Novem­ber is tulip-plant­ing time

Country Life Every Week - - In The Garden -

HE law of di­min­ish­ing re­turns is a con­se­quence fre­quently en­coun­tered in the gar­den, es­pe­cially when it comes to bulbs. Some will mul­ti­ply year-on-year. Snow­drops are a case in point—when they’re happy, they will ex­pand to make a ver­i­ta­ble rug in light wood­land that does noth­ing but im­prove as the years go by. The same is true of nat­u­ralised daf­fodils, but only when they’re planted where the bulbs will not go short of light and wa­ter.

The most critical pe­riod is dur­ing and after the time of flow­er­ing. Of­ten, a pro­longed dry spell around Easter will re­sult in a poor show of flow­ers the fol­low­ing year. There is no al­ter­na­tive but to en­rich your plan­ta­tion when this hap­pens, in­vest­ing in large, fat bulbs that are equipped with the where­withal to do well in their first year and which will, God will­ing, con­tinue to thrive, pro­vided they’re not planted too shal­lowly and the soil and sit­u­a­tion suit them—good drainage and a fair amount of light.

I pre­fer to plant them in clumps of a cou­ple of dozen bulbs, the groups spaced a yard or more apart. I find the ef­fect more pleas­ing than if the bulbs are thrown into loose arcs and planted where they fall.

When it comes to per­ma­nence, tulips are a dif­fer­ent ket­tle of fish. Tra­di­tion has it that the bulbs are dug up and dried off after flow­er­ing and the clus­ter that re­places the sin­gle planted bulb is bro­ken up and only the larger bulbs re­tained

Tfor plant­ing the fol­low­ing au­tumn. It’s a te­dious op­er­a­tion. That said, there are some tulips—spring Green is one of them—that can be left in the ground to re-emerge year on year with no ap­par­ent diminu­tion in vigour.

An el­derly lady of my ac­quain­tance al­ways planted her tulip bulbs a good 9in deep, in­sist­ing that, if she did so, there was never any rea­son to dig them up after flow­er­ing for they never failed to ap­pear in suc­ceed­ing years. To prove her point, she showed me some clumps in her bor­ders that had been flow­er­ing reg­u­larly for 20 years.

In my gar­den, I’ve dis­cov­ered that the propen­sity to re-flower de­pends upon the abil­ity of the par­tic­u­lar va­ri­ety in ques­tion to set­tle in and thrive. The only way to work out those that will and those that won’t is to plant them at the greater depth and then to ob­serve their will­ing­ness to emerge with flower­buds in fu­ture years, rather than a soli­tary leaf that ap­pears to be wav­ing good­bye.

When it comes to per­ma­nence, tulips are a dif­fer­ent ket­tle of fish’

I do love tulips nat­u­ralised in grass. A few years ago, in­spired by The Prince of Wales’s meadow at High­grove, I planted a mix­ture of pink and pur­ple tulips that of­fer up their el­e­gant gob­lets when the daf­fodils have faded. (It’s al­ways seemed odd to me that peo­ple plant yel­low tulips, for, by April and May, I’m ready to move on from the sun­shine colour of early spring to some­thing richer.) I knew what would hap­pen: com­pet­ing for nu­tri­ents with the sur­round­ing grass, the tulips never matched the glory of their first sea­son and, over the four or five years that fol­lowed, they pe­tered out al­most to noth­ing.

Now, I shall add to their num­bers each au­tumn, en­sur­ing a breath­tak­ing dis­play in April and May when the tulips open un­der­neath an av­enue of flow­er­ing cherry trees on ei­ther side of a mown ride. Tulipa Negrita is beet­root pur­ple, Mis­tress is deep pink and Gabriella a softer pink.

Writ­ing about them makes me im­pa­tient to get plant­ing. We take out cores of earth with a bulb-plant­ing tool, mix­ing up the va­ri­eties and spac­ing the in­di­vid­ual bulbs about 18in apart so that the ef­fect is airy rather than dense. Although much of the de­light in gar­den­ing comes from trav­el­ling hope­fully and an­tic­i­pat­ing the joys to come, this is one dis­play that’s un­likely to let me down, but then that’s the great thing about bulbs in their first year after plant­ing—some­one else has done all the work for you. All you have to do is sit back and wait for the show. My Se­cret Gar­den by Alan Titch­marsh is pub­lished by BBC Books

When in Italy

Splen­dour in the grass: pink and pur­ple tulips al­ways form har­mo­nious part­ner­ships

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