Pothead Bulbs

Right on cue, the lovely people from Avon Bulbs delivered my order yesterday – a box packed with lilies, tulips, crocuses, Narcissus, Iris, and Alliums.  With it came the promise of new varieties and exciting colour combinations to experiment with.  The timing could not have been better, leaving me four weekends over which to plant them before we go on holiday.  I don’t know what it is about bulbs that’s so addictive.  I persistently order too many.  After all, those catalogues with their brightly coloured photographs and enticing descriptions are so tempting.  It’s probably because most spring flowering bulbs are wonderfully easy to grow in the first year, delivering an endless parade of colours and shapes from January to May.  Despite being away for big chunks of next spring I could not bring myself abstain, so I have my work cut out for a week or two, getting them all into their pots ahead of winter.

However, I’m now wondering if my addiction is down to something else…..the smell.  At about midday yesterday I received a call from my company’s post room to say that the delivery driver had reported my parcel to the police as suspicious.  The box had duly been opened, inspected and carefully resealed.  It transpired that the driver’s interest had been aroused by a strong smell of pot that had been coming from the box.   This resulted in much hilarity in the post room and my office, where I am generally known to be quite respectable and an unlikely pothead!

As soon as I got that call I knew exactly what the source was – the bulbs of Fritillaria imperialis “William Rex”.  About the size of a cricket ball, these fleshy, cream-coloured bulbs have one of the most pungent and distinctive smells I know – and in a confined space it’s not terribly pleasant.  As well as pot they are said to smell of skunks and foxes, a fragrance that apparently deters deer and, oddly, other skunks.  I suspect that may be a rural myth, but it certainly offended the delicate nose of the Interlink man!  Despite the smell Crown Imperials (as they are commonly known) are garden royalty and “William Rex” is the king of them all.  I would not be without him, although keep an eye out for early attacks of lily beetle which will decimate the leaves within days, assuming the snails don’t get there first.  Because of snails I now tend to grow Fritillarias in pots, but when the garden was first started we grew them beneath our ill-fated Arbutus glandulosa, below.

Having been cleared of drug trafficking,  I have now unpacked the box into two wonderful old bulb crates that I bought today from our local antiques and collectables shop.  I just happened to be passing this morning, debating how to keep the air circulating around the precious paper bags until I plant them, when I spotted these leaning up against the shop window.  They appear to have once belonged to Rynveld and PJ Van Baar – both Dutch bulb growers – and have fine zinc grids in the base.   My bulbs won’t spend long in their new home.  It will be Narcissus first, tulips last in early November when the ground is colder.

Meanwhile, with the air temperatures dropping, we have lit the wood burner and I’m going to settle down with the first of the seed catalogues.  I might even pop outside for a smoke later ;-).