All about autumn: Bulb-planting season is here again
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Bulb-buying season is back, which can be an expensive time for gardeners drawn to more unusual options. Columnist Debbie McMorran is trying to hold herself back...
After moving into a new house (and garden), it always takes some time to get used to what is already there.
We were hugely lucky that the people who had been living here before us had loved the garden and planted lots of bulbs over many years. But when we were planting the bulbs, it was a case of digging a hole and hoping that there wasn't one there already!
It is that time of year again, when the bulb companies tempt us with their catalogues filled with the most wonderful bright colours and pictures of fresh spring colour.
Although there are plenty of plants still in full bloom, several weeks of warm weather has left the garden looking a little dry and tatty in places.
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The promise of glorious spring tulips and narcissi is tempting even though I know that it will be a struggle to find space to put them in the garden. I find that this isn't enough to put me off though, as even if the flower beds are full of bulbs jostling for their own little space to grow, there will always be plenty of space for planters and tubs on the concrete areas and paths around the garden, so there is always somewhere to squeeze a few extras in.
With the arrival of the catalogues, I always try to do the sensible and organised thing, and make a list. I flick through the catalogue and note down which varieties I'm lusting after, and make sure that I have got a good mixture of different things, rather than just hundreds of daffodils.
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It is always important to make sure there is a variety of plants that will follow each other chronologically, so that you don't just have plants that will all be coming out at the same time - a garden full of snowdrops will look wonderful for those first few flowering weeks in the new year, but then the garden will be empty for the weeks that follow.
Snowdrops, followed by daffodils and narcissi, followed by tulips and so on, will ensure that the garden has something to follow on from the last act well into March and April.
The difficulty I often find is that I am drawn to the unusual specimens. I like the parrot tulips, and also the ones which are such a deep rich purple that they almost look black.
I like the snowdrops which hide a secret pattern underneath their delicate and seemingly pure white petals. I love the daffodils with an extra special peachy coloured frill inside their trumpet. In short; I like the ones which are a bit different to the norm, and subsequently, the ones with a much higher price tag.
I find it hard to justify buying these specimen bulbs, as you could almost put money on those ones being the ones which the deer or badger will get into the garden and dig up to eat, or more frustrating still, the ones which just don't seem to thrive over winter, and never appear come the spring.
Of course there is no money back guarantee if you purchase bulbs and they never flower - It would be very difficult indeed to try to prove that you had done everything as instructed on the packet, but that the plant just didn't come up! The price of some of these single bulbs - particularly when it comes to snowdrops - can run into silly money - £80 or £90 for a snowdrop bulb (just ONE bulb).
Personally, I don't trust my own growing technique or dedication to remember to keep things watered well enough, to ever risk spending that amount of money on a bulb - but there are many who will! So - when planning your spring planting, and particularly when placing your orders for spring bulbs - make a list, give yourself a budget, and try to stick to it!
Things to do in the garden this month
- In addition, or perhaps instead of, spending money on bulbs, you can collect seeds from your favourite plants in the garden ready for sowing next year. Make sure you label the envelopes clearly, and store them safely away from children or pets.
- Rake through the lawn to get rid of any moss. You can also reseed any grassy areas which are looking a little worse for wear after having done this job.
- If you have hedges in your garden, now is a good time to trim them to make sure they are looking good for the winter. During those long winter months, a good hedge is often the only structural colour you may have in the garden, so it's well worth making sure this is done well.
- If you have grown any sunflowers - unless you have cut them to enjoy in the house - leave the heads to set seed for the birds.
- If you are growing pumpkins ahead of Halloween, you can cut back the leaves towards the end of the month, so that the fruit can ripen in the sun.
- Now is a good time to give your greenhouse a bit of TLC. If you have been growing lots in it over the previous season, it will likely need a good sweep down. Remember to shut any vents during the colder nights that we are occasionally getting, and check over any heaters you may use in the greenhouse. There is nothing worse than getting to the time when the first frost is forecast to find that you greenhouse heaters don't work!
- Whatever you are doing in your garden this month - get out there and enjoy it!