I don’t have many dislikes. Of those I do, chief among them is waste. Rather ambitiously, one might say naively, I spent £300 on spring-flowering bulbs in September. A lucky few were planted in early October or early November between business trips, whilst the rest were stored safely; cool and dry under dust sheets in the dining room. I wrote a post concerning how late one could plant bulbs in mid November, fully expecting that I would get my own in the ground imminently. Events conspired against me. They were eventually salvaged from the builders’ debris just before Christmas, by which time I had neither the time or the inclination to do anything with them.
With the festivities over, I must procrastinate no further or risk wasting an awful lot of expensive bulbs. They are mostly tulips, but there are some narcissi, hyacinths and irises too. Many are new varieties that I am excited to try for the first time. Thanks to careful storage, most bulbs are still in good condition; a few are starting to feel a bit dehydrated and some others are producing anaemic shoots. The only precaution one needs to take when planting this late is to avoid breaking any of the tender shoots when firming the bulbs in.
I was determined to plant as many as I could this weekend and will report back on how they fare.
In avoiding waste, I often end up spending more: well, that’s my excuse and I am sticking to it. Off I went to the garden centre, planning to buy some ericaceous compost, and back I came with a boot full of rescue plants from the clearance section: a large, vigorous skimmia, two junipers, a tray of Christmas roses (Helleborus niger), three rosemarys (2 x R. ‘Roman Beauty’ and 1 x R. ‘Majorca Pink’), a bergenia, sweet box (Sarcococca confusa) and Loropetalum chinense ‘Ming Dynasty’, a shrub I always admire when I am in China. I will use these to start the process of disguising the rather ugly edifice the builders have left behind, unrendered and unpainted, before I decide on which climbers I will plant in spring to hide the patchy brickwork.
My first task, completed in cold, penetrating drizzle, was to plant up a couple of window boxes with evergreens and Christmas roses, underplanted with Narcissus ‘Winter Waltz’ (below) and Bellevalia paradoxa. Chilled to the bone, I retired inside to sit by a roaring fire, venturing out again on Sunday morning to be greeted by spring-like temperatures, birdsong, and the hum of an enormous bumble bee – the first of 2017. Mr Bumble was painfully camera-shy, but he wasn’t going to miss out on a hearty brunch of hellebore pollen.
Today I have ploughed my way through approximately 20 bags of bulbs, including Narcissus ‘Geranium’, N. ‘Avalanche’, N. ‘Merlin’ and N. ‘Tresamble’; Tulipa ‘Slawa’, T. ‘Maliaka’, T. ‘Lasting Love’ and T. ‘David Teniers’. I was surprised and encouraged by how few bulbs showed any sign of mould or shrivelling, although all looked much happier snuggled into a pot of John Innes no. 2 than they did in a brown paper bag.
However cold or warm the winter, however early or late they are planted, spring bulbs possess an amazing capacity to catch up and flower when nature intended. It could be a few weeks before Mr Bumble can return and enjoy plundering my daffodils for nectar, but in the meantime there will be a smattering of sweet box, Salvia ‘Hot Lips’, hellebore and Correa ‘Marian’s Marvel’ to snack on. At this time of year, one can’t afford to waste a thing.