Indoor bulbs don’t turn everyone on (and I’m thinking of Elaine here, who’s quite snooty about them), but personally charting the progress of my ‘paperwhite’ narcissus bulbs provides a little cheery anticipation during these dark days in Scotland.
What though should we be buying for Christmas? When we three were together recently we discussed what we might get our gardening friends for Christmas. As you can tell from our video, some of our suggestions felt heavily influenced not only by a rather boozy dinner, but by the prospect of hibernation, although as Louise points out in her Great Plants this Month section – some plants are still going great guns and others just coming into their own. Being a bit blingy, I find seed heads slightly dull but worthy, like taking the kids to museums, so when we went to the Royal Botanical Garden Edinburgh recently, Laura’s discovery and description of Sternbergia lutea was much more my bag, and we did a short clip on it. This plant would be a very acceptable gift should anyone be wondering what to GET ME, and in fact when we called into Dobbie’s Garden Centre at Lasswade near Edinburgh recently, gardening expert Bill Tait, had some other very good plant suggestions. Check them out here.
Generally though, with temperatures already exploring some significantly negative depths, lightweight gardeners like me in Scotland are pretty much hunkered down now and focused on filling bird feeders.
Yes, Caroline, I really can’t be faffing with a pot of bulbs that is all anticipation but actually delivers some lanky, schlerotic stems which flop all over the place and seem to actually only flower for a few hours. Then you are left with a messy pot of spent bulbs that will prick your conscience as you chuck them on the compost heap instead of digging a hole to plant them randomly in your garden where they will forever look like a clump of forced bulbs that you didn’t know quite what to do with.
Choosing our Presents For Gardeners frankly became progressively more riotous the more wine we drank – one more take might have found us recommending large cases of Chilean Red for everyone we know regardless of whether they are into gardening or underwater basket-weaving.
Storm Angus has played merry havoc with our gigantic Rosa banksiae, the temperature has dropped a good ten degrees, time to crack open the Cottage Garden Society seed-list, don a Santa-hat, and send a note up the chimney asking for an even more exciting gardening year in 2017.
I think I have worked out though why Elaine doesn’t feel forcing bulbs indoors is worth the trouble whilst Caroline loves nurturing her paperwhites. The key to a worthwhile show of indoor bulbs is temperature, or rather lack of it, and how much money you are prepared to invest in heating your home during the winter. The minute the flowers of any forced bulb start to open they should be moved to a situation where there is good light but temperatures at least below 10c and really just above frost free is ideal. So for Elaine, in the urban heat island that is an Eastbourne winter the whole place can be kept warm and toasty with the minimum of input, so any hardy bulb is going to contract its flowering period and shrivel away in possibly just a day or two. The situation north of the border is very different and choices have to be made on which rooms in a house are heated sufficiently to be habitable with the others being essentially no go areas for living in, but where pots of flowering bulbs can be held in suspended animation virtually all winter.
But why bring bulbs indoors anyway when there are some charming species quite happy to flower outside during the winter months. Cyclamen cilicium (our feature photograph) is still gamely throwing up new flower buds even now in December, and I have just discovered a pot of Sternbergia lutea in full flower in my own garden, a cracking late autumn performer which, as Caroline pointed out, the sisterhood examined at close quarters when we visited the Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh a few weeks ago (shame Elaine needed help to get to her feet after our plant inspection, but it really was her fault for knocking back so much the night before).
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