Tuesday 18 December 2018

Waiting for spring bulbs to show

Narcissus bulbocodium
Narcissus bulbocodium

Andrew Collyer - Practical Gardening

It's February and lets call it spring, although technically I think that's not until March, but I for one can't wait. And, with spring bulbs already showing colour why don't we at least allow ourselves to think of spring if we are not meteorologically still allowed to welcome it.

Gardening for me has always been more visceral than intellectual and that's not intended to be demeaning by any means, in fact I'd look on it as a positive. This depth of feeling is never more apparent than with the anticipation of the arrival of spring bulb flowers.

For most of the year cloaked in the earth and forgotten, from the diminutive bulb of the winter aconite and snowdrop to the corpulent daffodil bulb we have this deep felt belief that come February to May they will just erupt from the ground to remind us that the seasons haven't forsaken us and that winter really is only three months long. An annually discovered treasure trove of golden daffodils, diamond snowdrops, sapphire Chionodoxa and ruby red tulips.

Despite my afore mentioned deep felt belief in the emergence of my spring bulbs it is with some trepidation this year I am awaiting a bulb that I planted last year to resurface. The bulb in question is a very unusual daffodil called Narcissus bulbocodium or the Hoop petticoat daffodil. Far less showy than the blowsy traditional daffodils they produce delicate yellow cones rather than trumpets and have virtually no surrounding petals to speak of. At only 15 centimetres high they are also very dwarf in size.

I have been an admirer for a while but had just never got around to planting any, possibly because they are a native plant to Southern France, Portugal and Spain and thats a hard circle to square in my garden. I was inspired eventually to do so however by a newspaper article I read about how Christopher Lloyd, the now deceased great gardener of the well know Great Dixter garden in Britain, had naturalised Narcissus bulbocdium under a large oak tree that in winter was sodden and in the summer crisp dry and done so with great success. Thus I planted in a similar spot under an Italian alder tree in a lawn area of my garden in the autumn of 2016.

As expected in the spring of 2017 there were flowers but these were produced by the planted bulbs energies not from my own doing or from them being particularly happy with their location. That now leaves me waiting on this years show or no show as the case maybe. Its been a pretty wet winter after all, perfect for bulb rotting,and I wait to see if my fingers are as green as the great Mr Lloyds. My expectations for this spring as opposed to last years vary between more flowers, less flowers, no flowers or my zero option literally that no plant at all. I'll watch that space.

Thankfully that is my only concern as elsewhere the snowdrops are flowering well already and the brutish grape hyacinths have been in leaf since before Christmas and will no doubt dominate in flower later in the year. Some early 'look at me daffodils' are blooming and are probably February Gold or Early Sensation but it is so long since I planted them I'm no longer sure and to be honest they are quite difficult to identify unless you have both of them in your garden.

Early Sensation tends to be a little earlier than February Gold and a little heavier in bloom. I am confident that in a couple of weeks my Narcissus 'Tete-a-Tete' a charming dwarf daffodil will be contrasting well amongst the already flowering Helleborus orientalis 'Alba' and early tulips are showing strong leaf growth. Despite them being not lifted for a couple of years I expect them to still perform strongly.

And far off in the distance on this bone chilling raw day I am allowing myself the small comfort of looking forward to the arrival on hopefully a mild late spring day of my ever reliable and beautiful native bluebell [Hyacinthoides non-scripta]. Its only February, but spring really is just around the corner.

Gorey Guardian