A plan for all seasons: Don't let spring distract you from a summer planting strategy
Sunday 29 March 2009
Blimey, spring came over the horizon at full charge, didn't it? Baby daffodils are wobbling in a warm wind, and bumblebees are on the move. But while I grab five minutes of the first proper sunshine the year has to offer, I'm also planning my summer bulb orders – even though it feels rather un-Zen not just to sit still and enjoy what's going on.
The thing is, I know I can achieve so much with a bit of planning, and summer bulbs are the unjustly ignored half of the growing calendar. We all understand buying some tulips – but dahlias and gladioli? Far too complicated. Yet, while it's true that some of the summer bulbs are tropical by birth, and need loving care and attention, there are quite a few which will romp away almost unfussed over.
I grew Gladiolus callianthus murielae for the first time last year on the recommendation of about four rather fierce gardeners – and I'm really glad I did. The flower looks nice enough in photographs, but it is in real life that it becomes a delicate star of white, containing a poised blaze of deep purple with the perfect geometry of an orchid. And it smells amazing, especially on a summer evening. It's originally from Africa, so if you want it to grow as a perennial, you will need to lift it in winter. But if you just fancy trying it once, you can treat it like an annual, planting where you want it to grow. It's cheap enough to do this: 20 bulbs for £3.80 from Avon Bulbs ( www.avonbulbs.co.uk).
Another favourite I'm growing to love is Eucomis, commonly called the pineapple lily – an outrageous and beautiful spike flower with green tufts from the top (hence the pineapple). It would look fabulous in pots, bringing classy 1970s chic to the worst bit of crazy paving. The most popular species is Eucomis bicolor, where the flower, too, is an outlandish green (five bulbs for £4.88 at www.crocus.co.uk).
There is also a darker maroon variety "Sparkling Burgundy", much admired at plant shows last summer. I am growing the green one, which adds a great burst of colour under some sea hollies, right at the front of a flowerbed, and currently its dark, speckled leaves are just poking their way through the earth, looking rather dinosaur-ish. Again, you will need to dig it up if your area is really frosty in winter. This one was voted the 2009 Summer Bulb of the Year by a team of garden journalists, so we know we are getting something tried and tested to look good. And now, with the bulb order done, I really can sit still and enjoy the spring.
Get set for summer: Other bulbs to order now
The earliest to flower of any of the Eucomis, these add class without too much craziness. Three bulbs for £3.50 from www.avon bulbs.co.uk
A gaudy South African favourite that will brighten up your October. One of the few bulbs that enjoy slightly rainier summers, I've grown them successfully in an old sink with little drainage. Five rootstocks for £3.50 from www.avonbulbs.co.uk
The impact of a pot of white Agapanthus, but with far less trouble to get them reflowering. In bloom by September, at Kew they are planted almost on the surface, against a greenhouse, to keep the damp away in winter. Five bulbs for £8.95 from www.jparkers.co.uk
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