Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Starting again

Clockwise from top left: a handful of bulbs*; labelling is important; the first pots on the terrace, with sticks to prevent cats or birds disturbing them; another pot ready to be topped with compost.

It's not too late to plant tulips.

It's the middle of winter now. All the experts, books, television and radio programmes recommend you plant spring-flowering bulbs in late summer and early autumn, from the end of August to maybe November in the UK. But I never seem to get round to it until January or February. Last year, I was organised enough to choose and order the bulbs I wanted at the 'correct' time - they are only listed in catalogues at that end of the year, and there were specific varieties I wanted. But they have languished in their box since they were delivered. Not to worry...

Last year, and the year before, I planted tulips very late. In 2011, I only got them into pots just before I flew out to Iceland, in mid February. Partly this was because I bought some of them after the new year, when their price had been reduced in the local budget shop to 30p a bag. I wasn't sure what would happen.

But they bloomed magnificently - the cheapest ones did best, in fact. Here are the variety 'Purissima' at their peak:

I planted them in pots as in previous years I'd failed to get flowers from tulips in the heavy, often waterlogged clay soil here. They much prefer free-draining soil, and thrived this way, but there was an added advantage - I could move them around the garden. I kept the pots on the terrace, which is the highest and sunniest place I have, so they could bake in the sun and not get waterlogged, until they were ready to flower, then I moved them to where they looked best - and where I could enjoy them better.

I'm not the only one who does this (Carol Klein plants dozens of pots of them). It worked so well, I will always use tulips this way now. And here we are, in January, and I'm only just starting again.

However, last year I had some tulip bulbs from the year before that I had dutifully removed from the soil, and kept indoors, in the dark. I didn't plant those until... late April? And yet they bloomed - in the ground this time (I put them in amongst other flowers, in a bed set aside for that purpose), at the end of May. They are irrepressible.

It's been snowing this week. A period of cold weather is important for triggering spring-flowering bulbs to bloom properly, so for best results you should plant before the onset of warmer weather, my 2012 experience notwithstanding.

So this is how I'm kicking off the 2013 gardening season, with something easy - the bulbs will require no more help from me now - and with fairly quick results. After I have tidied - the garden has been left fallow, let's say, which has suited the birds that forage through it, but now I must use this time, before the weeds regrow, to remove what's no longer wanted, sweep, prune, wash, repaint - sowing the year's crops can start.

*Note, some people will suffer allergic reactions when handling bulbs without gloves. It happened to me recently for the first time. If in doubt, don't touch them with your bare hands.