October and November are second only to May and June in terms of the amount there is to do in our garden. All four months are key for preparation and planting. In the spring it’s all about tender perennials, flashy annuals and plump dahlia tubers, but in autumn the focus is on those dry, paper-coated time bombs we call bulbs. They arrive as crisp and tanned as David Dickinson in September, giving few clues as to the incredible flower power packed inside. I’ve been secreting them lovingly in containers since then, revelling in the prospect of bold new varieties and startling colour combinations. Every clement moment during my weekends is spent emptying and cleaning terracotta pots, mixing compost and getting those bulbs snuggly beneath a protective blanket of grit and loam. I always overbuy horribly (my eyes are bigger than my garden….and my wallet for that matter), so the task can sometimes feel repetitive and unrelenting. However, I know that in spring I will be richly rewarded.
Narcissi, irises and crocuses, which like to get their roots established early, take priority in September, with tulips perfectly happy planted well into November once the weather gets colder. Prepared narcissi, such as N. ‘Paperwhite Ziva’, N. ‘Cragford’ and N. ‘Avalanche’ are saved until last, otherwise they’re in bloom too soon before Christmas. In storage moisture is bulbs’ greatest enemy, so I keep them waiting in a cool, dry place and check regularly for signs of bluish mould or unhealthy mottling. I avoid leaving them stacked in plastic bags or packed in transit boxes where they might sweat. If found, a dusting of sulphur puts a stop to any minor outbreaks of rot. The best prevention is to get them in the ground or into pots quickly. Even if the task does drive me potty, I know I’ll be glad I persevered in five months’ time.