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Bulb planting

Bulb planting

There’s something to be said for blissful ignorance. There are so many forms of communication nowadays that being unaware of what is going on has to be a deliberate choice; don’t listen to the radio, turn off the TV and don’t read twitter. Take the weather for instance. The Countryfile weather forecast had set expectations high that a spell of good weather was on its way, the Indian summer I had been hoping for. For days though a thick layer of looming and oppressive cloud hung over this corner of Wales. The sense of disappointment was huge but it was made worse when I would hear reports of sunshine and warmth elsewhere. The thought that if we lived only 40 miles or so further west or north and I would be basking in glorious sunshine just made me feel as if I was missing out, rather like knowing there was a party taking place that I really wanted to go to but couldn’t be there. Much better to not know the party was going on in the first place!!

Tuesday was another day that started off with a slate grey sky, the cloud was so low it was almost making me feel claustrophobic. Opening the curtains in the dining room I spotted a little mammalian treat left behind so thoughtfully by our neighbour’s cat. I made a mental note to tackle the mouse’s disposal after breakfast. Of course I got distracted and forgot entirely about the dead creature so inconveniently deposited just by the greenhouse. So an hour or so later, on my way to check my seedlings in the greenhouse, I stopped to see if our resident frog was poking through the pond weed. I knew instantaneously what the soft squishy thing was that I could now feel under one of my flip-flops and screamed. I had stood on the dead mouse. Poor thing! To add insult to injury the meaninglessness of its death, purely as a play thing for a cat that has no need for extra food as it waddles around the neighbourhood, had now just been compounded by the lack of respect my shoe had shown it.

Despite the lack of sun I thought I’d better make the most of the fact that it was at least warm and start my bulb planting. I really dislike bulb planting. It’s hard work and the deferred gratification of having to wait until spring to see any rewards for your efforts doesn’t help. My strategy this year is to plant the bulbs in stages rather than in one mammoth session. This will hopefully make it all seem a less daunting task. The first of the bulbs to be planted were those I had bought to force for some early colour indoors this winter. I prefer to not give Christmas any thought until about mid-November, if I have any say in it but sometimes a little planning ahead is necessary and with my pots and bulb fibre ready I got planting. There were some paper white narcissus which should flower before Christmas, a multi-headed and highly scented narcissus called ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’, an amarylis and some Hyacinth ‘L’Innocence’, a beautiful simple white especially prepared for forcing. I haven’t grown any bulbs this way since I was a child, it was one of my mum’s rituals to plant hyacinths every autumn. I remember planting them in brightly coloured bowls and putting them under the bed in the spare room and checking them every week or so, waiting to see signs of shoots poking through. I never used to like the smell of hyacinths so it’ll be interesting to see if my sense of smell has matured at all. I’m hoping that planting these strongly scented bulbs isn’t going to make parts of the house a no-go zone this winter.

The hyacinths need a spell in a cool, dark place to allow roots to develop. I simply covered my pots in the left-over bulb fibre compost bag and then put them in a cool spot in the house. I’ll check on them every now and again and when shoots start to poke through I’ll remove the compost bag and move them into the light. I planted them into normal plastic pots but the plan is to get hold of some zinc planters in the coming weeks. I think the combination of the white flowers and the silvery zinc will look quite festive.

The daffodil varieties I’m growing, on the other hand, don’t need light excluding from them. So I’ve put the pots in a cool spot in the garden for now. As the weather gets a little cooler I’ll then bring them indoors. The amarylis needs warmth and light and is sitting in the greenhouse at the moment because of the warm weather but, as soon as the temperature starts to drop, it too will take up residence on my kitchen windowsill. You don’t need to use bulb fibre to plant up indoor bulbs, a multi-purpose compost mixed with some perlite to improve drainage is fine. Bulb fibre is best though if you’re using containers that don’t have drainage holes in them as it has charcoal in it which will keep the compost smelling fresh.

Woven birch plant supports

Woven birch plant supports

I have, in the past, bought bulbs already planted up from the garden centre which are just about to flower but they do have a tendency to become very floppy. The low light levels of winter mean they strain for any available light and they are quite tall plants for a pot anyway. Garden centres often put a stick painted green into the pot to provide some support but it’s such an ugly thing and detracts from the beautiful flowers. So that’s why I spent yesterday weaving some birch twigs to create some more natural looking means of support for my home-grown forced bulbs. The birch twigs are brilliant and super flexible and the woven structures should do the trick.

As the hours passed the sun did finally burn through the cloud, so much so that I was gardening in a vest top and shorts by the end of the day. Strange to think that these bulbs will be flowering in several months time when the warmth of summer will be a distant memory. Hopefully their flowers will brighten up those winter days. Does anyone else grow bulbs for indoors? I’d love to hear about your favourites.