Look at your bulbs

by James Alexander-Sinclair

One of the most important jobs at this time of year [...] can be done very easily wearing quite inappropriate footwear and clutching a glass of something.

Tulip flowersOne of the most important jobs at this time of year does not involve anything particularly energetic or creative. It does not require you to rush to the garden centre, lug large bags of anything, get even slightly dirty or even break a sweat. On the contrary it is job that can be done very easily wearing quite inappropriate footwear and clutching a glass of something.

Go out and look at your bulbs.

Not just in a spirit of admiration but also to note which ones have done well, which have failed and where there are not enough, because I bet you a shiny 20p piece that in a couple of weeks, when they have died back and other things have doubled in size, that you will have completely forgotten.

I plant a lot of bulbs every year for various clients — last autumn I had about 20,000 — so I try to visit as many of them as possible at this time of year. This is partly to see the fruits of all that labour, but also to make notes ready for the next planting season in autumn. Generally, as my family will happily tell you, I am rather inefficient and habitually unpunctual but I really try very hard to get this bit right. Otherwise come November we find ourselves disturbing existing bulbs or, worse still, planting the wrong colours in the right places.

So far this year only one major disaster has come to light. Due to a mix up in the bulb warehouse, a batch of tulips that should have been pure white Tulipa 'Purissima' turned out to be unidentified huge-flowered red things, which do not agree at all with the neighbouring pink and dark purple varieties. Now we have to quickly dig out the offending items before they retreat underground into dormancy.

Those of you who read this blog regularly might remember the post I wrote about tulips nearly two years ago (if you do then you have admirable memories and I am terribly grateful). This year I have a few extras to add to my list of favourites.

T. 'Doll's Minuet': startling pink.

T. 'Burgundy': quite a small flower but a gorgeous colour - like sultry beetroot.

T. 'Flaming Spring Green': like normal 'Spring Green' but with crimson 'go-faster stripes'.

T. 'Paul Scheerer': a really good dark purple.

T. 'Ballerina': I know I mentioned this one before but I love this picture and this tulip. It smells of orange boiled sweets.

So quickly get out there, take some pictures and write notes or this time next year you'll be kicking yourselves.

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Talkback: Look at your bulbs
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Gardeners' World Web User 29/04/2009 at 14:08

Following a trip to Amsterdam my fiance and I returned with nemerous bulbs but being novice gardeners got over excited with bargin mixed bags of tulips. Last year however, she she took multiple photos of all our tulips, which we deliberatly planted in tubs, and with the aid of some electrical tape markers on the tubs (so we could get the tubs round the right way and match up the photos) we were able to seperate out all the different colours. this year with only a couple of wayward exceptions we've managed to get the right colours in the right places. We'll by sets of colours next trip, but the photos worked a treat.

Gardeners' World Web User 29/04/2009 at 15:48

I have already done it as the new toy -a digital camera - I bought myself last Sept. is just the right tool. I put on some music and run through a slide show of "April in the garden" and when anything strikes a jarring note I asterisk it. But sometimes serendipity takes over and I have an unplanned for delightful surprise.

Gardeners' World Web User 30/04/2009 at 17:03

I would not be without my camera in the garden. It gives hours of pleasure but is also a really good tool to remind me what plant is where because as you rightly say, the garden changes so rapidly I never remember a month down the line! My garden is not large but it does help to take shots from the same position throughout the seasons to compare.

Gardeners' World Web User 30/04/2009 at 18:35

if bulbs planted late did not flower will they be ok for next year or should I bin them Ta muchly

Gardeners' World Web User 30/04/2009 at 20:56

Not exactly bulbs, but I'm desperately trying to find a source of what I remember as begonia islandii; a floriferous small orange begonia that I grew as a houseplant, sadly lost all my tubers over winter and would love some more. Have seen it growing in gardens in Cornwall. Help!!

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