the post and rail, is a heady, salami-scented expanse of Ramsons or Wild garlic (Allium ursinum).

Allium ursinum

So far only one or two have flowered but …

… when they all do, it is quite a sight.  And smell.  The sight I’ll share, in due course. The smell?  Er, garlicky.  Go sniff a salami; you’ll get the idea.

Prunus spinosa not yet in full spate.

And providing the shade that Ramsons love?  A large bank of Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa).  I certainly didn’t plant this but I did save it from being felled.  The chap who put in the post and rail fencing wanted to clear it (would’ve made his job much easier).  But I fought its corner and the thicket was reprieved.   I’ve been delaying publishing this post for a few days now, as I wanted to show you the Blackthorn at full throttle; unfortunately though, that is still a few days off and (as a good friend has just pointed out) it has been a while since I last posted.  So …

Looking over Apeldoorn tulips to the Blackthorn. April 2011.

… we must make do with this photo from last year.   It is a magnificent, completely over the top, distracting performance – which I love and never tire of.  I’m so glad it wasn’t chain-sawed.  Aren’t you?

33 thoughts on “Wild Places, Wild Flowers

  1. I was having a wee browse through this post Dave. Stunning blackthorn, anenomes and primulas. All these stunning Spring displays. Then I noticed the orchid… Gosh I thought has really been that warm? They usually flower in June in these parts. But then I read your post again (Too much skimming of text) and realized that this is a joy for later on. It’s also wonderful to see the snakeshead fritillaryin their natural habitat en masse.


    • Hi Janet, good to hear from you – I’m glad you’re back! The blackthorn never did put on such a good display this year. Today a friend told me that he’d read that after a particular good showing (last year) they follow up with more of a whimper (this year). Still never mind, next year should be a corker. D


  2. I’m glad you didn’t wait any longer to post. Everyting you’ve shown is wonderful. You are creating a really special place. I too, like Forsythiers in other peoples’ gardens but not my own, too short a season of interest. I suppose one can prune back hard after flowering and have a clematis that is pruned late to grow over it. I love Fritillaries, and I think they look perfect the way you’ve planted them. Christina


    • Hi Christina, I do prune the forsythia after flowering but I find it then needs cutting back during the summer too if the window isn’t to be obscured. I am ever so pleased with the fritillaries – hopefully they’ll just keep on increasing in number. Dave


  3. Hello Dave; You are well ahead – the difference between north and south really beginning to show now (especially since we’ve had a week or more of light frosts in this part of Scotland – which hold plants back – and no bad thing, given the catching up I have to do). You won’t expect me to be enthusiastic about blackthorn, given what its suckers have done to my strawberry patch. I have just spent three days digging all the earth out of the raised bed, lining it with matting, and replacing the soil. Should have done that in the first place, but we live and learn….


    • Hi Mr K, yes – I can see that blackthorn suckers in your strawberries would be annoying. I mow a path at the base of the large blackthorn above (and then the meadow is cut in summer) so that seems to keep it in check. It isn’t a plant I would want IN the garden. D


  4. Such beautiful photographs of what must be an even more beautiful place.
    Are all your wild anemones white? I have just found a patch of wild anemones in the wild that have other shades, while all around them are white. I have only ever seen white before.


    • Hi, yes all the anemones are white (well, with their pink tinge when young of course) and I don’t think I’ve ever seen any other wild colour – though I have bought and planted a blue cultivar. How intriguing – perhaps you could select and breed a whole new range of shades? Dave


  5. I loved your spring time post but then I love all of them – blackthorn in abundance down the side of the Cuckmere river today when I was out and about; looked pretty spectacular and I won’t hear against it! It was a lovely walk with spring erupting around us and birds abundant including a very tame heron, largely to do with the wildlife and natural habitat. Please come and make me a garden!


    • Blackthorn is out in full everywhere, Tracy but the Priory is always behind the surrounding countryside (being in a frost pocket). But then I rather like its leisurely showing off and how it won’t be rushed by whatever may be happening even just a few hundred yards away. I often see herons there but because of the lack of people they are very shy. Usually I only see them as they burst up off the water and fly away at my approach – and annoyingly, before I’m close enough for a good photo. Dx


  6. How beautiful it all is! Lucky you to work in such surroundings. It all looks fab but my fave are the Anemones. Do you know that Ramsons is lovely added to soups, pesto, salads…if you like garlic.


  7. So pretty! I love that all the flowers are trying to claim their time in the spotlight. I’ve never seen such a large forsythia! Yours looks beautiful with the forget-me-nots. I love the Peacock butterfly, too. So many beauties!


    • It was rather an embarrassment of riches, Holley and difficult to know which photos to include and which to leave out. And constantly changing of course, with new players coming into play all the time. Dave


  8. Beautiful photos David! Seeing all those spring blooms in succession, collected into one blog post is very cheerful and would say captures the essence of this period very well. And also I think I have fallen in love with the common ground orchid all over again.

    Forsythia, love it or loathe it sort of plant. I like it for its cheeky, in your face spring colour. And yes, you must plant a Magnolia stellata.


    • You fell out of love with English orchids, Boys? Gosh! Glad you’ve re-considered. Forsythia is pretty amazing at this time of year. Here in Seaford it seems to be in every garden and actually I’m looking out at one in my neighbours garden while I tap. D


  9. Had I known there was a blackthorn hedge at stake, I wouldn’t have dropped that gentle, subtle, barely perceptible hint… I do love to see forsythia when they’re given elbow-room like that–half their charm is that beautiful loose breeziness. I’ve never had to live with one the other 11 months of the year, though.

    With a property like the Priory, it almost seems like the trickiest part of your job is to figure out what to leave untouched. It can’t be easy to nurture an area gently along (like you’re doing so well) without changing its sense of wildness.


    • Hehe. Might have lots and lots of good friends actually, Stacy. Lots. But you see I did have an excuse – and yours is?!!
      I think it isn’t that tricky actually. Under the three oaks, for example, wood anemones and primroses (neither of which I can willingly mow) appeared first and when the orchids popped up; well I had little option really other than to leave that area be. Also the Priory is so big that I couldn’t possibly weed and mow and strim every part – and, certainly, I wouldn’t want to. I used to watch the guys who used to have the mowing contract and cringe at what they would strim; daffodil leaves in particular but also the borders which, while they were full of nettles and bramble, also had tough perennials that were hanging on with grim determination. Sadly many of the latter were lost before I could intervene. Dave


  10. Beautiful, beautiful blackthorn, I’m glad you spared that corner! They look so good this season, there’s no other garden plant that can set such a display of flowers with no cures at all! The rest of your wildflowers and marsdenflowers are very pretty too, even though I fell in love with that cottage…

    Did you realize that you implicitly revealed your age? I told you in case you need to censor the blog and cover it up…


    • It’s a pretty cottage isn’t it? Sadly I can’t post photos of the Old Forge itself as it’s a lovely building. I meant to write that I pressed the anemone when I was 11 which was almost, er 20 years ago (cough). How on earth did I get to be 31 already? So very old. Dave


  11. I love Wild Garlic. My parents used to have masses of it in their old garden. I dont think I could have it in mine as the garden is too small and the neighbours would complain about the smell. There is quite a bit on the Malvern Hills and you can smell it as you drive over British Camp.

    I like Forsythia. I know I am in a minority but I think it is underrated. Ok it looks dull the rest of the year but so do many other shrubs. You just have to plant other stuff around them


    • Hi Helen, no – don’t introduce ramsons into your garden. Jim did in our last garden and I hurriedly dug it all out again as it is very invasive.
      There are actually four forsythias at the Priory; one in some mixed hedging gets cut in summer and so barely flowers but also two solitary ones, up on the drive that look great at the moment. The problem with the one against the house is that I need to keep on hard-pruning to prevent it covering the window (and front door), so again it doesn’t flower as well as it might. Dave


    • See, Elaine – I finally did post about violets; though later than I had intended. I do consider myself lucky to work at the Priory and particularly lucky being at the right place, right time to get the job in the first place. Dave


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