Bulb Porn

Each year, ‘order bulbs’ goes on my to-do list in July and each year it is still there in early September. By then there will be an asterisk placed either side of the entry to emphasise the urgency of the task. Yet for some reason I never get around to ordering when I should and it’s then a race against time to get my narcissi planted before I jet off to the Far East. Tulips must wait until I return in November. In the meantime the bulb catalogues stack up in the library, goading me with lascivious images of titilating tulips and naughty narcissi. This is bulb porn, and the nurserymen know I will succumb eventually. (Worst of all is that persistent Madame Sarah Raven, who keeps taunting me with new versions of the same catalogue, each featuring an increasingly voluptuous selection of blooms. When that fails Madame starts offering me discounts until I finally give in.)

Each year I also promise myself that I will purchase fewer bulbs, and of course I don’t do that either. In fact I’ve purchased 50% more this year, which is a good result as initially I was heading for 100%. Even I had to admit that was a bit silly.

Inspired by a glossy page in this month’s Gardens Illustrated, where garden designer Hugo Bugg had chosen a small selection of spring bulbs in shades of white, yellow, mahogany and antique peach, I set about building on that colour theme to create sufficient interest for my garden throughout the months of March, April and May. I have stopped taking any notice of what the catalogues suggest in the way of flowering times, as it’s all about when you plant and what the weather does. This spring, following The Beast from the East everything flowered at once whether it was planned to do so in March or May.

From last year’s order I called again on a few bulbs that I particularly liked, including tulips ‘Purissima Design’ (above), ‘Garant’, ‘Big Brother’ and the sublimely lovely ‘Stunning Apricot’. I am reintroducing favourites I’ve missed such as tulips ‘Lasting Love’, ‘Dom Pedro, ‘Belle Epoque’ and zany parrot tulip ‘Rococo’ (below), since their unique colours will work in my new scheme – just. But there must always be new varieties and I’ve chosen several this year: among the daffodils will be ‘Katie Heath’, a small narcissus with a pinkish trumpet, and ‘Altruist’, a most unusual flower with peach petals and short, carrot-coloured trumpets. There are a handful of lilies on my order too, although these will follow the tulips in early June if planted in autumn. One I’ve plumped for is ‘Forever Susan’, a lily that produces glowing flowers the colour of a charred carrot. This may not sound very appetising, but the pictures look delicious. Another is ‘Whistler’, chosen simply for the unusual combination of faded peach and brownish-red in its petals. Quite special.

As for tulips I couldn’t resist the sulphur-edged petals of ‘Doberman’ nor the flaming form of ‘Helmar’. ‘Green River’ has me totally intrigued. With blooms the colour of bruised salmon streaked with moss green it will either be fabulous or horrible. I will let you know which. I did not select many doubles this year, but ‘Montreaux’ struck me as unusual and worth a try. The tulip’s huge ivory flowers are suffused pink, lending it the appearance of a peony.

I took lusty delight in cutting the pictures out of my bulb catalogues, just as I did when I was a child. Doing so helps me to paint a picture of how my bulb theatre might look in a few months’ time. My love of plants began in the pages of flower catalogues, and there it will continue until the day growers don’t print catalogues anymore. Of course I know the images are staged, the flowers ‘fluffed’ and the colours enhanced, but this is flower porn, and I’m addicted to it for life. TFG.