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Bright bulbs for dark days

Its easy in these sunny warm autumnal days to forget the cold dark days which lie ahead, and whilst I don’t want to depress you all by reminding of this fact, it is worth planting some bulbs now to relieve those particularly miserable post-Christmas weeks.

I love the way that bulbs have an almost mystical air to them. Beautiful fat things with their papery skins, piled up in the garden centres and containing inside each the power to produce leaf and flower within weeks of planting, that is if you plant in pots and force them in the dark.

We have missed the boat for some Christmas bulbs, but I think that Christmas already has enough going on with trees and decorations, holly and ivy. It is during the grim January days that I need cheering up with a pot of hyacinths or Narcissus ‘Paper White’ in my kitchen, or on my desk in my studio.

A single hyacinth can fill a room with delicious scent, I particularly love the white ones but for scent ‘Woodstock’ or ‘Jan Bos’ are incredible. Find a suitable container, and you can use a wide variety of types from pottery or glass to china or wood containers. Have a look at either Gardenalia in Bath for unusual containers, or Rossiters have a selection of interesting planters. Grasse on Argyll Street also have a range of pots and containers suitable for bulb planting.

If you can’t put holes in the base use a bulb fibre as this helps to keep the compost fresh. It is suggested that you use gloves when handing the bulbs as they can cause a strong skin reaction.

Put a layer of grit or broken pot, around 2.5 cm in the bottom, add a mix of soil and grit and place bulbs 3-4 cm apart, depending on the size of your container. Backfill with more compost until the pointy tip of the bulb is just showing above the soil surface. Keep the soil moist but not wet and leave in the dark in a potting shed or garage for twelve weeks. This fools the bulbs into thinking it is winter, so when you bring them into the house they will break their dormancy and start to flower. Do this once they are showing some green tip or around 4cm.

I also love using Hyacinths in glass forcers as they do grow just as well in water as in soil. Put the bulb in the jar so that the water is just below the bottom of the bulb. As the roots begin to grow they will touch the water and this will get them growing faster, make sure to remember to keep topping the water up. Again, keep in the cold dark for twelve weeks and when they have shoots bring them into the light and warm.

The same can be done for crocus and miniature Iris, both of which look lovely in containers, and can be given as Christmas presents which give after Christmas!

My favourite of all the bulbs has to be Narcissus ‘Paper White’. You don’t need to plant these until at least November and this can be encouraged into flower by December, although staggering some plantings in pots over a few weeks will give you continuous scented flowering from Christmas onwards. They don’t need to be hidden away in the dark and will flower after about 4-6 weeks kept somewhere slightly warmer at around 10-15 degrees centigrade.

Using a soil based compost lightened with some grit and lining the base of your container with crocks or small stones, plant these bulbs just below the surface of your soil about 2.5cm apart. The same rules apply with watering. They look fantastic planted in large containers with hazel twigs in amongst them, or for Christmas with decorations such as silver balls hanging amongst them. They do make a gorgeous table decoration, but I like them simply in a terracotta pot, near to where I am working so that I can breathe in the heavenly scent and dream of spring.

Bulbs available at most garden centres as well as online.
Containers and pots from:
Gardenalia : Mile End, London Road, Larkhall, Bath, BA1 6PT
Grasse : 3 Argyll Street, Bath, BA2 4BA
Rossiters: 41 Broad Street, Bath, BA1 5LP

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