Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Time to plant some bulbs

Hours spent gardening: 6
Bulbs planted: another 264
Plants purchased: 0
Sycamore leaves collected: 6243
Worms accidentally guillotined: 200 or so

I've been anguished over bulbs after having seen the tulips by Bloms Bulbs at Chelsea this year and vowing I would have them for myself.  It was only after 6 months of drooling over their catalogue that I noticed the price tag of £7.50 for a pack of ten tulips.  This stopped me right in my tracks.  The upwardly mobile side of me (some might say shallow) was attracted by the statement on the website that said that Blom's are suppliers to Europe's finest stately homes.  At last, a touch of class for Clapton, I said.  Unfortunately, after endless nights agonising over Tulipa Jan Reus and wondering how I could justify it all in a recession, I allowed myself to purchase just thirty bulbs.

There is something about bulb planting time.  The nights draw in and this is our last chance to be outdoors.  Planting bulbs feels like a final fling of connection between the cycle of life and decay; handling bare earth lays down the foundations of the new shoots of next year.  Bulbs signify the signs of life at winter's end: the gold of the first crocus that promises the passing of harder times and the first sign of thaw.  Here, autumn's damp has long since sent the reggae blasters indoors.  In November, I am the only one still outside, the sharpness of the cold on my hands, the song of the robin in the tree, a thin golden sunset framed by the trees.

These primaeval instincts to plant, sow and divide were not going to be satisfied by thirty bulbs.  I then went on a kind of bulb binge, buying job lots of cheap ones from DIY stores.  Colour scheme went out of the window.  I chose the tulips from Bloms after hours of deliberation, settling for succession planting of pink, soft white and the darkest red verging on black.  At B&Q, I loaded the trolley with bargain bags of more tulips, fritillaria and an iris mixed that included yellow (normally banned around here, daffodils and crocus being the exception).  Everything was stuffed into the ground in a frenzy.  The other thing about the act of planting was forgetting where all the other bulbs were from last year and splicing through them with the bulb planter.  In this way, you can ensure I always have gaps to fill and thus feel justified in buying more plants.  I also managed to decapitate a couple of hundred worms.  I think I mentioned not being a very good organic gardener before.

The final mix is a combination of Bloms, JP Parkers, Spaldings (free for joining their blogger club and sticking the logo on here), Homebase and B&Q.  It's a kind of sliding scale of the social ladder of bulbs..  I'm waiting to see if the Bloms ones really perform better in the spring or whether we can all rest easily knowing that spending £9.99 on a pack of 100 will do the job just as well.

Chelsea Flower Show, 2012

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Europe's shortest herbaceous border

Hours spent gardening: 6
Plants purchased: 0
Hours awake all night coughing: 12 (have man 'flu)
Plants divided: 7
Bulbs planted: 254
Sycamore leaves collected: 5231

It's that time of year when gardeners go dormant like perennials and ease themselves into an armchair with a pile of seed catalogues to hand.  I had been planning to redesign the back bed (formerly known as the veg patch) and suddenly realised we were cruising towards late November without having given it a second thought.  The original plan had been to recreate something inspired by a visit to The Broadwalk Herbaceous Border at Hampton Court last year (Europe's longest herbaceous border at 580 metres).  I've been dreaming all year about foxgloves and irises interspersed with allium heads nodding in the breeze, the whole thing held together by silver foliage and towers of sweet peas ready to burst into bloom.  You know the kind of thing I mean.  As I type this, I realise how ludicrous this is given that the border I am dealing with is 2 metres long and partially in shade.  It seems logical to call it The Short Border from now on.  Since my original plans, the recession has put a damper on frivolous spending habits in London's chi-chi garden centres.  This could actually be a good thing in my horticultural evolution.  I can see from other blogs that real gardeners are busy propagating, taking cuttings, growing things from seed and making everything go further with plant division.  Only city types are whiling away Sundays in the plant equivalent of Harvey Nichols, where the customers think that agastache are people who make 'eyewear' and compost is a nightclub on the Dalston fringe.  Times are hard and I will just have to grow my own.

The Broadwalk Border, Hampton Court Palace.  Taken in May (obviously)

Irises at Hampton Court, something to aspire to

A close up of those alliums

Unfortunately, what was missing from the new thrifty revolution was planning.  I've read the books on planting plans.  I've got a little compass in order to draw the expected diameter of plants, bought the plant encyclopaedia with what goes where and even have an app so that you can point your ipad around the garden and it will tell you what to plant.  So did I make a planting plan?  Reader, I did not.

What actually happened was this.  In the midst of some carefully planned bulb planting activity, I realised winter was almost upon us and I must act now if the Short Border was to be anything in time for next year.  A selection of random bulbs went in following by some foxglove seedlings that had, as usual, been neglected and were bursting out of their posts.  Some had to be discarded due to a coating of white mold.  Then came a frenzy of plant division reminiscent of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre.  (Things were not helped by the fact that Le Photographe has broken my spade.)  A geranium phaeum was torn into pieces, a hosta Frances Williams pulled apart and stuffed carelessly in the most slug prone part of the garden. A grass was ripped into shreds leaving blades of grass scattered as if attacked by a combine harvester.   A mixed pack of iris bulbs were poked in in an unpredictable rash of colours including yellow (normally banned from my colour pallet, daffodils excepted) and alliums went into the shade without a thought as to whether they could actually grow.  A lack of markers has rendered the bulbs vulnerable to the reckless and over enthusiastic gardener who is prone to going in and digging up areas she has forgotten have been planted.  Squirrels, foxes and cats roam on the area, routing for bulbs or simply welcoming the open and freshly turned ground to be used as their personal toileting area or as a dining area for those who believe bulbs are edible.

Images of The Short Border are available but are unsuitable for readers under 18.

Cyclamens and Cineraria, Hackney November 2012