Before anyone is up (apart from Simon who had cycled many miles by this time). Before the sun hits the tulips and makes them open. Before the dew has dried and the air has warmed. Before picking. (In December we found we still had a few bags of narcissi that hadn't been planted with the rest so we bunged them into the last few tulips trenches. The combinations are completely fortuitious, but these sulphur-yellow narcissi and deep Pinot Noir-red 'Jan Reus' tulips are a match made in heaven.)
After picking and before sorting. As I was doing so, it occurred to me that Constance Spry probably never used a mop-bucket for her arrangements, but then I thought that actually, if that was all she had to hand, she probably would have done. She was happy to improvise, and in fact her ability to use what was available was really what made her a flower-arranging genius.
After sorting, and before going in a vase. Then I took the deep orange and pink lily flowered tulips out to leave what is for me quite a controlled, co-ordinated selection.
After sorting and putting in the very useful Munstead No. 3 'flower glass' which Gertude Jekyll used to hold tulips. This morning's pickings were very painterly, with the red and yellow 'Helmar' and deep maroon and gold 'Gavota', plus the the narcissi and 'Jan Reus', all looking like something out of an old Dutch painting.
After several days in the kitchen the tulips are enormous and wide; at the moment the room is filled with tulips at various stages of openness and blowsiness. Just after I photographed these, the vases were emptied and the flowers taken outside.
After they have peaked but still stunnning, although tired and fragile and about to flop.
I did take a photo of the tulips on the compost heap but it is too sad to show. And so we go full circle.