Spring into action: Gardens everywhere are bursting back into life

Kirtling Tower, near Newmarket, is all that remains of the grand house built around 1530 by Baron North, the son of a London merchant. Cleverly, he managed to stay on the right side of both Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. He was the moneybags, managing the lucrative aftermath of the dissolution of the monasteries. The tower is a lovely building, red brick patterned in blue diamonds with a pretty oriel window squeezed between the two outer turrets.

I first went there to look at tulips. Richard Ayres, the head gardener, had written to say that large spreads of Tulipa sylvestris were growing wild in the grass at Kirtling Tower. Only two species of tulip naturalise with any pleasure in the UK, and this is one of them. Even so, it's rare. We are right at the edge of the tulip's preferred habitat and it's not surprising that the places where it is found tend to be in the eastern counties – Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Nottinghamshire (where there are wonderful spreads at Holme Pierrepont Hall).

At Kirtling, the tulip has spread itself in great swathes under trees and also grows alongside the old moat that once surrounded the tower. When I was there, Mr Ayres explained that for a long time, the property had been tenanted. All that time, the grass had been regularly mown. When the owners, Lord and Lady Fairhaven, took over the place, the mowing regime changed and the tulips, discouraged for so long from showing themselves, at last had the opportunity to flower. I could scarcely believe that they would hang on so long – hoping for this day of salvation, liberation.

When I saw them, the tulips were in wonderful shape, the buds of emerging flowers characteristically borne at right-angles to the stem. It must have been this habit, combined with the clear butter-yellow colour of the flowers, that persuaded early botanists to call them daffodils. It's an unmistakeable flower, the three outer petals of the flowers curling back on themselves, and leaving the three inner petals to make a closed curved dome inside.

T. sylvestris doesn't show the wide variation typical of many other tulips, though in naturalised populations you can sometimes find flowers with five or seven petals, rather than the usual six. I found both at Kirtling. But the colour of the flowers doesn't change at all, the yellow outer petals netted with green, with a touch of maroon at each tip. All the petals are long, narrow and pointed. The scent is delicious, soft and light, like a primrose.

Mr Ayres has noticed that the tulips flower much better after a hot summer. This is what you'd expect; summer baking is what tulips in England most miss. The heat initiates the buds for the following year, and without it, tulips often produce only their long, narrow leaves. Like this, T. sylvestris can be easily overlooked.

The setting at Kirtling Tower is particularly lovely and Lady Fairhaven explained that the colonies of T. sylvestris there grew very close to the site of the formal Star Garden which was laid out in the early 17th century. The garden was set below the original house, which sat on a mound inside its moat. This all made sense too. Although the tulip will naturalise where it is happy, it's not a British native. So someone must once have brought it here to plant. It was certainly known by 1576, when in Britain it would have been a staggeringly expensive rarity, planted with careful attention and guarded anxiously.

Knowing about the tulips, I wasn't entirely surprised when Sally Kington, who knows everything about narcissus, told me that equally old daffodils had subsequently been discovered at Kirtlington. They bobbed up when a large bramble patch was cleared from the banks of the moat. 'Telamonius Plenus', the oldest of the double daffodils, was there as well as a more unusual double called 'Thomas' Virescent Daffodil' because of the greenish wash on its petals.

Of course, it's a rare pleasure to see these old flowers, brought back from oblivion, but there's plenty else to see at Kirtling. This weekend, the spring garden should be at its peak, with 70,000 bulbs planted in memory of the Fairhaven's son, Rupert Broughton, who died 10 years ago in Africa. More recently, the path leading to the church has been planted with 30,000 bulbs of grape hyacinth and pale chionodoxa. In time, those will naturalise too, in the light sandy soil typical of this area.

It's always intriguing to find plants naturalised in unexpected places. How, for instance, did Allium paradoxum arrive in the churchyard of All Saints at Westbury in Wiltshire? It's not a British native, but flowers robustly here every March. A letter from Wendy Wood of Westbury gave me the answer. The allium was originally brought in to Britain from northern Iraq by the fine plantsman, Paul Furse. In the 1960s, he had invited Wood's friend Felicity Baxter and her husband to join him on his Iraq expedition. The allium turned out to be a very good "doer", happy in shade, happy in heavy soils. It was Mrs Baxter who planted it in the churchyard, which Wendy Wood now looks after.

The five-acre garden at Kirtling Tower, Newmarket Road, Kirtling, near Newmarket, Cambs CB8 9PA, is open tomorrow and Sunday 28 March (11am-4pm), admission £4. The garden at Holme Pierrepont Hall, Holme Pierrepont, Nottingham NG12 LD, is open Mon-Wed (2-5pm) during March and also on Sunday 11 April (2-5pm) when T. sylvestris should be in flower. Admission £3.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
News
newsChester Zoo have revealed their newest members
Sport
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
tvSpielberg involved in bringing his 2002 film to the small screen
News
peopleCareer spanned 70 years, including work with Holocaust survivors
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Hydrographic Survey Manager

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Structural Engineer

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Structural Engineer Job...

Generalist HR Administrator, Tunbridge Wells, Kent - £28,000.

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Administrator - Tunbri...

Head of IT (Not-for-Profit sector) - East Sussex

£45000 - £50000 per annum + 5 weeks holiday & benefits: Ashdown Group: Head of...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape