A dazzling tulip display in the gardens of Bashley Manor in East Sussex

A dazzling tulip display in the gardens of Bashley Manor in East Sussex

The Tulip Festival at Bashley Manor is now in its 27th year, and the brilliance of its massive plantings is hard to beat. Among the representatives are tulips in countless colors, artfully blended to line pathways, fill boxed beds, or simply bloom for sheer pleasure. It’s a breathtaking sight, and one that James and Angela Selleck, the park’s owners, never tire of. “Planning for next year’s show starts in September when we choose the tulips and color schemes,” Angela explains.

This begins with a leisurely tour of the garden, accompanied by head and assistant gardeners, Greg Ovenden and Fiona Gilman, with Chris Blom, from supplier Bloms Bulbs. “We discuss what has worked well in previous years, and ideas for new color schemes,” explains Angela. “Chris then suggests bulbs to achieve a particular effect, or possible alternatives if bulbs are not available that season.” It’s not just color that plays a major role in the decision-making process. So do the shape and form, with tulips contrasting with peonies, or sugar-coated ones with fringed edges. “And we always check the heights to make sure tall tulips are planted at the back of the beds with shorter varieties at the front,” Angela adds.

Image source: Nicola Stocken

To try to ensure the tulips are at their peak during the 15-day festival, nearly every group has chosen mid- to late-season flowers. “There are some delightful varieties that bloom early, but the problem is that they will be gone by April,” Angela points out. “Blooming times are already very dependent on weather and location, and we don’t want to introduce another variable.” Location has a great influence, so those in shady places are planted first, while those in full sun are planted last. “Tulips planted in a north-facing bed always bloom later than those in a sunny back border,” she adds.

When it comes to resilience, peonies like ‘Angélique’ and ‘Blue Diamond’ last well, while those that open quickly in the sun and close at night do not. “If there is a heatwave in early April, it ends quickly,” Angela points out. ‘Angélique’ is one of a handful of great artists who return each year, along with ‘Ballerina’, ‘Spring Green’ and ‘White Triumphator’ – which are often grown in the Elizabethan garden. Failure is rare because tulips are hardy and adapt to being planted between October and the end of February in a particularly harsh winter. So, too, are mistakes, although on one occasion the pink tulips chosen to be mixed with the pink forget-me-nots on the Rose Walk turned out to be orange. “They clashed horribly, but James was impressed, as were a number of the visitors,” Angela recalls.

The view from Bashley Manor Gardens
Image source: Nicola Stocken

The show is developed as a series of colorful themed rooms. The Elizabethan garden focuses on the color white. Pink prevails in the rose garden and pot; The background border mixes pink and white, which sparkles under the balcony. “The Pool Garden is planted in blue, light pink and violet, while red, orange and gold complement the colors in the herbaceous border,” says Angela.

Planning a festival of this size is a huge logistical operation, which begins when Greg and his team of eight gardeners clear the borders in October, raising tender dahlias and canna tubers, to overwinter in the barn. At this year’s festival, the bed was planted before adding about 48,440 tulip bulbs. “Last year, we did it in reverse, but some tulips pushed the bed up,” Greg recalls. Bedding includes memorable colors of white, blue or pink, a combination that worked well last year. Greg is experimenting with ornamental grasses such as very thin, and horsetail-like grass, with white tulips in the Elizabethan Garden, and in the Rose Walk, with ivory tulips edged with violet ‘Affaire’ and lilac ‘Negrita’. “This will create a more natural look,” he notes. around the swimming pool, Glauca fescue Combines with ‘Blue Diamond’ tulips.

Pashley Manor Gardens Garden Bench
Image source: Nicola Stocken

In the rose garden, central square-edged beds were planted to give the impression of a checkerboard, with the purple-and-white ‘Rem’s Favorite’ contrasting with ‘White Dream’. Areas such as the Elizabethan Garden feature rectangular beds that are easy to plant with two types, but huge displays in back borders require carefully drawn plans. “We have to balance the heights and make sure the colors blend and don’t clash,” Greg points out.

Plant well-protected fenced areas first, leaving exposed back areas and hot borders until later. “These areas are open and need to be protected from rabbits, while potted tulips are covered with wire caps to keep out squirrels and pheasants,” says Greg. In late January, when the roses are pruned, chicken manure granules are spread on the ground. He adds: “We add tomato feed to the pots as soon as the leaves appear.”

Bashley Manor Gardens
Image source: Nicola Stocken

Once flowering has finished, all the tulips are dug up and most are distributed to local schools and charitable organizations. “Not only do we need space for dahlias, but the bulbs are more susceptible to tulip fire if left in the ground, and replanting every year ensures strong blooms.”

It’s hard to imagine the garden devoid of tulips, but 40 years ago, when the Selex family moved into the 16th-century Bashley Manor, the garden was neglected, and the wisteria adorning the back of the house was a low-growing tangle of flowers. “We prune it back to the root base and then house train it,” says James. The garden was a woodland, and the walled garden, dating from 1720, was overgrown with nettles. “It’s hard to imagine how out of control things are,” he adds.

Bashley Manor Gardens
Image source: Nicola Stocken

The Silks asked the late Anthony de Gard Pasley, a long-time friend and landscape architect, to plan the layout. “He had a great vision, and he was good at opening up long-lost perspectives,” Angela recalls. It was 1995 when the first tulip festival was held; A very hush-hush issue. “We originally planted a few – I didn’t like them, but I loved them over time,” she says. The festival was a success and has since been combined with an exhibition of contemporary sculpture that remains in the park until the fall.

Despite the splendor of the festival, it would be a mistake to think of Bashley Manor as a one-season garden. In the fall, many beautiful trees come into their own. Before the tulip buds form, the daffodils abound, and it’s not long before the woodland is brought to life by bluebells, blooming flowers and wisteria flowing beneath the Georgian bricks. Rhododendrons follow the tulips, filling the gap before the summer roses arrive.

Along with roses, the kitchen garden is filled with produce and flowers for the café, and by August the first dahlias bloom. “We work very hard for the tulips, then the roses, and finally the dahlias,” says Angela. “But every season, there comes that big point when you walk out in the morning, and instead of being overwhelmed by everything you still have to do, you can step back and appreciate how great everything is.”

Bashley Manor Gardens, Ticehurst, East Sussex TN5 7HE. Open from April 1 to September 30. The Tulip Festival takes place from April 20 to May 4, from 10 am to 5 pm. Tickets £13.50. Tel: 01580200888; pashleymanorgardens.com

    (Marks for translation) Spring gardens 

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