Colours of sunshine
Steffie Shields heralds Springfields Festival Gardens and the Lincolnshire Daffodil Society Spring Show.
Garden writers rarely live in the moment. To hit their deadline, they must imagine a month or two, if not a season, ahead. Their job also entails looking back, rifling through memories of plant form, texture and fragrance, trying to convey the heartbeat and palette of gardens visited. March has arrived, like a lousy lion. The Siberian ‘Beast from the East’ has suffocated every emerging bulb tip. My favourite early daffodil, Narcissus ‘February Silver’, has yet to put in an appearance. Cornus ‘Mid-Winter Fire’, bright orange stems amongst snowdrops on the edge of the Glebe Field, seems a shadow of its normal self, buffeted by a swirling blizzard. Surely, by the time you read this, lambs will be springing, daffodils swaying in the breeze, with sunshine warming the scene, packing a perfumed punch and lifting spirits with the joy of new life and dazzling light.
Many writers have evolved into gardeners, and vice versa, like poet philosopher Hamilton Findlay (1925 -2006). He had his favourite thoughts inscribed in stone and artfully placed as works of sculpture in his singular landscape garden, ‘Little Sparta’ in Ayrshire, at the top of my bucket-list. ‘Bring back the birch’ set amongst a grove of sycamores is just one of several provocative phrases that stay in the mind; ‘Weather is the chief content of a garden’, another truism. Perhaps he never visited Springfields Festival Gardens. Whatever the climate, flowers reign here!
Head for Spalding this Eastertide. The Festival Gardens offer a joyous twenty-five acres to explore, divided into a host of different gardens designed by celebrity Chelsea designers such as Chris Beardshaw and Charlie Dimmock, including a Japanese ‘Momotaro Garden’ based on a Japanese folk story. Red and blue tulip signs mark special paths for children to follow, snaking through fine lawns and living tapestries smartie-coloured tulips. Take your pick! Here are standard, fringed, double, parrot, rose and lily-flowered tulips, all-sorts mingled with beloved pansies, wallflowers and forget-me-nots. What makes a walk in this park so magical is the sheer scale, quantity and quality of planting.
Reflect on the glistening canal, the fountains playing and ducks splashing. You cannot bottle scents and birdsong. Make cheerful memories to savour.
I remember one flower-bed, themed on tones of creamy white and purple, stopped me in my tracks. A lush tulip, ‘Rem’s Favourite’, white, brushed with deep purple and touches of green, looked sensational partnered with Narcissus triandrus ‘Thalia’, each graceful stem bearing a pair of milk white, small-cupped flowers. Violet-blue daisies, Anemone blanda, nestled at their feet.
Looking at these strong-growing, long-flowering modern tulips, one can begin to appreciate how a tulip virus caused ‘tulip mania’ in seventeenth-century Holland. The affected tulips’ base colour, red, purple, pink or brown, sported flashes of white or yellow, as streaks or flames. Such ‘striped’ flowers, seen in old Dutch master paintings, were so stunningly different, they became hugely costly, passionately sought, and the height of fashion. Be warned! Such distinctive bi-colour tulips, now called Rembrandt tulips, can be seriously addictive.
A few steps further on, a hot island bed basking in full sun was positively glowing with fiery Viridiflora tulips, red flamed with green, ‘Eyecatcher’, an easy-to-remember name! A statement in any garden, they make excellent cut flowers, but could you bear to cut them? Around another bend, a breathtaking, blue haze of Siberian bugloss, Brunnera macrophylla, like a stream threading through the shade under lime green spring foliage. No beast this plant, with airy sprays of blue forget-me-not flowers and dense mounds of heart-shaped, silvery leaves. Shafts of sunlight highlight single, white trumpet daffodils and white Narcissus ‘Thalia’ again. Thalia means ‘to flourish’. You can never have too much! Sometimes the simplest schemes are the most effective.
Memo: plant more brunnera as ground cover. Keen amateur gardeners should always carry a notebook to jot down colour co-ordination ideas and bulb names for autumn purchase, to refresh their welcome pots by their front door and backyards. Bulb catalogues, plant centres and online nurseries have pretty pictures (as here!) but they are nowhere near as good, true to colour or as affecting, as the real McCoy.
Hard to believe that the Festival Gardens opened in 1966 on land that was once barren farmland. Since 2013 they have achieved a Gold Award in East Midlands in Bloom. The professional gardeners here are keeping the legacy of South Holland’s bulb industry alive in style. Another wonderful attraction, Springfields Horticultural Society inherited half of the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries & Food’s Narcissus collection when they closed their Experimental Horticulture Station at Kirton, near Boston, (the other half went to RHS Garden Wisley!). In 2017 this amazing Narcissus collection with over 450 varieties, one of only five in the country, was recognised and given National Collection status by Plant Heritage, the Conservation Charity.
The Lincolnshire Daffodil Society (LDS), originally the Spilsby and District Daffodil Society, founded in 1902, continues to encourage the growing of narcissi and tulips. It is highly appropriate that, together with Springfields Horticultural Society, they hold their annual show at Springfields. LDS membership, £5 per year, entitles you to enter any classes for which you are eligible for daffodils and tulips, but also for shrubs, flowering plants and foliage plants, and free entry to the show. Why not have a go at exhibiting? Find a straightforward competition form online. All you need to enter is a home-grown pristine daffodil stem, whatever the variety, and some moss. Entries must reach the Society not later than midnight on the Thursday before the show.
On the weekend of 14th–15th April, whether the sun shines on the Festival Gardens or not, I guarantee you will find sunbeams indoors at the Springfields Event Centre in a glorious array of flowers, ‘a host of golden daffodils’ and of course, some pure white like ‘Lincolnshire Lady’. Look out for the darling, scented jonquil Narcissus ‘Hillstar’ and the clump-forming jonquil Narcissus ‘Sun Disc’ with clusters of small flowers with rounded yellow petals and deeper yellow cups, more like plates from a doll’s tea service. I will invest them in my garden, pure sunshine whatever the weather.
In Hamilton Findlay mode, I long to carve a piece of wood to dangle from our old apple tree ‘Winston’ inscribed with one word: ‘Dapple’. Perhaps I shall have achieved the dream by next month… blossom time!
Springfields Festival Gardens, open all year round, admission free. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday 10am-6pm, Thursday 10am-8pm, Saturday 9am-6pm Sundays and Public Holidays 11am-5pm.
Daffodil Show 2018: Saturday 14th & Sunday 15th April. Details and opening hours www.lincsdaffodil.co.uk.
Tulipfest 2018: 5th, 6th & 7th May. For more information visit www.springfieldsevents.co.uk/tulipfest