Spring bulbs: success, failure and looking ahead to the future

Planting bulbs is one of my least favourite activities. The task usually falls to my trusty OH, with my responsibilities lying with research, selection, and buying. Last autumn I was determined to get ahead and made a wonderful selection from Peter Nyssen whose excellent customer service (via Karen and colleagues) is renowned on social media. The plans were limited to the Sussex garden, as I knew that events were conspiring against any substantial (or indeed any) autumn gardening in France. I included several different types of vibrant and dark tulips to refresh the front garden, and hyacinths, fragrant narcissi, anemones, and irises for pots on the patio in the back garden.

I bought some more terracotta pots and potted up all the bulbs, carefully dressing the tops with grit and labelling each one. The tulips were all put back into the garage (which is actually one-third of a garage, the other two-thirds being my office) for another day.

Unfortunately that day didn’t arrive. Autumn events took over with my workload being greater than it had ever been before and my trusty OH being hospitalised a couple of times (once by plan, once by emergency). We know that tulips are better planted quite late. But the Christmas break came and went, dark as ever, and we hunkered down, the OH having little energy, and a date for yet another hospital visit and cardiac procedure being awaited. The days have continued to pass, the second heart operation has come and gone (successfully, fingers crossed, but leaving a great deal of discomfort in its wake), and I have been nursing my broken ankle.

We have now resigned ourselves to the fact, in mid-February, that those lovely vibrant and dark tulips simply aren’t going to be planted. They’ll make a rather expensive contribution to the compost bin (possibly our lovely Hotbin, about which more another time, or possibly the recycling centre).

Few bulbs have yet been planted by us in the French garden. We are simply not yet at that point. We did plant a few small bulbs (cyclamen, crocuses, anemones, and snowdrops) around some of the new trees in late autumn 2018 (planting until after dark in very wintry weather), and they have established, even if they have not yet begun to significantly spread.

We do have great plans though for planting in the French garden. Late flowering bulbs simply aren’t going to work as by the time the daffodils and tulips come into flower the sun has risen sufficiently high in the sky to burn them off too quickly. However early bulbs are ideal, especially for naturalising in areas that are intended to remain grassy (whether close-mown or left longer). One particular spot, the area that we call the Walnut Tree Lawn, which gives the best grass in the shade of the tree and has a rather lovely circular bench around the tree, is earmarked for naturalising bulbs, especially crocus tommasinianus.

A few years ago we planted 100 of these early flowering crocuses underneath a row of vines on our Surrey allotment. Within a couple of years they had spread (presumably by a mix of seeding and vegetative self-propagation) to completely cover the entire area. We have high hopes that this will be repeated under the walnut tree in France.

One of the beauties of gardening as a hobby (or perhaps I should say passion) is that whatever failures we have we always look ahead to the successes that are to come in the future.

In the meantime, one iris flower has opened out, the first of the potted bulbs to do so. It is Iris reticulata ‘Clairette’ and absolutely exquisite. We’ve moved it closer to the patio doors so that although neither of us are going out into the garden at the moment we can nevertheless see and enjoy it. These photos give a sense … but not in the full three-dimensional glory that we are enjoying.




6 thoughts on “Spring bulbs: success, failure and looking ahead to the future

  1. Wishing your OH a rapid, full recovery. The iris is lovely, especially the feathery pattern on the underside of the falls. I shared a similar one. You’re making me wish I had seen underneath it now!


      1. Goodness! Since I made that comment, I procured packages of seed that someone put in storage for me before everything got so crazy . . . about ten years ago. I doubt much or any of it is still viable. I will sow it all anyway. Some are rare species of Yucca and nearly as rare palms. It is sad that after all the effort to procure them originally, they were wasted.


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