Getting ready for spring in the garden

Acers in the Spring at Standen

Senior Gardener Nick shares how he prepares for spring at Standen and the work that goes into the Tulip Festival each year.

November is the month I spend time in the cellar at Standen. No, I'm not wine tasting but sorting out the spring bulbs for next year’s display.

This autumn nearly 20,000 spring bulbs arrived in one large box. I like to sort them into their corresponding planting areas in the garden. This not only gives me a chance to reflect on the combinations chosen but it will save valuable time later on when planting arrives.

The Quarry Garden at Standen in Spring
The quarry garden at Standen
The Quarry Garden at Standen in Spring

This year as the Quarry Garden restoration is well underway I’ve decided to introduce early spring colour with dwarf narcissi, iris and early tulips. The lush green moss and rich, warm tones of the sandstone will be a perfect backdrop to these delicate gems.

The real stars of the show are the tulips in April and May. Ravishing marvels, bordering on saturated vulgarity. I get excited just looking at the different bulbs as I know how they will dazzle next spring.

Brown Sugar tulips at Standen's Tulip Festival
Brown Sugar tulips
Brown Sugar tulips at Standen's Tulip Festival

I have my tried and tested favourite mixes which include Angelique, Mount Tacoma and Negrita and then there are the new types to experiment with. Brown Sugar with its bronze colour and sweet scent was a revelation when I first encountered it and an instant hit with everyone here when it flowered earlier this year.

Tulips on the terrace at Standen
Tulips on the terrace at Standen
Tulips on the terrace at Standen

Pots are perfect for trialling new varieties and experimenting with new colour combinations. If something doesn't work then it can be moved instantly.

The tulip festival at Standen has grown out of my obsession for tulips. 7 years ago I asked head gardener, James if there was a budget for tulips. Now it is an event attracting thousands of visitors from far and wide. I still get a buzz when hearing the gasps as people see the borders for the first time.

See the swathes of tulips on the Croquet Lawn border at Standen
Standen croquet lawn tulips
See the swathes of tulips on the Croquet Lawn border at Standen

In between is the hard work of getting the bulbs into the ground. I like to place every one personally so I can visualise and build up the different colour and shape combinations. Next the garden team and volunteers closely follow and plant them. It really is a team effort.

Now the wait is on. If they can survive the perils of squirrels and rabbits, disease and bad weather then next spring is their time to amaze and dazzle, sparkle and shine.