We have just been staying with my younger son, Thomas, his Russian wife Anya, and nearly two year old son Nicolas, at their house, Oneiro, in Corfu. The occasion was for his 40th birthday. Oneiro is Greek for dream, and the blue blue sky and sea, smell of the flowers on the olive trees, and wild flowers everywhere make it an apt description. I pounced with excitement on wild orchids, scabious, and different grasses. Thomas had not had it strimmed, waiting for our departure. The 5th May was his actual birthday, and Nicolas is the 25th may. That should be easy for me to remember as I am the 24th March. We went for dinner up the mountain in Old Perithia, which is the half deserted village below the summit of Pantocrator. One hundred different species of plants have been recorded as growing there. The only noise is the tinkling of goats bells, or sound of sheep. It was in this village that I persuaded James to go down a precipice which was carpeted with golden clumps of sternberghia. It was breathtaking to see them growing wild, whereas a few expensive clumps purchased from Bob Brown, Cotswold Garden Flowers, do nothing but come up in the leaf every year!
Back in England after a cold wet Spring, a few days of heat and fine weather have transformed the garden into a blaze of colour. It is the tulips that achieve this transformation and I would not be without them. We try to do them in blocks of colour, up to 20 in a group, and in each bed combining with coloured foliage. The beds are different, so as not to have repetition, and over the years we discover which tulips are going to repeat well. In the parterre we have about 700 bedding out in colours we like, a mixture of two colours, and if we particularly like a tulip we either give them away to Philip Astley-Jones, or use some ourselves, maybe for picking or in a border. We plant them deep on a bed of grit and bonemeal, and scatter some grit on the top so that we know where they are. I think my favourite tulip this year is ‘Belle Epoque’ which is a dusky brown peach, with tulip ‘Black Parrot’ in front of it. This incidentally has come back well, and looks good combined with the Valerian phu aurea. The euphorbias are giving vibrant colour, I recommend one called Jacquemonti, new to me. This is the time of year that you look at your borders and think that the plants are never going to join up. But don’t worry they do!