From visions on a grand scale to the world of the miniature, yesterday I was planting roses that I hope will scramble twenty feet into the trees, and today I was planting dwarf bulbs in the front garden. Planting the roses was muddier but warmer, what with the digging and hacking out more bramble roots with the pickaxe.
It's the first time I've grown Iris 'Sheila Ann Germaney'. I bought twenty-five bulbs last autumn from Peter Nyssen, enough to make up eight small pots, and grew them on inside a propagating case in the greenhouse, sealed against mice. I don't know whether mice are as keen on dwarf iris as they are on tulips, fritillaries and scilla, but after the previous two years' losses I wasn't taking any chances. Most were fully out several days ago, but I don't know if that's their normal time or whether the additional warmth of the greenhouse brought them on early.
They are a pale, delicate blue. I've previously grown another pale blue dwarf iris, 'Katherine Hodgkin', which is generally one of the last to flower, and in our gravel has lasted pretty well from one year to the next. I like 'Katherine Hodgkin' but thought I'd try the other just to see what it was like. According to the Pacific Bulb Society it is a paler shade of blue, with less yellow in it, but I don't have a great absolute memory for colour and as they haven't both emerged at the same time I can't compare them directly. Anyway, I am very pleased with my eight pots and doubly so given that the price of my twenty-five bulbs from Peter Nyssen was six pounds, which would barely buy me a couple of pots of ready planted iris now in a garden centre. Three bulbs per 9 centimetre pot is sufficient, as they don't look better for being crowded, and the contents of a 9 centimetre pot are easier to plant out without it breaking up and disintegrating all over the gravel than a one litre pot. Bulbs tend not to make very solid rootballs, and their roots don't regrow if broken.
Scilla mischtschenkoana 'Tubergeniana' is altogether more frou-frou. Individually quite large ice blue flowers open on quite small spikes, the whole having a touch of pink about it, at least when grown under glass, that made me think they would look well in the long bed under a cherry with fairly dark pink, double flowers. I have never grown these before either. I think I tried a year or two back, and the mice got them. The books and catalogues all say they want sun and good drainage, so I am hoping they will be happy in the long bed. Hyacinths, grape hyacinths and pasque flowers all do well there, while some hybrid tea roses shrivelled and died. Of course as with the iris it may be that left to its own devices the scilla doesn't flower yet, in which case it may not coincide with the cherry's flowering, which would be a pity. The real nuisance would be if it managed to clash with something else, but since it is supposed to flower in February and March it should be fine. I can't see anything about to erupt into bloom in the area that would quarrel with ice blue.
The scilla cost me eleven pounds from Kevock for fifty bulbs, giving me more than eight pots to play with. I saw ready potted ones on sale recently at Beth Chatto's nursery when I visited in search of a hostess present and birthday card, and like the iris there is a quantum saving to be made if you can pot your own the previous autumn. Beware the mice, though.