Having taken a bit of break from any form of gardening beyond picking a daily bunch of whatever my scissors are drawn to, the arrival of a large box from bulb specialists, Peter Nyssen Ltd, has reminded me, rather forcefully, that there is still work to be done. And going on the weight of the box alone, it’s rather a lot of work. Planting bulbs is not one of my favourite tasks. On a cold day, with a fine Bristol drizzle, it can feel like a penance. And because the rewards for your labour are many months away, the temptation to throw in the towel (or better still, the trowel), and stomp inside for a more instant form of gratification (cup of tea, slice of cake, good book), is hard to fight.
But having opened the box and reacquainted myself with my order, I am beginning to feel quite excited. I am particularly pleased by the thought of the all the alliums I’ll have in May and June. I need to remind myself exactly what each variety looks like, as in my haste to get the order placed, I failed to make a note of where I was planning to put them. And although some of the bulbs I’ve ordered were a little random, the majority were chosen with a view to certain pairings: a small, blue form of allium to go around the base of R. William Lobb, for instance. Apparently planting members of the onion family around roses is meant to help guard against black spot and, according to some, increase the perfume of the flowers. I think the pom-pom heads of the allium will look lovely with the big, blowsy blue-pink flowers of the rose. That’s if they are out at the same time.
I have also ordered rather a lot of tulips. This feels close to a kind of madness. Where the hell am I going to put them? What crazy scheme did I have in mind, back in August when I pressed the proceed to check out button!? I think I was planning a big bed at the bottom of the garden filled with a mass of dark reds, inky-black purples, with the occasional flash of orange or magenta. But then I have so many little garden notes scribbled here and there on scraps of paper, I never really know which one is most current. I am clearly quite delusional about the actual size of our garden. I have ordered with a stately home in mind, when outside all I have is a sunny postage stamp. I think, in the nicest possibly way, I must lay the blame on Jane Brocket, whose annual tulip-fest is something I start thinking about in early March (this is when I usually discover some mouldy bulbs at the back of the shed, and realise that yet again I’ve failed on my tulip quest). This year, if you follow this link and scroll through post after post of spectacular blooms, you will see that she has very kindly detailed all the bulbs. I made a lot of notes. To be fair, Nyssen can take some of the blame too – their website has improved immeasurably over the years, and now you can see images of all their stock. This is fatal. How easy it is to fill that bottomless, virtual shopping basket. Many years ago, when we lived in Peckham, they seemed to have images of only half their stock, and placing an order involved many hours poring over my RHS encyclopedia of plants and flowers. My orders were far smaller, though the garden was at least twice the size of our current one.
Here, in its orange net, is the purchase I am most excited about: Eremurus Cleopatra, or the foxtail lily. I’ve grown these before, back in Peckham, with limited success. I think I got them in late, and then had second thoughts about where I’d put them, and so moved them. Not the best start – but they did appear the following summer, though perhaps a little shorter and less stately than I had hoped. It will be interesting to see how they look here. I’ve also got some iris, a few hyacinths for indoors, and, completely new to me, 50 Sparaxis bulbs – a ridiculous quantity, but I have two identical planters which I think will look good massed with these slightly unreal-looking flowers.