As we head into spring, the flora at the Nursery truly starts to come into its own, becoming ever more beautiful on a daily basis. Along with the buzz of bumblebees awaking from a winter of hibernation and our orchard of trees – from apple to quince – beginning to bloom, a fresh array of flowers appear; grown to be nurtured, gathered and admired. Perfumed delights, like foxgloves, alliums, and lupins, fill the air with their scent while lilac, jasmine and wisteria festoon the surrounding walls and pergola overhead, as our resident cats bathe contently in the early spring sunshine. Compelling new varieties transform the cutting garden into a kaleidoscope of colour, with many of our own fragranced flowers making their way into our wild and dramatic floristry arrangements. From March’s very first narcissus and April’s abundant tulips to the utterly spellbinding selection of home-grown favourites that arrive ahead of British Flower Week in June, there is plenty to spark sheer joy and delight right here at home.
March : Narcissus
As springtime awakens in late March, so do our many varieties of narcissus, flourishing in the cutting gardens and found nestled in pots around each corner of the nursery. Perfect for cutting is the Narcissus Thalia, which boasts a twin-headed pure white bloom and trumpet. These look at their most glorious when arranged in a bud vase, with just three stems and a sprig of blossom or some evergreen foliage. Simplicity really is key. Another of our favourite varieties to plant is Bridal Crown, a heavily scented double bloom that is ideal for planting in pots indoors, and you will often find them adorning the tables of the café and teahouse; they look striking with a mass of blooms arranged in a vase on their own.
Narcissus Geranium can be found in many arrangements and bouquets that we make at the nursery, distinctive as a statuesque bloom with a bright orange trumpet and white petals. But when it comes to harvesting and arranging narcissus yourself at home, always remember to wear gloves, as they ooze sap that can cause skin irritation.
“For a longer vase life of up to a week, pick narcissus when the buds are fully blooming but still slightly nodding - known as the 'gooseneck' stage.”
April : Tulips
Planted out in the borders of our cutting garden in November, our tulips lay dormant in the ground over winter, to reveal only the most luscious of blooms come spring; with petals of scarlet, canary, ivory and deepest plum. We believe tulips have become an under-appreciated flower, with so many grown in unnatural conditions, resulting in lacklustre stems with only a few days’ vase life. The tulips we grow at Petersham Nurseries could not be more different. We celebrate the unique beauty of every variety, appreciating each stage of their journey to opening. We use tulips widely across the nursery, from flamboyant vase arrangements to filling the most dainty of bud vases, finding a variety suitable for every occasion; some of our favourites year-on-year include the Menton, La Belle Epoque and Verona.
In the cutting garden, we treat our tulips similarly to annuals. In the Spring, they are harvested – bulb and all! – to encourage maximum stem length, storage and vase life. This means that we must re-plant new bulbs each autumn, in order to guarantee consistency in high-quality blooms. If the tulip flower is harvested in the Spring, but the bulb is left in the ground, it may bloom again in subsequent years but will be unlikely to boast the same unrivalled calibre and beauty – something we choose not to compromise on.
“For us, there is no preference for the shape of the tulip; we use elegant long-stemmed French tulips for vase arrangements and the blousy peony-shaped varieties to fill bud vases. ”
May : Roses
If there is one flower that holds untold emotion with its beauty, it is the rose; with a scent so evocative, a single inhalation can transport us to a specific moment in time. With varieties living for decades, in some cases, for forty – if not fifty – years, everyone has their own favourite rose, in shades ranging from pale apricot to blackcurrant; but there is always more to discover. At the Nursery, we have rose plants for sale from February all the way through to the end of November, but come late May they are in bloom. We are pleased to play host to a huge range of the very best David Austin roses, renowned for their sweet scent and indulgently blousy flowers.
From climbing roses that are perfect for planting around arches or training on walls to rambling varieties that flower just once a year, but can do so for six weeks at a time, roses are a core part of our heritage. Flowering shrub roses get better with age, and one of our favourites – the double-petalled Buff Beauty variety – is planted beside the gate to our kitchen garden, to be appreciated every time a gentle spring breeze passes through. Alongside this, there are hybrid tea roses, which we find are superior for cutting for wild vase arrangements – with exquisitely furled blooms held on extra-long stems.
Spring in the Nursery
As Spring arrives, the Nursery is full of promise, with an abundance of plants for both indoors and out that will thrive throughout the early season. Plants and bulbs, including primulas in an array of tones, to traditional crocus, narcissus and tulips are at their best, perfect for container planting to add vibrancy to any sized space; from grand garden to courtyard plot. With them come herbaceous perennials, including some yearly favourites like perfectly voluptuous peonies, garden geraniums, foxgloves and aquilegia – plus beautifully blousy David Austin roses. Thinking forward to the warmer days ahead, we are abloom with a vast variety of blossoming trees and shrubs. The nursery is renowned for carrying an eclectic stock of prunus – beloved by customers annually – as well as magnolias and other delights including viburnums, philadelphus and spiraea.
For those wanting to build upon their herb garden or vegetable patch this year, The Kitchen Garden has plenty to offer, as we see the arrival of an abundance of soft fruit and herbs in the nursery. From majestic fig trees to sweet-tasting strawberries, and the subtle acidity of raspberries and blueberries, it is the perfect time to start exploring growing your own produce. For your herb garden, now is the time to start thinking about woody varieties, including a selection of thyme, paired with mint, rosemary and lavender, all regularly finding their way onto our spring menus.
Seeds to sow in Spring
Following the frosts of the winter months, spring makes the ideal time to set your outdoor space up for the seasons ahead from seed. Start off with kitchen garden favourites including broad beans and runner beans, peas and early salads such as rocket and mesclun, which can be sown directly into the garden, or undercover in early April. Or if you are looking for floral varieties to sow for cutting come summer, choose the likes of ammi majus, cornflower, zinnia and larkspur in seed trays or outside. Either way, there are plenty of organic varieties ready to shop now at the nurseries. If you are looking for further inspiration, we have hand-selected two of our own signature spring seeds to get started with right now.
The School of Garden Inspiration
Discover our upcoming workshops
As Spring brings with it brighter days and new inspiration, the attention of every gardener turns to expanding their horticultural creativity. With this in mind, we are celebrating the start of a new season with The School of Garden Inspiration; a line-up of classes and workshops at our Richmond home, centred around offering guidance and tips for both veteran and novice gardeners, while promoting our sustainable approach to gardening and floristry. Led by our Director of Horticulture, Thomas Broom-Hughes, The School of Garden Inspiration will begin in May, covering topics such as styling your own summer containers, the principles and practicalities of slow gardening, and a masterclass in houseplants.