Time to take your Xmas cash, pocket money, gas and electricity fund and rainy day savings in hand. The disaster that you are hedging against may never arrive but summer will turn up naked or at least on the threadbare side, unless you go out and buy some bulbs, corms and/or tubers now. Go and look in the budget shops first, (Aldi, Lidl and B & M Bargains are good) then once the hook is set in your soul, prospect in garden centres and online. Purchase the plumpest example available for increased chances of success. Despite what you have may have heard, size matters and big is better. Decline squishy, desiccated or mouldy bulbs as nothing soggy, saggy nor smutty will thrive.
My favourites are the lilies, sprawled across the shelves in decadent, come hither heaps like a Manet painting of a good time girl. Summer snowflake (leucojum aestivum) is unusual, tough and pretty. Dutch Iris will cope with dry sites, as can pineapple lily (eucomis bicolor). How can you resist? You don’t need to fanny about digging large holes or watering them in, just stuff them in the ground with a handful of bone meal and forget about them. A discreet label will help to stop you from disinterring them before they bloom and will assist with answering the April new leaf question of “What the bloody hell is that?”
Remember that dogs and cats cannot read plant labels and also like gardening. You have choices:
1. Stand over newly planted bulbs with a shovel. When the little furry vandal starts its worst, swing the spade as if driving a golfing shot down the fairway. Let’s see how far a cat can fly.
2. Spread cheap ground white pepper liberally over the target area. Refresh as soon as the pet sneezing stops.
3. Hide yourself in the nearest shrubbery. Wrap up warm and consider a fully charged hip flask and an eBook. Wait until the aforementioned vandal has commenced desecration and then leap from concealment shrieking obscenities. Warn your neighbours beforehand, if they are within hailing distance or are of a nervous disposition.
4. Get used to replanting the bulbs with their own individual dollop of steaming fertilizer. I’ve tried all four solutions, individually and in combination, with mixed success.
Many summer bloomers are not hardy or are on the borderline. Plant them in containers that can be garaged over winter, resign yourself to digging them up in the autumn or cross your fingers on nippy days and prepare yourself for losses. Dahlia tubers currently throng the shelves but these require frost free coddling to get results. I started with one; I regard “Tsuki yori no shisha” as a gateway specimen and now I’ve got a monkey on my back. If my March birthday doesn’t see a new variety of dahlia in a packet or a pot, wrapped in gaudy paper, then I see little point in getting a year older.
The tender category also includes gladioli, canna, freesia, ranunculus (Persian buttercup), zantedeschia (calla) and nerine (Guernsey lily). Look at the packet, drink in the picture, caress the roots, and stroke the cellophane. The flowers look like spiked sweeties, all colour, texture and with freesias, perfume. This makes me feel like a pusher or a pimp but go on, try some. I shan’t warn you about the dangers of addiction. Pick the one, two or three that float your boat. Follow the instructions, pot them up, get them started indoors and prepare yourself for a sensual hallucinogenic experience. You’ll enjoy the trip.