I’m fairly new to gardening, as for 15 years I only had a window box outside our first floor flat in Bath. Then, eight years ago, we moved to our house in the country. For the first two years I just ignored the garden and orchard as Flora was a baby and, as a first-time mum, I forgot the meaning of free time.
But eventually, I got sick of looking at overgrown conifers and dying shrubs. So one autumn I got some help to dig out everything I didn’t like, and then I bought a few magazines (yes, Gardeners World was one of them, tying in with the television programme) to see what this gardening malarkey was all about.
Onions and prunes
Serendipity struck as it turned out that autumn is the best time for planting some of the easiest and most cost-effective plants for spring and early summer colour. Yes, I’m talking about those little superheroes, bulbs and corms. Cue much hesitant planting of some onion and prune lookalikes, followed by a few months of dubious anticipation, then finally the thrilled delight when they actually grew (!)
Bulbs and corms are such adaptable things; there are always varieties to suit all sites, soils, and situations (sun or shade, damp or dry). You should always plant them with the pointed growing tip facing upwards but if this isn’t clear when you look at them, try planting them on their sides as they’ll sort themselves out. Most bulbs and corms like to be planted at a depth of approximately x3 their own height. As a rule, they all need well-drained soil so they don’t get waterlogged over winter and rot.
If you’re planting in pots, try a bulb lasagne (yes, this is the correct term!) with larger bulbs first (like Tulips), followed by smaller bulbs on top (like Muscari). Or, if you want to naturalise them in a patch of grass (like our orchard), scatter a handful and then plant them where they fall to avoid artificial lines.
After your bulbs and corms have finished flowering, deadhead them but leave all the leaves and foliage behind until it turns brown. The foliage will go on absorbing sunlight and nutrients to store and feed the bulbs and corms ready for next year.
Go forth and multiply
What I hadn’t realised is that most bulbs and corms flower every year and many of them self-seed and multiply if they’re happy. So one small bulb or corm could give you many, many flowers in time, with absolutely no further effort on your part. No need to take cuttings, no need to nurture seeds or hot house tubers – bulbs and corms do it all for you. You can bury them and forget about them, they really are miracles of nature.
Over the last six years or so I’ve planted more and more, year on year, scattered throughout our garden, our orchard, and mixed up together in pots. My husband’s credit card bill was slightly more expensive last autumn as I planted just over 1,200 bulbs and corms (and incurred some interesting osteopath’s bills) but we don’t begrudge it because this is an addiction that reaps real rewards. Once they flower, you can either enjoy them where they are or you can cut them for vases in the house. There’s a great deal of pleasure to be had, either way.
This spring I’ve been enjoying: yellow Daffodils, ivory Narcissi, red, pink, yellow, green/white Tulips, blue Hyacinths, blue Muscari, purple, yellow Fritillaries, purple Irises, yellow, white, purple Crocuses, and blue Chionodoxa.
Based on last year, this year’s early summer colour should see: blue Camassia, multi-coloured Ixia, purple, pink, white, blue, yellow Alliums (think giant but inedible chives), purple, pink, green Gladioli, and purple Triteleia. I can’t wait!
Of course, I always forget what I’ve planted in previous years so I usually have no idea what is going to pop up and where. Somehow putting markers in place either never occurs to me, or they vanish over time. No matter, because there’s always room for a few more bulbs and corms! These little superheroes marked the real start of my love affair with my garden and it’s the one relationship that I’m happy to invite everyone to share
How do you like to get colour into your garden? Have you had any success with bulbs and corms? Which plants are your gardening heroes?