Surprise surprise!

Most of us like a surprise – well a nice one anyway – and having a garden means that we don't have to wait for a birthday or Christmas for something unexpected to pop up out of the undergrowth. Having a new garden means that I'm finding surprises all over the place, like an enormous day glow orange Kniphofia erupting out of an otherwise unexciting border and flowers out of season like Hellebores in September and Hamamelis sprouting their spidery little blooms in October, way too early. But mostly the treats have been lovely flowers I've not spotted until they unfurl. At the moment delicate little white Cyclamen are peeking out from under hedges, amazingly resilient in dry shade, pretty Schyzostylis have opened up like shining stars and Nerines too, surprisingly shocking pink above strappy dull dark green foliage. It's one thing to be surprised by a new garden but unlikely as it sounds, surprises can be planned for too, even in the most familiar garden. Bulbs planted in the gloom of a grey November are easy to forget about until they emerge in April or May full of the joys of spring even brighter and cheerier than they looked on the packet. Most of us will plant a few daffodils but what about something a bit more exciting, alliums are always striking, tall slender stems with perfect globes made up of masses of tiny, usually purple flowers and camassias are lovely too, spires of clear blue flowers like a cross between a red hot poker and a bluebell. A surprise doesn't have to be visual, wild garlic might be a small and delicate wild woodlander but the smell will knock you sideways and if you dare it's useable in the kitchen in salads and stir frys too. I'll be using all of them as well as turning the heat up for next spring with Tulips, sultry burgundy 'Ronaldo', flaming crimson 'Couleur Cardinal' and to pick out the purple tones in both, the soft lavender and apricot 'Malaika' which is a subtler variation of another favourite 'Princes Irene' an electric blend of deep purple and vivid orange, a real stunner. These aren't colour combinations I'd choose to live with all year but a burst of flamboyance and pizzazz after a dull dreary winter will be a very welcome surprise!