Planting spring bulbs? Just like boiling an egg, it looks easy on the face of it but has a sneaky timing aspect that can totally b**ger things up.
Memories will eventually dim of my Inverewe chess board experience. I wanted to recreate that Highland garden’s striking black and white tulip bed. What a stunner – fab-u-lous x 10. However, my lack of attention to timing saw a random scattering of ‘White Prince’ tulips shoot up in late March, flower, die and collapse on top of some tiny ‘Queen of the Night’ shoots which struggled through in May to a luke warm reception obvs… more solitaire than chess.
Note to self: not only do different bulbs have wildly divergent flowering periods – so do same varieties as it happens, (and on that score, I was so impressed that Louise’s Great Plant this Month features a dahlia still looking quite so wonderful.)
So this is something you have to bear in mind when tackling the new rage for bulb lasagne. Planting early, mid and late flowering bulbs in the same container is a great idea. Particularly for those of us like my sister Elaine who only has only the tiniest little pocket handkerchief of a garden in Eastbourne.
With a bulb lasagne you can have a pot at the front door in flower from January or February through to May with a succession of snowdrops; crocuses; narcissus, daffodils, tulips even to early summer alliums – but do apply a little forethought and attention to timing. Ensure all the bulbs in the top layer are February flowerers; the next layer March and so on, otherwise as I predicted for myself in an earlier blog, you’ll have a stroganoff instead of a lasagne. I tried to show mes soeurs how now is the time to cook up a cool bulb lasagne but you can see from the video – it was an uphill battle. They will, to be fair, be very good at recommending some spectacular bulbs to try, but remember, from one serial lightweight to any others, Sarah Raven and even Waitrose can easily send you a ready made ‘lasagne’ kit.
Hmmm I will definitely need some convincing this bulb lasagne is going to deliver on all the Middle-England hype it’s getting – kits, or should I say ready-meals, from Waitrose and Sarah Raven no less (and by the way I don’t think Elaine is going to take kindly to her award winning walled town garden being described as a pocket handkerchief ….although it does rather serve her right for being so disparaging about my home made potting compost)
If you watched the full vid you’ll know we planted up a pot at Elaine’s and wait with barely concealed anticipation for the results to emerge in February.
But I am exercised by the fact that there will be a mass of dying leaves left over after each flush of flowers, and if these are removed there will be nothing left to feed up the bulbs to flower again next year.
And this crystallises the ethical problem I have with many bulbs especially tulips – you buy them all plump and shiny, fresh from being force-fed in a bulb field somewhere in Holland and the first spring you are rewarded with a range of supercharged, interbred, slightly mutant attention-demanding show-offs, but it’s downhill from here onwards. These primadonnas need deep, alluvial polder soil to perform at their best and here in Blighty they soon revert to just hanging on in there with a few miserable looking leaves, and are a pig to dig out. I am also concerned that all the bulbs in the Growbag lasagne were chosen for their flower power without any consideration of complementary foliage.
A few years ago I pinched an idea from a Sarah Raven catalogue (and then shamelessly bought the bulbs from the much cheaper Parker Bulbs) which combined the best ever hyacinth ‘Woodstock’ a stunning maroon with a much looser and more natural habit than others, and Tulipa greigii ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, which, like a lot of the greigii tulips, has maroon stripes and blotches on it’s leaves which pick up the colour of the hyacinth beautifully.
I am afraid the flowers of this dwarf tulip are decapitated as they come through (harsh but necessary) as the garish red spoils the overall effect, but this combination of flower and foliage has created a classy outdoor spring potful which has only now in its fifth year started to look like it needs a bit of new blood.
Growing tulips just for their foliage? Wow, that’s a classy idea.
It’s typically patronising of Caroline to refer to my garden as ‘pocket-hankie’ sized (and how does she know? she always uses her sleeve). It’s definitely more a tea towel, albeit one of the smaller, more useless varieties, printed with images of Rill.
But the problem of spring bulbs in a small garden is undeniable. What on earth do you do with them after they’ve flowered? Laura’s right, all but the species tulips (Tulipa tarda and the like) never flower as well again, if they flower at all, and the leaves of narcissi are very tiresome (mustn’t be chopped, mustn’t be tied, must be fed, blah, blah). I grow lots of snowdrops, some big, some little (I am no Galanthophile, the big one is elwisii, I think) and the leaves get BIGGER after they’ve flowered – what’s that about!! Yes, yes, I know, feeding the bulb for next year, yada, yada. But just when you’ve got used to these huge Hosta-like, rather lovely glaucous leaves occupying a space, pouf! they’re gone, and you are left with a gap in May, when you DON’T WANT A GAP.