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I am just going outside and may be some time. The bags of tulips will not set themselves and may not be left in the kitchen approaching Xmas, or they risk being boiled, doused in sauce and eaten. The later that planting is done, the better the risk of tulip fire is averted. This is a fungal disease associated with damp conditions which strikes me as unfair; I can’t muster moisture if my life depends upon it. Still, if given a sunny situation, the glorious goblets of bloom turn up for one or two years only, to disappear thereafter without a sprinkling of mould or any other clue to the cause of their demise.
Ilex aquifolium (holly) “Silver King”
Ilex aquifolium (holly) “Silver King”

I find myself helpless in the grip of avarice and start to buy bags full of silken, gorgeous promise from the moment that they hit the shops. I try to limit myself to the dwarf botanical types, which stand a better chance of a repeat performance. Tulipa kaufmanniana, fosteriana and greigii have all been known to make a come-back for a limited amount of time. T. tarda is one of my favourites for courage in the face of all that the British weather can throw its way. In the early years of my addiction, I tried digging up bulbs and their babies, drying, storing and replanting. This is a lot of work to undertake when there are weeds to be addressed and I soon gave this up as a bad job.
Mostly bare & cold cat
Mostly bare & cold cat

Bulbs and seeds originally came from Turkey and the Ottoman Empire and were seized upon all over Europe but it was in the Netherlands that cultivation reached a peak. Perhaps this is due to the laid-back nature of the Dutch, since it takes up to twelve years to squeeze flowers from seed, three years for results from offsets. At the height of Tulip mania in March 1637, one bulb sold for more than ten times the year’s wage of a skilled craftsman. I tell Attila that he should be grateful for my more modest forays into madness. By dint of shopping around, bargains may be acquired. Every autumn I am seduced by “Queen of the Night” for her promise of sleek, sultry spring time presence. I love the parrot and peony types, because I’m a floozy at heart and want texture amongst the carpet of intense shades which glow in the early sunshine.
Skimmia x confusa “Kew Green”
Skimmia x confusa “Kew Green”

Multicolours or breaks in the petals strike me as gilding the lily and were caused by a specific mosaic virus. Although the infection brings stripes and feathers of painterly patterns, it weakens the plant, hinders production of offsets and in the end, kills the bulb. Others in the garden may catch it, like a virulent dose of measles. Modern variegated forms have been achieved through careful breeding and are mostly virus free. The markets of the Seventeenth Century ceased in popularity in part due to outbreaks of bubonic plague, which is a mercifully rare malady in today’s gardening circles. The scrum around the bins of bright packaging has died back in favour of tussles over tinsel and gift wrapping. Before I tackle the mountain of cards, presents and cooking, I must plant the tulips. It looks cold out there.

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