Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Organs of Perennation!

Image result for jacqueline van der kloet
The wonderfull Jaqueline van de Kloet - Dutch bulb master

Well, you don’t get blog titles like that every day, now do you?

Organs of Perennation, or put simply – bulbs! Bloomin’ magic things if you ask me. Small flowering time capsules is what they really are: a miracle, condensed and concertinaed into a container of hope and promise. How poetic!

Well anyway, it’s kind of that time again when our horticultural attentions turn towards bulb planting for the spring. Nurseries, garden centres and even supermarkets are full of them at the moment. Not that I would ever endorse purchasing anything even remotely horticultural from a supermarket, but I often see some real bulb bargains to be had in supermarkets: 18 Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ bulbs for £5 (from Tesco) can’t be bad. Two hefty bags of mixed Daffs for the same price is also a good buy in my opinion.

Two rows of daffs planted under a climbing hydrangea.........

.... and the result a few months later........!

Bulbs, and the planting of bulbs in particular, are a great introduction to the joys of gardening. They’re relatively inexpensive and they're guaranteed to bring success! They also command little/no horticultural skill. The planting ‘rule’ that you hear all the time, is give them a planting depth of around 2 times their own height, and to be honest, that’s pretty good advice. But like most of what ‘they’ say, all such advice can be taken with a huge dollop of salt. Bulbs come so highly bred these days that I swear you could leave the bare bulbs lying on your patio and they would still flower in the spring. Okay, without access to water and nutrients, I wouldn’t guarantee success in year two, but you get my drift.

Also, with regards their correct depth, I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve come across sizeable bulbs that have been living very happily just below the soil's surface. They do say that bulbs planted at an incorrect depth will – over time – pull themselves up or down and find their own happy place. The same has been said about bulbs planted on their side, or even upside down… they will eventually right themselves. It’s that same ol’ thing I guess. Plants, like us, simply want to live, and they’ll do anything in order to continue their journey through to flowering, pollination and reproduction. 

As for their uses, of course the options are limitless. From small terracotta bowls hosting reticulated irises or crocuses, to larger pots of tulips and daffs. Personally, I love scattering crocus over expanses of lawn, throwing them at random and planting them wherever they land. But if you do this, do it after you've cut the lawn and remember to count them out... and then count them back in again. I throw 20 and can only ever find 15!! 

I also love using drumstick Alliums as dotted purple punctuations coming up and in-between perennials and the occasional row of lavender. Of course, allium foliage doesn’t die nicely, so make sure you plant wisely, using the foliage of other plants (hardy geraniums?) to help mask this.

I recall a few years ago, working in a garden that had a Magnolia tree sited in a circular bed in the drive. The circle was ringed with box, and was – Magnolia aside – bereft of any other planting. So, a few boxes of cheap bulbs later; their random distribution across the bed, and voila!  An instant – well, almost instant – success! The foot-high box hedge disguised their decaying foliage and it enhanced the bed immensely. Just do this stuff! Don’t think too much about it. What’s the worst that can happen? A few quid spent on bulbs is money well spent, if you ask me!

At first the daffs came up........

Followed by the hyacinths and tulips....... Lovely!

Also, I use bulbs as a bit of a gap filler for that period when the cut-down, herbaceous clumps of spring create vacant channels of soil: allowing bulbs to come up and do their stuff, bridging that spring gap before herbaceous foliage starts to look attractive in itself. 

As a lover of naturalistic planting, I do realise that the approach can, justifiably, be criticised for not having too much border interest around spring and into early summer – lacking a backbone of evergreen material. Therefore, bulbs can offer something of a solution to this dilemma. To be honest, even I – a new perennial purist - am not entirely convinced with this solution, but hey, who said life was ever perfect? Truth is, the burgeoning foliage of perennials creates sizeable hummocks of greenery by early summer, and with daffs, alliums and tulips adding some colour and diversity…. Well, that’s enough for me. You can’t have everything!

Tulips rising up through Stachys... and a cardoon!

Alliums through waving Stipa tennuissima......

Queen of the Night inside box hedging.

So, my advice is simple. It’s October. Get out there and buy some bulbs and get them in. Plant them anywhere: borders, pots, verges, lawns. They’re cheap as chips, and they won’t let you down. Put them in… forget about them, and then be surprised by their beauty in the spring.

I haven’t written a blog post for quite some time. Some of you might know that I’ve spent this summer writing a 16,000-word dissertation for my garden history studies. 

Well, I had a great summer, meeting many of my horticultural heroes and visiting many gardens both home and abroad. The highlight was spending over an hour with Piet Oudolf in his design studio in Hummelo. Needless to say, that was a rather surreal experience: sitting opposite that man. A man, who in my opinion, is probably the most influential gardener/designer of our time, and who has done more to shape and influence contemporary garden design than anyone for the past 150 years. 

Mr Oudolf's drawing pens....

Me & Mr Oudolf. Why is everyone taller than me!?!

Until next time… thanks for reading! Take care

Le Jardinier.

* Please note, all photos depict my own horticultural handy-work in the various gardens I work in. Just saying! 

Quick Update! I went to the Garden Museum last night to see a new film about Oudolf. Both he and the director were there and they did a short Q&A after the film. Anyway, the film was lovely, and if you have a spare 4 minutes do follow the YouTube link below.

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