The arrival of the autumn equinox ten days ago and the accompanying unsettled weather signalled to this gardener it was time to plan a display of bulbs for next spring. Cooler temperatures and heavy rain justified a few hours of armchair gardening, studying cultivars of tulips recommended by the Royal Horticultural Society for planting in containers and I compiled a wish list in preparation for a visit to the plant centre at RHS Wisley.
I try to achieve a display spanning as long a period as possible, from late March through to early May. Variety of both colour and form influence my choice and whilst it is tempting to stick to the old favourites, I am keen to try some different colour combinations next year. I particularly like the ‘lily’ tulips which have narrow, goblet shaped flowers and pointed petals curving elegantly outwards. Into this category falls sugary-pink Tulipa ‘China Pink’. On a visit to an open garden day at Petersham House in April this year, I discovered the spectacular Tulipa ‘Flaming Spring Green’, its white and green flowers streaked with scarlet. Sadly, these bulbs cost twice as much as their more subdued cousin, Tulipa ‘Spring Green’, and prudence outweighed extravagance on this occasion.
To ensure that the display is not bland, I’ve also bought mauve Tulipa ‘Blue Parrot’ which will open into a curly parrot flower, and Tulipa Cistula, another lily-flowered cultivar with lemon and cream flowers. Glancing back at an image of my tulip display in April this year, I shall certainly also include the orange lily tulip ‘Ballerina’ for both its impact and long flowering period.
When I plant the bulbs in November, I plan to use a 50:50 mixture of compost and horticultural grit, to prevent the bulbs from sitting in a waterlogged growing medium during the winter. Unlike other bulbs, e.g. daffodils, which can be planted any time from now onwards, the experts recommend planting tulips in November to avoid a fungal disease called ‘Tulip Fire’ which distorts the leaves and makes the plant looked scorched. For the third year, I shall protect the planted containers from squirrel damage with the chicken wire cloches made for me by a friend.
I also bought a packet of Snakeshead Fritillary bulbs, Fritillaria meleagris, to plant in pots for a couple of friends who have admired my container of these under the kitchen window. I resisted the temptation to buy a Fritillaria Persica whose flower spires I also admired in April at Petersham House, as it is too large for my borders.
A recent visit to Kew Gardens reminded me that bulbiferous flowers feature in the autumn garden as well as the spring garden. I found a substantial clump of Sternbergia lutea, Autumn Daffodil, in the Mediterranean Garden, its yellow crocus-like flowers tricking the viewer into thinking that spring has arrived. Nearby, bordering Holly Walk, lilac shaded swathes of Colchicum speciosum glow in luminous contrast to the rich dark soil in which they are planted. These Autumn Crocus are also called Naked Ladies to describe their habit of flowering only when their leaves have died back. Overnight rain had flattened some of the flowers on the morning of my visit, but the overall effect remained striking beneath the evergreen foliage of the holly specimens.
Next time: what links Imperial Russia with Kew’s Princess of Wales Conservatory?