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Friday, 30 April 2010

Tulip fever

Back from a very short visit to Amsterdam to see the tulips. When I went a few years ago, they were late because of a long winter - this time there was colour everywhere. Some 12,000 bulbs have been planted around the canal ring and in private gardens, which were open for the last weekend in April. These blooms were in the Begijnhof, a cluster of buildings around a 14th century courtyard, which once provided homes for women who belonged to a lay Catholic sisterhood.
To the west of Amsterdam are the bulbfields, a glorious patchwork of colour, with daffodils, hyacinths and tulips of every variety imaginable.

The big attraction there is Keukenhof, where, for eight weeks every spring, landscaped gardens are ablaze with huge drifts of colour. Some 800,000 visitors flock to see the 4.5 million bulbs, all planted by hand.
Tulipmania began back in the 17th century, when Dutch traders brought tulips back to Amsterdam from Turkey. They became a luxury item, with unusual bulbs selling for up to 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman. When prices fell, some investors were reportedly ruined.
Today, there are more than 100 varieties, which come in colours and shapes that the early collectors would envy, such as Sorbet (left) and Greenstar (below)

The displays provide plenty of inspiration. Here the intense blue of Muscari Armeniacum is a perfect foil for the white of the Calgary tulip.

New at Keukenhof is a walled garden which gives the historic background to the tulip and other bulbs in the Netherlands.
Here, the Knot Garden recreates a style popular in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Keukenhof is open daily until May 16. Tour companies run full and half-day tours, or take a train from Amsterdam to Schiphol airport, and then a bus for Lisse.
And if you can't get there in time for the tulips, consider a visit during the Open Garden Days, (Friday 18 - Sunday 20 June) when some 25 - 30 private gardens hidden along the canals open to the public.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Blossom time....

Am I imagining it, or is there much more blossom around at the moment than is usual? I spotted these lovely flowers - and many more - within a minute of our front garden. Magic!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Make Way for the Ducklings!

This is a quacking good time to visit the London Wetland Centre in Barnes.
The first baby birds have emerged and are providing endless entertainment. This coot was patiently paddling back and forth across the water with titbits for her newly hatched brood, while trying to keep them away from some rather aggressive Canada geese.

Not far from the Vistor Centre, a mallard was watching over her ducklings after their marathon swim across the pond. The chicks are much darker than is usual. "Who's the daddy?" one volunteer was wondering.
These black-necked swans have nested right by the path. While the female waits patiently for the eggs to hatch, her mate keeps visitors at bay. But the cygnets' early days may be hazardous - the male has apparently killed earlier offspring.
The London Wetlands Centre is at Queen Elizabeth’s Walk, Barnes, London SW13 9WT
For opening times and admission prices ph 020 8409 4400 or go to

Monday, 19 April 2010

Keep on rolling....

Green points for the luggage company, Samsonite.

Did you know that if you lose a wheel or a handle from one of their suitcases, you needn't chuck it away? They say if you phone the company, they'll put a replacement part in the post for you, free of charge. And it doesn't have to be a current model - they keep spares for most of their earlier ranges, including the Oyster, which sold 40 million over 20-odd years. Apparently fixing a new wheel is quite easy, but if you're stuck, repairs can be done through a dealer.

Samsonite is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary - the first model was more like a trunk and, even when empty, weighed 10.2 kilos. The latest carry-on case is just 2.2 kilos. Such lightness may tempt me to finally upgrade my trusty 1990s model (above).

Monday, 12 April 2010

Spring at last

After such a long, hard winter, it's wonderful to see tiny shoots on branches which seemed to be dead, and the first bumblebee hovering over emerging blossom. In this blog, I hope to look at green and garden-related events and initiatives - both in the UK and abroad - with occasional snippets from fellow plant enthusiasts.

So first, here's news of an exhibition which proves the gardening boom didn't start with Ground Force. The Geffrye Museum in East London is staging "A Garden Within Doors", looking at the appeal and history of houseplants over the past 400 years. The museum's period rooms are decorated with flower arrangements in keeping with that time, while the main show area, downstairs, concentrates on the huge growth of interest in domestic gardening during the 19th century. There you'll find the gardening manuals a green-fingered Victorian housewife might have consulted, displays about trend-setting inventors, writers and publishers and details of the plantsmen, nurseries, and florists to whom she would have gone for seeds, plants and equipment. And of course there are flowers - scores of them - ranging from a typical conservatory display (above) to an eighteenth century ‘auricula theatre’ and a 'pelargonium pyramid' based on a drawing in The Amateur’s Flower Garden (1878). Inspirational.

'A Garden Within Doors' is free at the Geffrye Museum, 136 Kingsland Road, E2 8EA Ph 020 7739 9893, from now until Sunday 25 July. It will be open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm, and on Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays from 12 noon until 5pm.