Peter Dowdall has plenty of timely advice on preparing your plot for next spring Planting spring-flowering bulbs has to be one of my favourite tasks in the gardening year.
Planting spring-flowering bulbs has to be one of my favourite tasks in the gardening year.
Each autumn I delight when the bulbs arrive and, as excited as a child anticipating Christmas morning, I look forward to the promise of the following spring.
To plant spring bulbs truly is to believe in tomorrow.
I still remember, as a small child, the bulb display in what was Atkins McKenzies Garden Centre on Camden Quay in Cork city, the all-permeating, aroma of the bulbs and the sawdust in which they were packed.
I recall being entranced by the sheer range of bulbs on offer, like a child in the horticultural equivalent of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
I may be more aware now of the ranges and the different varieties available but still, each autumn, I get excited.
Unfortunately, the sawdust, straw and newspaper has been replaced with filthy, un-compostable plastic pre-packs complete with un-recyclable, laminated cards and pictures.
Shop around though, as more and more centres are stocking loose flower bulbs that you can take home in paper bags.
The only way to stop the obscene over-use of unnecessary plastic is if us consumers refuse to purchase it.
My own bulbs were delivered recently and among them, one of my true favourites, a crate of Allium ‘Ambassador’.
One bulb covered the entire palm of my hand, it was so large and healthy-looking.
I compared it with a prepacked bulb from a local garden centre, both, the same variety and the same price but the flower bulb that came with the pretty glossy picture was less than half the size of the one which had been supplied to me loose in a crate.
As is so often the case, much of the purchase price is wasted on packaging.
Ambassador is one of the most stately and elegant of all the ornamental onions, not to mention that the proper name sounds so much nicer.
Each flower stem will grow to about one metre in height and each perfectly formed, globe-shaped flower will reach about 20cm-25cm in diameter, a real showstopper.
Look closely and you will see that each globe is made up of many, many tiny purple flowerlets.
The foliage of the allium is the first part of the plant to emerge from the soil in the spring-time.
Fresh, lush leaves announce the alliums re-awakening after its winter slumber and with this, also, the renewed promise of the growing season ahead.
Don’t panic then, when after a few short weeks this foliage begins to wither and shrivel up, for this is the way of the allium.
The foliage becomes very untidy looking as the energy from the bulb goes into producing the beautiful rich purple flowers.
I remove the dead-looking leaves with scissors so that they don’t take from the beauty of the flowers.
I often plant alliums with ornamental grasses such as Stipa tenuissima (known as ponytail grass) or Deschampsia cespitosa.
The effect of the alliums growing through the grass and the nearly fairylike flower above the airy grassy foliage can be somewhat dreamlike.
Don’t be in a rush to remove the flower stalks as soon as the flower colour has dissipated as I think the seed heads too, bring their own charm to the garden.
They continue that structural, summery effect in a planting, well after the colour has gone.
Alliums, of which there are many to choose from, are among the latest flowering of the spring bulbs, technically flowering well into the summer months of May and June.
With correct choice, you can plant bulbs from now right up to the end of December to ensure continuity of flower colour all the way from December to June.
That’s flower colour in your garden for six months of the year, not bad for one group of plants.
December colour can come from winter aconites, some of the early snowdrops, crocus, Dutch iris and even early varieties of daffodil.
The display can be continued with different varieties of the same plants and also by adding hyacinths, tulips, muscari and chinodoxa.
There’s never a “right” and “wrong” when it comes to colour choice in the garden.
Tastes vary and gardens should be individual, as unique as those who plant and create them.
In my case too, tastes change.
One year I may plant everything of the one hue whereas, the following year I may opt for a riot of different colours to loudly announce that the carnival which is spring in the garden is once more upon us.
One thing that is for certain, however, is that I will be planting Allium ‘Ambassador’ once more this year, along with other alliums: ‘Christophii’, ‘Gladiator’ and ‘Purple Sensation’.