Top Ten May Blooms.

Queer things happen in May. Little forgotten faces appear, and plants thought to be dead suddenly wave a green hand to confound you’.  W.E.Johns.

The May garden is a place of daily delights. In gardening books you read sometimes of the May gap in the garden, but there is no excuse for a lack of blooms when everything is so fresh and lovely and you can have a rainbow of aquilegias,  alliums, roses, irises and poppies. Every day brings new treats. I  featured my fabulous tree peonies on Monday  but there are plenty more treasures.

I always like to show you something a little unusual in my monthly top ten blooms, plants that you might like to try. So let’s start with the Chilean Lantern tree, Crinodendron hookerianum. This is supposed to need acid soil so I grow it in a pot and although the roots have long ago found their way into the ground, it seems very happy. I am not sure how hardy it is so I grow it against the wall of the house. The flowers are real show stoppers, waxy red lanterns and lots of them. It is evergreen but the leaves are rather dull and they are poisonous so don’t eat it. Well, why would you, it doesn’t look very appetising. Everyone who comes to the garden is drawn to this exotic tree.

Crinodendron hookerianum

And talking about exotic, the clusters of bright yellow claws of my Sophora tetraptera are really eye catching. I thought it was Sophora microphylla ‘Sun King’ until I saw it on a couple of blogs and realised that ‘Sun King’ is more of a shrub than a tree and it  blooms in March unlike this one. But they do look very similar. They have long thin seed pods so I am growing some babies but they take years to bloom from seed so it is probably not the best way to propagate it. This tree comes from New Zealand and it needs a sunny spot.

Sophora tetraptera

Another lovely plant from New Zealand is the unusual Hebe hulkeana. In its native habitat it grows from cliffs and rocks and I wish I could contrive something like that here for it. It has long panicles of lilac flowers and must look wonderful growing from a rock. The shiny leaves are serrated and edged in red. It likes a nice sunny protected spot. It produces its buds early in spring and last year they got  frost damaged so this year I gave it a fleece hairnet. It is worth the effort because it is so pretty.

Hebe hulkeana

Readers of my blog will know that I am mad on magnolias and I have a May flowering one which is a real winner. It is called Magnolia laevigata ‘Gail’s Favourite’. It used to be called Michelia yunnanensis ‘Gail’s Favourite’ until the inscrutable powers that be decided that it is a magnolia. Whatever it is called, it is fabulous. It is a slow growing shrub rather than a tree, with glossy evergreen leaves. When the buds appear they look as if they are made of brown suede. The flowers are gorgeous, creamy white with a boss of yellow stamens and they are fragrant. This shrub needs a sunny site and protection from winds. I don’t know why such a wonderful plant isn’t seen more often.

Magnolia laevigata ‘Gail’s Favourite’

My number five is a shrub too. It is Abutilon x ‘Suntense‘. It has lovely saucer shaped lilac flowers and nice fuzzy felt buds. In my old garden it used to seed around but it doesn’t here. Still it is easy from cuttings. It belongs to the mallow family.

Abutilon x suntense

I love all the members of the scilla family but the most dazzling is Scilla peruviana with astonishing cones of metallic blue flowers. It comes from the western Mediterranean area, not Peru and is sometimes known as the Portuguese Squill, but not by pedants like me. It likes a warm, sunny spot and mine is flourishing in the gravel in my Mediterranean garden. It never bloomed at all until I moved it here. If it is happy it will increase. I don’t know why I only have one clump, I would like a river of it.

Scilla peruviana

Mathiasella  bupleuroides ‘Green Dream’ is an unusual plant. If  you like green flowers that look like a cross between Helleborus argutifolius, an umbellifer and a euphorbia you might like this. It has angelica type leaves and because the flowers are sterile they last all summer and they get a pink tinge later in the season. They can be dried for winter arrangements too, so it is a versatile plant. I would like lots of them but I’m not sure how to propagate it. It comes from Mexico and was first discovered in 1954.

Mathiasella bupleuriodes ‘Green Dream’

Talking about umbellifers, Melanoselinum decipiens is the ultimate, like a pink Giant Hogweed without the danger. Its common name is Madeira Black Parsley; melano = black, selinum=parsley and it is endemic to Madeira.  The seeds are black. It grows  for several years until it is enormous with a stem like an elephant’s trunk.

I got the seeds for this from Rod Leeds who has written several books on bulbs and was president of the Alpine Society so not the sort of person you associate with giant umbellifers. When I asked what it was he said: ‘Oh you know, one of those umbellifers with pink flowers’ so I was expecting something like pimpinella or achillea and watched in amazement as it grew and grew and grew and this year for the first time it has flowers. Masses of them.

Melanoselinum decipiens

Each flower is huge.

Melanoselinum decipiens

I grow it in my Mediterranean garden next to the giant grass, Stipa gigantea.

It is monocarpic  and dies after flowering so next year I will have to start all over again. Incidentally, did you know that the Umbelliferae family is now Apiaciae? Oh dear, it is hard to keep up.

Wisteria of course is not unusual at all but May is the month when they are looking fabulous. Over two of the arches in my secret garden, the wisterias are blooming for the first time and I am thrilled with them.  One is white and the other is pink.

Wisteria floribunda 

Wisteria floribunda ‘Rosea’

Wisteria floribunda ‘Alba’

By the way, did you know that Japanese wisteria, Wisteria floribunda grows clockwise and Chinese wisteria , Wisteria sinensis grows anti-clockwise?

Wisteria floribunda

Elsewhere I have a wisteria which I am trying to grow as a standard but it is getting a bit wild and woolly. I wish I had invested in one of those wrought  iron umbrella-type things to train it on. Last year the pigeons ate every single bud but this year they have decided that they prefer thalictrums. I grew this wisteria from a layered cutting which I brought with me from my old garden. This is the best way to propagate them. Don’t be tempted to grow them from seed, it is not worth it.

I don’t grow many rhododendrons or azaleas because I don’t have an acid soil so they have to live in pots. But I wouldn’t be without the wonderfully fragrant Rhododendron luteum.

Rhododendron luteum

If you grow groves of this you can make hallucinogenic ‘mad honey’. Xenophon described the weird effects of eating this honey. He was leading his army of 10,000 men from Persia back to Greece in 401 bc. and thought he had found a safe place to camp at Pontus on the Black sea coast in Turkey where this rhododendron grows in abundance. After eating the wild honey here the whole army behaved like lunatics and eventually collapsed and were paralyzed and incapacitated for days. The active ingredient is grayanotoxin and eating ‘mad honey’ is a dangerous way of getting your kicks.  I think I am safe though with my one plant. I went to the beautiful Fairhaven woodland garden on the Norfolk broads last week and loved the way this gorgeous plant looked in a woodland setting, much prettier and daintier than the showier rhododendrons and the scent is amazing..

Rhododendron luteum. Fairhaven Woodland and Water Garden, Norfolk.

And talking about the Norfolk broads I hope you will allow a total digression, this has nothing whatsoever to do with my top ten blooms but whilst I was there I managed to capture this shot of a mother Crested Grebe carrying her baby and I am so delighted with it that it is now my screensaver. I just had to bring it in somewhere even if it is a total non sequitur.

Crested grebe. Fairhaven Woodland and water Garden.

So there are my Top Ten May Blooms. I hope you have found something a bit different that you might like to try in your garden. Please link with my blog and share whatever blooms you are enjoying this month.

By the way, if you live in the UK and would like to try some seeds of the tree peonies I wrote about in my last post please let me know later in the season when they are ripe.

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In a Vase on Monday. A Paean to Peonies.

I was going to save my luscious tree peonies for my Top Ten May Blooms because they certainly come in at number one on any list. But they just won’t wait, they flaunt their gorgeousness every time I go into the garden and at the moment I am out there all day, every day, racing against time to get everything perfect for my first group of garden visitors next week. In ancient China these beauties were grown in the Emperor’s garden, you can see why they were considered too special for ordinary mortals. Here in England the Tudors had strict sumptuary laws forbidding the lower orders to wear rich fabrics. A commoner could be fined or go to prison for wearing silks and satins and ermine was just for royalty.  In my garden the tree peonies are certainly the aristocrats and no other plant, however lovely is dressed so luxuriously. I don’t think they would dare. The excitement starts with the nice plump buds.

And now the whole bushes are covered in huge satiny blooms.

I wrote here how I grew the seed of what was then called Paeonia rockii, although this is now considered an invalid name. I expected white flowers with dark purple  blotches but instead I now have three lovely plants with flowers in shades of pink and magenta but they all have the distinctive blotches. Although it would have been wonderful to have the glorious white one these are magical too.  The correct name for them is Paeonia ‘Gansu mudan’ which means Peony from the Gansu area of China.

People are very impressed when I say I grew them from seed but there is nothing very clever about it. I just sowed the black shiny seeds in individual pots and left them outside. I forgot all about them and nothing  appeared to happen at all for the first year but that is because they put down a nice root before anything appears on the surface. The next year you get a little shoot which is unmistakably a peony. At this point you have to protect them from slugs and mice. After three years I planted them in the garden. In their sixth year they had two blooms. Now after eleven years they are big bushy shrubs smothered in massive blooms. It may seem a long time to wait but other things are happening in your life and in the garden; you are not just nurturing peonies. They look after themselves and you get on with other things.

I have another tree peony which was already in the garden when we came. It is not so bushy and its spindly stem needs support. If I am honest I have to admit its blooms are even larger than those of my seed grown ones but I don’t love it as much, because I didn’t do the horticultural equivalent of changing its nappies and helping it with its homework. Still it is sumptuous even though it doesn’t have the lovely purple markings inside the flowers.

I have a white one too which I love because my son gave it to me. This year it has four lovely blooms. They are huge with frilly edges.

Now my peonies have reached a good size I can afford to pick the odd one to enjoy inside.  As the flowers are so big I think the best way to display them is to float them like a water lily.

It is great to have them on the table to examine the beautiful centres.

Thank you Cathy  at Rambling in the Garden for hosting In a Vase on Monday, it is always fun to join in. Don’t forget, My Top Ten  May Blooms will be posted on 23rd May. I have some unusual flowers to show you even if they are not as extravagantly dressed as the peonies, they are certainly not shrinking violets. I would love it if you would show some of your May favourites too and link with my post.

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In a Vase on Monday. May Posies.

What did T. S. Eliot say? ‘April is the cruellest month breeding lilacs out of the dead land’. Well this year he has got it wrong. May is being very capricious and cruel. On Saturday, I spent all day ducking and diving to avoid hailstorms and got repeatedly soaked.  Yesterday the weather gods gave up any pretense of being seasonal and it felt like  February. Only colder. Of course this is the May Bank Holiday practical joke, it often happens. So I brought  armfuls of the garden into the house and settled down for a long leisurely lunch with friends.

First of all Spanish bluebells. I am overrun with them. I have given up trying to dig them up. I know they hybridise with our beautiful native bluebells but I hope that I am far enough away from the nearest bluebell wood. In the meantime the best way to stop them seeding is to gather armfuls and bring them inside.

The next vase uses shades of yellow and orange.

I started off with some acid yellow Smyrnium perfoliatum. This plant seeds around once you have it and is lovely for flower arrangements. It is like a cross between euphorbia and cow parsley but in bright acid yellow.

Smyrnium perfoliatum

The epimedium is ‘Amber Queen’ which is the biggest flowered and showiest epimedium I have. The flowers last for ages.

Epimedium ‘Amber Queen’

There is a little sprig of pale yellow Epimedium sulphureum. It is very dainty and doesn’t have the long spurs of ‘Amber Queen’.

Epimedium sulphureum

I used two narcissus, the first is the neat little Jonquilla Narcissus ‘Sundisc’ which is a lovely fragrant heirloom variety.

Narcissus ‘Sundisc’

The second is even more fragrant. It is the white Narcissus ‘Petrel’ The gleaming white doesn’t quite go with the other colours but it is staying  in because it is so pretty and smells lovely.

Narcissus ‘Petrel’

Tellima grandiflora is also handy for flower arrangements. I have never planted it but it seeds about with great enthusiasm and it is very useful for shady areas. It has rosettes of hairy scalloped leaves and greenish flowers. You can see the little bell shaped flowers on either side of the next photo.

The cowslip is one I grew from seed called Primula veris ‘Sunset Shades’. It comes in various shades from deep yellow to orange to red. I finished it off with a sprig of lovely Rosa ‘Helen Knight’ which I featured in my Six on Saturday.

For the table I did a small arrangement because my chef doesn’t like it if I distract from the food with big arrangements which get in the way of the food and the conversation.

Fortuitously the pink bluebell, the Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Ingwerson’ and the little epimedium all match each other and the vase.

I have never planted this geranium and it spreads with great enthusiasm but I quite like it for its early appearance. The epimedium is called ‘Pink Elf’ and it peeps out demurely from amongst the leaves rather than shouting ‘Here, look at me!’ in the imperious way of ‘Amber Queen.’

A bit of blue looks quite nice with these colours so I used a primula and a couple of sprays of lovey Omphalodes cappadocica ‘Starry Eyes’. I love its little blue and white Forgetmenot type flowers.

Just for fun this year I grew some double daisies I think they were called Bellis perennis ‘Pomponette, you can see them in the centre.  I am curious to see how long lasting they are in a vase. I might grow more next year.

The mauve flowers are from  a dark purple leaved honesty called Lunaria annua ‘Chedglow’. It is a lovely plant, unfortunately storm ‘Hannah’ blew her over and I have not got round to propping her up.

Lunaria annua ‘Chedglow’

The next photo has nothing to do with my vase but while we are talking about Honesty, I think the very best is Lunaria annua var. Albiflora ‘Alba variegata’. The plants get as big as a shrub and are very showy.

Lunaria annua var. Albiflora ‘Alba Variegata’

My table posy was finished off with a little rose. It is a bit mishsapen but it is the perfect colour.

Thank you Cathy for encouraging me to pick flowers to cheer up a chilly Bank Holiday Monday. If you pop over to Rambling in the Garden you can see what Cathy and other vase fillers have been doing. Now I had better put on a pinny and pretend to be helpful in the kitchen, although as usual The Pianist has everything well under control and I am quite superfluous.

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Six on Saturday. Fleeting Beauties.

When I did my Top Ten April Blooms post several bloggers politely suggested that I can’t count. So as I join in with Six On Saturday this week I will keep careful tally. This first week of May we have to start with blossom.

1 Blossom. There seems to be lots of beautiful apple blossom this year. I hope it’s not too cold for the bees.

Apple Blossom

Even prettier than apple blossom are the cup -shaped flowers of the quince tree, Cydonia oblonga. They are white just lightly tinged with pink.  They have lilac stamens and are  fragrant. I grow the variety called ‘Vranja’. Last year I had an abundance of golden fruit.

Cydonia oblonga ‘Vranja’ Quince blossom

I used to have a lovely little crab apple tree called Malus transitoria. It had dainty white blossom and fruit which looked like a profusion of little yellow beads. The tree was too big to bring with me when I moved, but I am delighted that the tree I grew from seed turned out be very similar to its parent.

Malus transitoria from seed.

Can I count Exochorda x macrantha ‘The Bride’ as blossom? It is  covered with pristine white blooms, what a shame they don’t last longer.

Exochorda x macrantha ‘The Bride’

Now there might have been four pictures but it is all blossom so it counts as one. Anyway, that’s how I count it. So now I will move on to number two.

2. Roses. I have two roses which always bloom in April. As I was going away, I wrote my Top Ten April Bloom post in the first half of April so these two didn’t get featured. They are still looking lovely. First is the primrose yellow ‘Canary Bird’ which makes a large spreading shrub.

Rosa xanthina  ‘Canary Bird’

Rosa xanthina ‘Canary Bird’

The second, ‘Helen Knight’ is deeper yellow, rather like extra rich butter from Jersey cows. The flowers are slightly  larger.

Rosa ecae ‘Helen Knight’

Rosa ecae ‘Helen Knight’

3. Peonies. My first tree peony is coming into bloom, it has huge soft pink flowers.

Paeonia suffriticosa. Tree Peony.

I went all the way to the Gargano in Puglia, Italy hoping to find Paeonia mascula growing in the forest. Meanwhile back in my own garden it was blooming away and this is the last flower, at least I didn’t miss every bloom. How sad that some of the most exciting flowers are so fleeting. I seem to have missed the yellow Paeonia mlokosewitschii, ‘Molly the Witch’ entirely.

Paeonia mascula ssp.mascula

4 Camassias.
Another really fleeting flower is the starry blue Camassia. One clump of Camassia leichtlinii  bloomed whilst I was away and I missed it completely. But this dark blue one, Camassia cusickii blooms slightly later and is still looking good.

Camassia cusickii.

5 Dwarf Irises. Irises are another brief floral pleasure. I love little Iris pumila but I wish it would hang around for longer.

Now I have seen them growing in meadows in the Gargano peninsula, Puglia I want to seek out Iris bicapitata and Iris pseudopumila and grow them en masse. There were enormous variations but Christina and I voted these next  two our  favourites.

Wild Iris. Monte Sacro,  Gargano.

Wild Iris. Monte Sacro. Gargano

6. Gladiolus tristis. It is difficult to choose number six because so far I have not featured any tulips this year which is a sad omission. And in the greenhouse Geranium maderense is in full glorious bloom. But I have decided to go with the modest beauty of South African Gladiolus tristis. What a strange name for it, as there is nothing sad about this beautiful flower.  It must be the earliest gladiolus to bloom. It is difficult to imagine anything further away from Dame Edna Evarage’s oversized monstrosities than this delicate flower. It is the palest lemon with green stripes. And as if this wasn’t enough it is fragrant. I have read that it is not reliably hardy but mine has lived outside for three years now.

Gladiolus tristis


Gladiolus tristis

I have some really lovely epimediums that I would love to share with you but I can’t see anyway to sneak them in and I’m getting a bit sensitive about people telling me that I can’t count. So there we have my Six on Saturday. Many thanks to The Propagator for hosting this meme. It is the second anniversary and an ever- increasing circle of people round the world are sharing six things each Saturday. So a celebration is in order. It is always a lot of fun, so do join in.

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Wild Flowers of the Gargano.

I have been away. I really don’t like leaving my garden in April. But I have a book which features the 50 best sites for wild flowers in the world.


As a plant lover the idea of seeing plants growing in their natural environment is enticing. I’m not an intrepid traveller and I know I’ll only visit most of these places in my imagination. I am too frightened of snakes and wolves, bears and brigands, upset tummies, terrorists, ticks and tropical diseases. From my book so far, I have managed Transylvania, (despite vampires, wolves and bears,) the Peloponnese, ( not too scary, but vicious sheep dogs,) and the Burren in Ireland, (not scary at all.)

The Gargano peninsula which is the little spur sticking out from the heel of the boot of Italy has over 2000 species of plants and it has the highest concentration of wild orchids in Europe. There are over 70 species, not counting all the hybrids, which makes identification very frustrating for pedants like me who are very keen on the naming of names.  The end of April is the best time for all these gorgeous wild flowers and so reluctantly I had to leave my garden and hope that I wouldn’t miss too much.

But it was worth it.  Not only did I get to see glorious scenery, an abundance of wild flowers and more wild orchids than I have ever seen before, but my lovely blogging friend, Christina from My Hesperides Garden and her husband, Richard joined us and we had a lovely time together. It is wonderful to share orchid -gazing with like-minded friends. The Pianist was amazed that we could spend so much time staring at the ground, and sometimes wished that there was a wall handy where he could watch paint dry as a more entertaining alternative, but he enjoyed the company.

The Gargano was once an island. There is a vast forest of ancient beech trees romantically called La Foresta Umbra.

Here you can find carpets  of Anemone apennina in blue and white which are like Anemone blanda but bigger and taller.

Anemone apennina

The pink Anemone hortensis is the parent of all our modern hybrids.

Anemone hortensis

Narcissus poeticus looked daintier and more delicate than cultivated ones. There were pink Cyclamen repandum and a few lingering Corydalis solida. I read that you can find Paeonia mascula in the forest but I had to wait  until I got home to see this in my own garden.

There are rugged  cliffs and wonderful beaches .


There are limestone uplands which have been carefully terraced  and have never been contaminated by modern farming and pesticides.

At first sight it looks a bit barren rather like the Burren but there are meadows which dazzle with the abundance of wild flowers.

And in the meadows you have the sound of cow bells from these nice Podolica cows which despite their large horns are not scary at all.

Podolica cow

And neither is this little chap.

And then there are wonderful birds and what a joy to have our own well- equipped ornithologist to identify them all and give us glimpses of them. I have never seen Golden Orioles before and heard the liquid notes of their song. Thank you Richard.

The butterflies, insects and reptiles were abundant too.

Amongst all the abundance of flowers we were particularly excited by the orchids. Here is Christina getting up close and intimate with them.

Christina is surrounded by a sea of Green Winged orchids, Anacamptis morio which at first glance looks like our native Early Purple but the flowers have stripey hoods.

Anacampsis morio

It comes in white and pink too.

Anacampsis morio

Anacampsis morio

Or maybe Christina has spotted the Man Orchid, Orchis anthropophora which looks as if it has little men dangling from each flower.

Orchis anthropophora

Or perhaps she is examining Orchis italica, the anatomically detailed Naked Man Orchid .

Orchis italica

We also saw the huge Orchis purpurea, the Lady Orchid but she is decently clad in a frock.

Orchis purpurea

The Four-Spotted Orchid was everywhere too. This orchid is found mostly in southern Italy

Orchis quadripunctata

The beautiful Pink Butterfly Orchid, Anacamptis papilionacea was everywhere in great abundance, the colour varies rather a lot.

Anacampsis papilionacea

Anacampsis papilionacea

I have always thought that orchids in the Ophrys family were all bee orchids because they imitate bees to attract pollinators.

Orphys bombyliflora

But this next one is pollinated by sawflies.

Ophrys tenthredenifera

There are so many different ones. Some of them are clearly hybrids.

Some of them like this next one are fertilised by spiders.

Orphys passionis


When we were not drooling over orchids we were dazzled by the number of wild irises, in places there were whole meadows of them, in shades of purple, lilac, blue, white and yellow, each more exquisite than than the last. Iris bicapitata with two heads to a stem is endemic in this area. There are also Iris pseudopumila and Iris lutescens.

The slopes of Monte Sant’Angelo are studded with blooms. There is a sanctuary on top which has attracted pilgrims since the time of the crusaders. St. Michael is supposed to have made his last appearance here in a cave, which as the Pianist says is a funny place to play your farewell gig. I am not very well up on Catholic hagiography but I believe St. Michael is an archangel rather than the usual sort of saint who suffered a gruesome death.

Monte Sant’Angelo

I found a dead nettle growing on the wall here which is special to the Gargano. It is called Lamium garganicum.

Lamium garganicum

The Gargano did not seem very scary, we did see a wolf slinking through the forest but that was rather exciting. Christina nearly stepped on a very long adder but she was very calm about it and Richard likes snakes and was delighted to see it. These Pine Processionary caterpillars, Thaumetopoea pityocampa looked nasty, they are not to be messed about with, those hairy bits can be dangerous.

Pine Processionary Caterpillars

But the most dangerous thing about Southern Italy is dicing with death on the roads with the local drivers who never use their indicators and like playing dodgems on the motorway. But we are home now, safe and sound with lovely  flowery memories.

The best part of our Italian adventure was spending time with Christina and Richard. Christina is posting her story this morning too. Please go and visit her blog. Her photos are absolutely stunning.

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Top Ten April Blooms.

Choosing just ten top blooms at this time of the year when ‘proud, pied April dressed in all his trim‘ struts the garden is an impossible task. Every day there are new blooms to enjoy. My winter garden is beautiful in its spring dress and I have two spring beds which I call my primavera beds.  Look at some of the beauties in bloom there and tell me how to choose favourites.

Fritlliaria imperialis are amongst the oldest garden flowers. Parkinson wrote about them in 1629.  Whereas today we have yellow, orange and red ones, Parkinson wrote: ‘whereof some are white, others blush, some purple, others red or yellow, some spotted, others without spots , some standing upright, others hanging or turning downwards’. I don’t know whether he perhaps meant the whole fritillary family or whether our ancestors  were incredibly careless to have lost such marvels as purple Crown Imperials. But the ones we are left with are gorgeous.

Fritillaria imperialis

Fritillaria imperialis

Over time, legends grew up round Crown Imperials and of course Christians early on claimed  for them a religious significance. The story was that the Crown Imperial grew in the garden of Gethsemane and when Jesus was arrested all the flowers hung their heads in sorrow apart from the proud  and aristocratic Crown Imperial. When Jesus reprimanded it, the flower hung its head and wept. If you look inside it is beautifully marked and often has a tear drop.

Crown Imperials are best planted on their side because they have a dent in the top and they can rot. They are greedy feeders if they are to flower well. Even if you feed them sometimes they will disappoint by refusing to flower. But they are worth every effort.

My favourite fritillary is Fritillaria verticillata. My clump gets bigger every year. I love the brown flowers. My son in law says they remind him of antique crackle glaze porcelain. They have long tendrils which look as if they would like to climb.

Fritlllaria verticillata

Fritillaria persica has nice dark, plummy purple bells  which are almost black and I love it but it doesn’t always bloom.

Fritillaria persica

Fritillaria hermonis ssp. amana spreads slowly, and likes a good baking in the summer. I think it is one of the easiest brown and green striped frits.

Fritillaria hermonis ssp. amona

And of course for dampish ground the Snakeshead fritillary, Fritillaria meleagris is a must with its checkerboard pattern in shades of pink and purple. As long as you can persuade the pheasants not to bite the heads off it soon seeds around.

Fritillaria meleagris

The white ones are pretty too.

Fritillaria meleagris

I like to include a clematis or two in my monthly top ten bloom posts. The very first Clematis macropetela  to bloom in my garden is Clematis  macropetala ‘Jan Lindmark”. It has huge flowers.

Clematis macropetala ‘Jan ‘Lindmark’

I find that most New Zealand clematis hybrids are not reliably hardy. But this doesn’t matter with the compact, non-climbing Clematis ‘Emerald Dream’ which looks lovely tumbling from its pot. I keep it in the greenhouse in winter but now I have it on the table outside my window with pots of bulbs which are looking good just now.

Clematis ‘Emerald Dream’

Last year I had huge hollies and laurels taken out down one side of the garden. They took up far too much room but now they are gone I have an unsightly fence which has had to be braced as it wobbled without the support of the trees. I have put in a rambling rose some jasmine and a fast- growing Clematis rubens .

Clematis rubens

Another fast growing climber which will soon clothe the fence is Akebia trifoliata ‘Amethyst’.

Akebia trifoliata ‘Amethyst’

I love this plant and elsewhere I have the purple one, Akebia quinata which is sometimes called the Chocolate Vine because it is supposed to smell of chocolate, I can’t say that I have noticed.

Akebia quinata

I have another lovely climber which is related to the akebia. it quickly covers a fence and in spring it has pink flowers which are very sweetly scented. It is supposed to have sausage shaped fruit in autumn but so far mine hasn’t had any fruit at all. But the flowers are very pretty. Mine is a little unusual, I bought it from the wonderful Crûg nursery in Wales and it had a collection number rather than a name.

Holboellia latifolia

Arum creticum is an aroid from Crete as the name suggests. It has glossy leaves and large buttercup yellow spathes with a darker yellow spadix. Unlike many aroids it smells sweet. Each year I find it has produced a couple of children.

Arum creticum

Wood anemones are early this year. There are several ancient woodlands near here carpeted with them and these pure white ones with a green ruff are beautiful. But of course we gardeners always want variety. I have the delicate primrose  yellow Anemone lipsiensis.

Anemone x lipsiensis

I love the starry flowers of Anemone nemorosa ‘Wyatt’s Pink’, they are delicately flushed with pink.

Anemone nemorosa Wyatt’s Pink’

I have seen blue wood anemones in woodlands in Cornwall. The one I have is Anemone nemorosa ‘Robinsoniana’. It doesn’t spread as quickly as some of the others.

Anemone nemorosa ‘Robinsiniana’

I don’t have as many euphorbias as I used to because I don’t like risking getting sap on my hands or in my eyes. I have heard of people ending up in hospital after contact with it. But I wouldn’t be without Euphorbia epithymoides which is nice and compact and has buttercup yellow bracts in spring.  It used to be called Euphorbia polychroma; these name changes keep us on our toes.

Euphorbia epithymoides

Euphorbia robbiae is quite invasive so I let it have its head just here. Soon blue camassias will be growing through it. I like the way it got its name, Mrs. Robb’s Hat. It was found by a plant hunter Mary -Anne Robb and smuggled through customs in her hat box. I am intrigued to know why a plant hunter would find a hat box a vital bit of equipment. This plant is useful for dry shade.

Euphorbia robbie

I have a couple of variegated euphorbias which have striking foliage. Here is one of them.

Euphorbia ‘Silver Swan’

And a black eyed one which reminds me of frogspawn.

Euphorbia ‘Black Pearl’

Euphorbia characias ‘Wulfenii’ comes up everywhere if you don’t remove the seedlings but then most euphorbias do.

Euphorbia characias sssp. wulfenii

Euphorbia mellifera makes quite a large plant and is not 100 % hardy. But it is worth a sheltered corner because the flower smell deliciously of honey.

Euphorbia mellifera

I haven’t included a tree in my list so far, the one that is delighting me the most at the moment is a crab apple that I bought a few years ago. It is called Malus ‘Princetown Cardinal’ and it is full of dark pink blossom.

Malus ‘Princetown Cardinal’

It is a perfect match for the pink Ribes sanguineum which has come back happily after a drastic haircut last year. Regular readers of my blog will know what the hosepipe is doing on the right of the picture. Yes, it is marking out where more lawn is about to disappear.

I love Pasque flowers. They come in pinks, mauves and white. You can even get a lovely fringed one called Pulsatilla ‘Papageno’

Woodland flowers are such a lovely feature of the spring garden and erythroniums make ever larger clumps if they have a nice cool humus-rich soil.

Erythronium ‘Pagoda’

Erythronium ‘Sun Disc’

Now my list of ten is complete and I will have to save some more treasures for another post. I am sure the Easter sunshine has brought ever more beauties into bloom in your gardens, please link with this post and share them.

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Six on Saturday. Magnolia Magic.


Really, magnolias should be at number one on my Top Ten April Blooms list because I am crazy about them, but I have been enjoying these six for a couple of weeks now and it is time to celebrate them before they go over. Besides, I want to join in with the popular meme, Six on Saturday.

In my previous garden I had twenty three mature magnolias planted by the previous owner who had a nursery there. Every one had their lower branches pegged down into the soil so that they would put down roots and that is the most reliable and easiest way to propagate them. I did trying growing one from seed and after seven years wait the flowers were small and disappointing.

Our present garden didn’t have one single magnolia when we came eight and a half years ago, but you can be sure it has now. At the last count there were eleven. I have heard complaints about the brevity of time of their blooming but if you plan them carefully you can have a succession of blooms for weeks.

Magnolia soulangeana is one which you see in every garden, but not in mine, so I don’t include it in my six. It is beautiful but it takes up a lot of room and anyway it takes a few years to produce flowers and there are other varieties which I think are more interesting. Its early flowers are often ruined by frost. The ones round here are all looking brown and frost damaged now. In any case it takes many years to look as good as this one.

Magnolia soulangeana

The first magnolia into bloom in my garden is glorious ‘Leonard Messel’ with fluttery, tattery, pink petals. I planted this tree seven years ago and it already looks wonderful. ‘Leonard Messel’ blooms when very young and the flowers though early seem to be reasonably frost resistant.

Magnolia ‘Leonard Messel’

Magnolia ‘Leonard Messel’

‘Leonard Messel’ was bred from the starry flowered Magnolia stellata which I also have. This  is a slow growing tree or bush which grows to about 2.5 metres so it is suitable for a small garden. Mine is a standard.

Magnolia stellata

I have already shown buds of my dark Magnolia ‘Black Tulip’. The flowers remind me more of water lilies  rather than tulips. They are luscious  deep pink goblets.  I was worried the frost would damage them but they have survived quite a few frosty nights unscathed.

Magnolia ‘Black Tulip’

My latest purchase is a white flowered one called ‘Wada’s Memory’. The flowers hang limply like pure white handkerchiefs or white doves if you have a more romantic turn of mind. I saw a mature one in the arboretum at East Bergholt  last year and I had to have one. It grows to about 4 metres and makes a pyramidical shape which is covered in bloom. It is fast growing and blooms freely when young.

Magnolia ‘Wada’s Memory’ East Bergholt.

Magnolia ‘Wada’s Memory’. East Bergholt, Suffolk.

Mine will take some years to reach this height but never mind, here it is, it looks lovely right now.

Magnolia ‘Wada’s Memeory’

I wish I had brought rooted cuttings of all my magnolias but I did bring a piece of one of them, Magnolia lilifora ‘Nigra’ and it is now a nice little tree. It is quite late flowering and has really dark flowers, not black as the name suggests but very dark pink.

Magnolia liliflora ‘Nigra’

Magnolia liliflora ‘Nigra’

My favourite magnolia has huge long lasting, pink flowers. I first saw it at the late Princess Sturdza’s wonderful garden, ‘Le Vasterival’ near Dieppe in France. So many wonderful plants have come from here.  When I visited, Princess Sturdza said that ‘Star Wars’ was her favourite magnolia and I have to agree.

Magnolia ‘Star Wars’

Like many wonderful magnolias it was bred in New Zealand and was given its name because the tepals point in all directions. One parent was Magnolia campbellii which has the most enormous flowers, but in the UK it is generally only found in Cornwall because it is very early flowering and the frosts zap the flowers. It makes a huge tree and takes many years to produce its first blooms. ‘Star Wars’ flowers are almost as big but they are produced on very young trees.

Here is my tree in its second year, 2012. I was delighted when it produced eleven flowers.

Magnolia ‘Star Wars’ 2012

Now it is looking wonderful and I can’t even count the blooms. I don’t have a garden with a view, but here I can use a bit of borrowed landscape in the form of the ancient Cedar of Lebanon tree in the Old Rectory garden, it makes a lovely backdrop.

Magnolia ‘Star Wars’  April 2019

Magnolia ‘Star Wars’

Magnolias like an acid to neutral soil and they hate root disturbance. They don’t take kindly to pruning. But really they are very easy and undemanding. After all, they have been around long, long before we were here. They were here when dinosaurs roamed the earth. In fact scientists have discovered that the very first flowers were magnolias of some sort. Can’t you just imagine a pterodactyl flying past this one in the arboretum at East Bergholt?

Six on Saturday is hosted by The Propagator. Do join in with the ever growing group of bloggers celebrating it.

Please join me on the 23rd April with your Top Ten April Blooms. It doesn’t have to be ten. Maybe you have four or five or just one stunning April bloom that we all should see.

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In a Vase on Monday. The Last Trumpets.

Sorry if the title sounds a bit apocalyptic but we are coming to the end of the Narcissi although there are a few jonquils still left to open. I brought out my daffodil vase for the last airing of the season.

The orange of N. ‘Barrett Browning’ trumpet is a bit bright but it tones with the foliage of Amelanchier lamarckii and the bronze leaves of Spiraea ‘Gold Flame’.

Narcissus ‘Barrett Browing’

Amelanchier lamarckii

I have an Amelanchier lamarckii tree which is looking wonderful today against a blue sky.

Amelanchier lamarckii

Elsewhere I chopped one down because it had grown too tall and now I have a multi-stemmed bush.

Amelanchier lamarckii

I don’t much like Spiraea japonica ‘Gold Flame’ because later on the foliage becomes yellow and the flowers are pink which is a horrible combination. But I do like the bronze spring leaves.

Spiraea japonica ‘Goldflame’

The other foliage is from the marbled leaves of Pittospermum tenuifolium ‘Elizabeth’.

Pittospermum tenuifolium ‘Elizabrth’

Readers of my blog will know that I am very fond of Pussy Willow and this little one is the last of them to produce it furry heads. It belongs to Salix ‘Nancy Saunders’ which is a very refined sort of salix with burgundy stems and delicate leaves.

Salix ‘Nancy Saunders’

I think the peachy shade of Narcissus ‘Katie Heath’ is much more delicate than ‘Barrett Browning’.

Narcissus ‘Katie Heath’

I seem to have an abundance of the double Narcissus ‘White Lion’ in the garden planted by somebody else, but it is fine for a vase as it is scented.

Narcissus ‘White Lion’

As you can see I couldn’t resist including a little polyanthus and the first cowslip.

I love Narcissus with reflexed petals and this next  one ‘Itzim’ is a favourite.

Narcissus ‘Itzim’

Everyone loves the white flowers of Narcissus ‘Thalia’ and the triandrus Narcissus ‘Petrel’ is very similar. It has late flowering flowers which smell delicious.

Narcissus ‘Petrel’

Narcissus ‘W.P. Milner’ has creamy flowers. and a compact habit, it is a heritage daffodil dating back to 1869.

Narcissus ‘W.P. Milner’

I love the lemon and white flowers of ‘Pipit’, in fact it is my current favourite.

Narcissus ‘Pipit’

It is a perfect match for the creamy hyacinth.


I wanted to make this vase as fragrant as possible so as well as the sweet smelling narcissi and hyacinth I used a sprig of Coronilla valentina subsp. glauca ‘Citrina’ which seems to bloom non- stop. The pale lemon matches ‘Pipit’ too.

Coronilla  valentina subsp. glauca ‘Citrina’

Epimedium sulphureum is the same lemony colour.  I left it a bit late to cut the old leaves off this year and so I beheaded this sprig.

Epimedium sulphureum

And for an extra blast of fragrance I used Skimmia confusa ‘Kew Green’.

Skimmia confusa ‘Kew Green’

Oh dear, I just counted up and that is seven trumpets. My Biblical knowledge is a little hazy but I seem to remember that there were seven trumpets to be sounded one after the other to mark the apocalypse. I had better go outside and find another daffodil. Mind you, there is a rather an apocalyptic feel in the UK at the moment with all this Brexit mess, we feel we are about to step off the edge of a cliff. But  some people seem to be facing it with equanimity. Overheard in our village store: I am really looking forward to Brexit, it will be lovely to get our feet and inches back’.  As the bard said: ‘Oh brave new world that has such creatures in it’.  Personally, I sometimes feel that I have landed on the wrong planet. But I don’t mind stupidity really,  it’s the solipsism of the ‘I just  want my country back‘  sort of racism that I find hard to swallow.  But here I go breaking my nothing ‘personal, nothing political’  blog rule.
Anyway, I found this sport growing off W.M. Milner, it is a bit of an aberration with a messy flower, but at least we now have 8 kinds of trumpets. Perhaps it will save us from the apocalypse.

Please check out Cathy’s blog, Rambling in the Garden where you will find lovely fritillaries and no rant. And there will be plenty of other ‘In a Vase on Monday’ posts to enjoy with lots of spring flowers.

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Down the Primrose Path.

I adore primroses. My season starts with the big blowsy ones in the greenhouse in February. Of course they are garish and probably not hardy, but they give welcome colour in the dreariest season. But these are just winter baubles, the real magic starts in  the garden in March and April.

I know the native ones can’t be improved upon and we are lucky here in rural Suffolk that primroses are everywhere along the lanes and in the ditches and soon they will be joined by cowslips. I keep my native primroses away from the hybridised ones although I notice a little pink one has crept in.
For centuries now gardeners have sought out the doubles and the hose- in -hose and all the little curiosities of nature but pollination in plants wasn’t understood for a long time, so it was a hit and miss affair. Doubles appeared as mutations of the single primrose. They have been documented since 1500. But they are hard to keep going. They are prone to rot in the centre or just gradually die out and they are largely infertile. They need to be very well fed and regularly divided. I have loved and lost some lovely heritage doubles including most of the following.  Modern doubles have a stronger constitution.

Of course enthusiasts always seek out freaks and anomalous plants. Elizabethans were mad about freaky primroses and they are still called Elizabethan primroses. The two they loved were ‘Jack-in-the-green’ which have a ruff of green leaves round each flower and ‘Hose-in-hose. Hose-in-hose has two identical flowers one inside the other.

Jack -in -the- Green Primrose

I don’t know where the lovely gold and silver- laced primrose came from but they have been around since the late 17th century.  Just like auriculas they were ‘florists’ flowers  and grown to be exhibited in the 19th century. I always lost them until I got the hang of feeding and dividing them.

Silver Laced Primula

Gold Laced Primula

In 1900  a Polish woman Julia Ludvikovna Mlokossjewicz found carpets of a delightful little primula growing in damp ground in the eastern Caucasus. Primula juliae as it was named, revolutionised primrose breeding and many new hybrids were introduced. The most famous of these is the dear little Primula pruhonicensis ‘Wanda’. It has nice compact rosettes of leaves and masses of flowers.


I have another Primula pruhonicensis hybrid in pink.

Primula pruhonicensis

Lovely little ‘Lady Greer’  also has juliae blood. I love its crinkly leaves. It was introduced in the early 20th Century in Ireland.

Primula ‘Lady Greer’

Another old one which appeared about the same time with juliae in its breeding is the lovely dark red Primula ‘Tawny Port’.

Primula ‘Tawny Port’

I love red primroses and this next one is a gorgeous shade of tomato red.

Primula ‘Tomato Red’

And we had a shower of rain this afternoon so this red one looks particularly luscious.

Primula ‘Innisfree’

Many new primroses were introduced in the 18th and 19th centuries but primroses are miffy little things and many of the ones our ancestors enjoyed have disappeared. Margery Fish loved primroses and reading her book you realise that  many that she loved no longer exist. I don’t know whether this is because of viruses are primrose sickness. Like roses, you can’t keep planting primroses in the same place.

We have plenty of native cowslips in Suffolk and soon they will be in bloom too. Polyanthus are a cross between primroses and cowslips and if you have both in your garden they will hybridise readily.  Acaulis primroses have one flower per stem but polyanthus have one stem with  several flowers. Some of the modern polyanthus hybrids are a bit oversized and garish but the ones that occur naturally in the garden are often delightful. And they are very vigorous.


I love this peachy coloured one.


And this next one is the colour of butterscotch.



For many years ‘Barnhaven’ hybrids were my favourites, they were easy to grow from seeds and came in such yummy colours. You have to keep dividing them to keep them going. In a previous garden I used to grow  them on the banks of a stream which they liked. But even so they died out eventually. These days the seeds are difficult to get hold of.

Ireland  has been the home of successful primrose breeding. A couple of years ago I discovered Kennedy hybrids from Ireland.  They have been bred over the last 30 years by an amateur, Joe Kennedy in his garden in Ireland. Many of them have lovely bronze leaves. They are all highly desirable.

If you want to try breeding your own strain of primroses you have  to learn something about their sex lives. They are hermaphrodite and if you look at them closely you will see that you have two sorts.  Thrum-eyed primroses have their stigmas  inside the flower tube and the anthers are at the top. Pin-eyed ones  have their stigma at the top of the flower tube and the anthers are half way down. To pollinate you need to put the pollen from a thrum -eyed primrose on to the stigma of a pin-eyed flower. You will rarely get any success if you try a pin x pin or a thrum x thrum. Clever Darwin noticed this just from close observation.

Thrum- eyed Primrose


Pin- eyed Primrose

Tricky little alpine primulas are bit beyond me. This one is in the alpine house at Cambridge Botanical Garden.

Primula allonii ‘Pink Aire’ Cambridge Botanical Garden.

I have never tried growing Primula sieboldii but now thanks to the generosity of my lovely blogging chum Gill at Off the Edge blog I have this lovely plant, Primula sieboldii ‘Essie’, so this is going to set me off on a whole new obsession.

Primula sieboldii ‘Essie’

Auriculas are of course primulas and I am mad on them but they  are not quite out yet and they will have to wait for another post.

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Six on Saturday. Weird and Wonderful.

It’s Saturday again already. The sun has been shining all week, and the work here has been feverishly intensive. There is only a little window of time at the end of March in which I can convince myself that this year will be different. I will keep on top of it all; I will finally bully all the weeds into submission and sow and prick out several thousand seeds. But time out must be taken to pick Six on Saturday. So here goes.

Weird Fungus.

I planted my Charlotte potatoes yesterday in one of my raised beds. I had put cardboard over it for the winter to discourage the chickweed.  Growing through the cardboard I found  these strange fungi , I had to look them up. They have peculiar heads which look as if they are wearing knitted jumpers. There were loads of them and I find that they are highly prized morel mushrooms, what a waste, they look too far gone to eat now. But then apparently there are lookee-likee-morels  which are poisonous and cause dizziness, vomiting and even death.   So I would be too scared to try them. The only garden mushroom I have been brave enough to eat were puffballs which came up now and then in my woodland garden. They are delicious if eaten young, before the maggots get them, sliced and fried with garlic. But I’ll give these a miss. They don’t look like food.

Morel Mushrooms?

Insectivorous Plants.

Whilst we are on the weird theme. I have a few insectivorous plants which I bought in an idle moment at a Plant Heritage Spring Plant Sale whilst I was waiting for my friend go to the loo. The pitcher plants have seeded but are not looking their best quite yet, but the butterworts are coming on well.

The flower belongs to Pinguiculia and the fuzzy leaves to a Drosera capensis. As long as you water them with rain water these insectivorous plants are really easy. I suppose they are a bit cruel but quite fascinating. And weird.


So let’s move swiftly on to the wonderful. My beautiful Paeonia mascula has nice plump buds but the exciting thing is the two little seedlings which I have found nearby.

Paeonia mascula

I have found that these pink peonies hybridise with the yellow Paeonia mlokosewitschii, ‘Molly the Witch’ and in a previous garden I had seedlings in shades of pinky yellow and yellowy pink. So now I keep Molly well away from this  dark pink one.

Talking about peony seedlings, they don’t appear the first year after sowing because they are busy putting down roots. I just came across these two tree peony seedlings which I had forgotten about, they have been knocking about the garden for a couple of years and lost their labels. Still, they will be welcome, there’s no such thing as an ugly peony.

Tree peony seedlings

Growing from Seed.

I don’t suppose that I am the only one who gets carried away and orders far too many seeds. And then there are all the ones I collected. It’s all very well sowing them, but then they need pricking out. I feel like the old woman who lived in a shoe and had so many children she didn’t know what to do. For instance I sowed seeds of some of my dahlias. I was surprised the second one, ‘Mambo’ produced seed, it is usually only the single ones.

And now I have 100 seedlings. I don’t really need 100 new dahlias but they don’t come true from seed so how can I throw any away without seeing what the flowers look like ?

And I seem to have about 50 agapanthus seedlings. It is all part of this silly business of sowing seeds, not because you need new plants, but because you can. You have the seeds, you have the compost, you have pots and water. I can’t quite remember what Kant’s Categorical Imperatives are but Chloris’s first Categorical Imperative is seeds must be collected and sown. I suppose I’m back to the weird now. So let’s find something wonderful.


Narcissus keep on coming into bloom. Suffolk Plant Heritage has a National collection of Engleheart Narcissus. So far they have 34 cultivars. The Reverend Engleheart was born in 1851 and like all the clergy of his age he had time on his hands and he spent his time breeding narcissus. One of them ‘Will Scarlet’ won an RHS 1st Class Certificate in 1897 and three bulbs sold for £100. I have just two Engleheart Naricissus but they are so dainty and delicate that I shall probably add to my collection next year. Maybe I will get ‘Will Scarlet’ and these days we don’t have to pay £100.

Narcissus ‘White Lady’

Narcissus ‘Beersheba’

Even older than the Engleheart daffodils I have ‘Mrs Langtry’ which dates back to before 1838. The flowers look like little windmills.

Narcissus ‘Mrs. Langtry’

In a pot,  miniature Narcissus  ‘Tiny Bubbles’ is delighting me at the moment, it is the first time I have grown it. It comes from America and it is delightfully pretty and also fragrant.

Narcissus ‘Tiny Bubbles’


Cambridge Botanical Garden.

We went to Cambridge Botanical Garden a few days ago. I was looking forward to seeing the Jade Vine which blooms in March in the glasshouse but there was no sign of it, perhaps it died. But this amazing Petrea volubis made up for it.

Petrea volubis

I got quite excited seeing these Passion flowers because when I was in Madeira last November I bought a range of  different Passion fruits in the market and ate them but I saved some seeds. So now I have about 20 Passiflora seedlings. OK. We are back to the weird now. They won’t even be hardy.

But outside amongst all the different blossom trees I found one which is of course hardy and has gone right to the top of my wants list. It is not a cherry at all, it is Staphylea holocarpa ‘Rosea’

Staphylea holocarpa ‘Rosea’

But lovely as this staphylea is it is not as beautiful as my magnolias which are fabulous this year. But they deserve a post of their own and anyway, I’ve done my six, I kept count this week. But yet again I forgot to arrange pictures all in a row at the top of this post like everyone else does. I’ll try to remember next week but there is no time today I have more seeds to sow.

Thanks to The Propagator for hosting this meme, Six on Saturday. Do have a look, more and more people are joining in and it is fun to see what people are enjoying each Saturday.

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