Tuesday, 15 May 2012

April showers bring May flowers

Growing flowers on the allotment

We only have a half plot at the Cripley Meadow allotments in Oxford. Or more precisely, 6.5 poles (an old standard of measurement used since the 16th century), which equals about 36 yards in length. We find this is more than enough space to grow vegetables for the two of us, so I have gradually been allocating more beds for flowers. There are many good reasons for growing flowers on an allotment - they attract pollinators, require less maintenance than vegetables, and best of all, they're pretty!


These might be my favourite flowers, because they appear the earliest in the spring when we really need them. Last year my cousin brought me tulip bulbs from Holland, and interspersed with some anemone de Caen they bring a riotous splash of colour to the front of my allotment.

Anemone de Caen - blooming continuously since February

This year I planted snowdrop bulbs and daffodils (acquired from my mother-in-law). They bloomed a bit sparsely, but I expect they will settle in and do better next year.

Spreading and self seeding

I'll put these flowers in a category of their own, because they are the easiest to grow. One of my first allotment flowers was Lily of the Valley. A colleague brought me some she had dug up from her garden. She warned me they were very hardy and likely to spread out of control, but shortly after I planted them in the spring they died back and I was sure the dry weather had killed them. But next spring they miraculously reappeared, and continue to multiply happily in their little flower bed under the apple tree. Lily of the Valley is the May Day flower in France - everyone buys bunches to give to their loved ones. Because of our cold spring, mine were a bit too late for the first of May - possibly because of the cold, wet spring we have been suffering - but last week I finally had enough sprigs for a cheery little arrangement.

Self seeders I've done well with are aquilegia (or columbine) and poppies. I sowed a mass of beautiful pink poppies last year, and now they are popping up all over the place. I bought one aquilegia plant at the Oxford botanic garden last year, and it has also self seeded surprisingly far.

Aquilegia image from Wikipedia - something has been snacking on
mine, so I'm not sure if any will survive to flowering this year.


I get some of my best plants from farms in Suffolk. People set out plants and vegetables for sale by their driveway, and you stop by and collect what you want, paying by the honour system. The plants are cheaper and hardier than those you find in garden centres. I acquired a lovely bleeding heart plant (Chinese, scientific name dicentra) this way. It died back almost to nothing in the winter, but since February it has been growing at a phenomenal rate. They produce their drooping, heart-shaped pink (or white) flowers almost all spring and summer.

A new plant I'm trying this year is Hellebore - another acquisition from my mother-in-law. They are a very early flowering plant (hence their popular names Christmas rose and Lenten rose) and come in a range of lovely subtle shades. They are also posionous, so will hopefully resist the pest onslaught! They are also evergreens, so even when not blooming they will at least provide some life to a shady flowerbed.

Image from Wikipedia - I'll have to wait until next year to see my blooms

One final new plant for me this year are the Heucherellas, a hybrid of Heuchera and Tiarella. I fell in love with these at the 2010 Chelsea flower show.

Sweet tea cafe from Heucheraholics

They are my ideal plant, because they come in my favourite flamboyant shades of orange, purple and chartreuse. They are good ground cover plants (a bit like hostas, but hopefully less susceptible to slugs) and they put out delicate, foamy little flowers around this time of year. I bought two from a garden centre and two from a farm - we'll see which ones do better.

It is a pity I can't grow all these flowers closer to home - but I suppose my allotment will be good practice for when I get a house and garden of my own.