Sarah's weekly blog: Soft colours

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I am sticking with soft colours this week — and the rule of adding smoky, slatey somberness to stop gentle colour combinations from being sickly-sweet.


It would be hard to replace my all-time favourite tulip, ‘Ballerina’ (more on this next week), with its skinny, elegant shape, rich burnt orange colour and freesia scent, but ‘La Belle Époque’ is jostling for the first position. Like all the best tulips, ‘La Belle Époque’ has many colours in every flower and in bud, it’s at its most rich and varied.


Then you have a base colour of very milky coffee, feathered with a rich-crimson pink, with the occasional parallel green vein from the base of the flower to the petal tip. It’s worth very close inspection. Down in the centre of the flower, its stamens are powdered with the darkest purple-black pollen, which dusts the inner petals in a soft, scattered pigment sort of way.

That’s what makes the flower and what you need in the foliage you grow with it, so put it in a pot with the black-leaved cow parsley, Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’ (I think in America, this is called black-leaved chervil). I’ve always liked this plant but am now obsessed, as it’s hard to find interesting foliage to put in your pots after the summer and autumn cosmos and tender perennials have browned.


Slot this in over your tulip bulbs in the autumn (you sow the biennial Anthriscus in May or June) and it will look pretty all through the colder months. It does best with the protection of a wall, but that does not need to be south-facing and then it will over-winter ok. Like the usual green-leaved cow parsley in the lanes, it dies back a bit in the very cold, and then come into a massive growth spurt just before the tulips flower, to form the perfect backdrop.


You could add in a narcissi or two for earlier flowering. I have two new-found favourites from our narcissi trial this spring — N. ‘Sweet Eyes’, usually double headed and has good, but not massive scent. I like N. ‘Fragrant Rose’ even more, with large heads which are lasting super well in a vase. Both these daff varieties seem to be getting better and better each year, their clumps filling out and gradually spreading and the colours are good with the café-au-lait.


Growing together in a pot or prominent position in a sunny, or partially shaded border, this group of four are pretty, but not too pretty and they’re good mixed together in a sombre-ish sort of vase. A pewter jug, or cut short and spread in a series of glasses, close-together, they look good.

Thanks for reading!