My bulb order from Broadleigh arrived this morning. I knew the postman had some sort of parcel for one of us, because he stopped his van a couple of yards short of the front door, the way he does when he's going to come and knock at the door by the kitchen. There's always a moment of frisson opening a plant order: will everything you wanted be there or will a crop failure have intervened between the moment when you clicked on Add to Basket and the point when the nursery came to package up your order? The main thing I wanted from Broadleigh were Cyclamen cilicium, and I'd stated firmly on the order form that if they weren't available then I didn't want the rest of the order because it wouldn't be worth paying the delivery charge, having been caught out that way in the past over some iris.
Everything was there, fat and healthy, with no signs of rot or mould, and wrapped in pages from The Times, which what I'd expect from Broadleigh. The owner is Lady Christine Skelmersdale VMH, past member of the RHS council and wife of the seventh Baron Skelmersdale, who in person exudes a head girlish, tweed and pearls, kindly but no-nonsense charm. I inspected the bag of Cyclamen eagerly and as I hoped and expected from Broadleigh and at this time of the year, they had roots, confirming that they were alive, and more to the point telling me which way up I should plant them. My initial bargain purchase of Cyclamen cilicium turned out not to be such a bargain at all, because I couldn't tell decide with any confidence which was the top and which the bottom, and half of them never came up at all. Whether that was because I planted them upside down or because they were already dead when they arrived I shall never know.
The Broadleigh cyclamen were planted with due ceremony and a sprinkling of fish, blood and bone in the gravel under the front wall of the house, tucked around the metal stand of a clay pot. Facing south east they will get the sun for the first part of the day plus a little warmth from the house, which seems to suit the survivors out of the first batch pretty well. The cats have rather annoyingly been using that patch by the house as a loo, but I am hoping the pot stand will get in the way and save the cyclamen from being dug up.
I also bought three Gladiolus 'Ruby', three Roscoea beesiana, and an odd Smilacina racemosa, now properly called Maianthemum. The gladiolus went into individual nine centimetre pots and then straight into a propagating case in the greenhouse, to keep the mice off them. I don't know if mice like them, but at nine quid for three bulbs I don't want to give them the chance to find out. I have seen plants of 'Ruby' in flower and they were sumptuous, with clusters rather than long spikes of almost hellebore-like, fairly large deep red flowers. The three bulbs are destined for the middle of the long bed in the front garden, a patch of particularly arid sand where all sorts of things have failed to thrive, but where species gladiolus have prospered. Something about the sun and drainage suits them. 'Ruby' is related to Gladiolus papilio, which has similar flowers but in a strange shade of pinkish green, and has spread quite busily in that area by underground stolons. 'Ruby' is supposed to have the same growth habit and I'm hoping my three bulbs will develop into a decent patch. Both should flower from late summer into autumn.
The Roscoea are to fill a gap in the ditch bed where a small rhododendron died of mysterious causes. They are related to ginger lilies, and should send up clumps of strap shaped leaves followed by vaguely orchid-like exotic yellow flowers in July and August. After all else read the instructions. Broadleigh did not send any planting instructions in the parcel, relying on their customers to be grown up gardeners who can work these things out for ourselves. After potting my three bulbs, multi-pronged affairs like a cross between a dahlia tuber and a shuttlecock, I browsed Google entries for Roscoea beesiana while drinking a mug of coffee, and found the universal advice was to plant them deep for frost protection. Val Bourne, a very experienced garden journalist, suggested the crown should be four to six inches deep. I began to remember that at the plant centre we always sold them in deep pots: that would be why. I decided to leave mine as they were and plant them out as soon as the first hint of a leaf appeared, plunging them deeper at that point.
The Smilacina racemosa is destined for a shady corner at the end of the ditch bed, where I already have a patch and thought it would be nice to have some more. I was not sure whether the very corner of the bed would be too dark and dry for it, which is why I decided to experiment on a four pound root from Broadleigh rather than a six pound growing plant from Long Acre. I potted my root up in a two litre pot and stood it in the greenhouse, where it should turn into the equivalent of the six pounder given a few weeks. If it is a rip roaring success in that corner I can always get some more.
It was a good day for deliveries. The Strulch arrived just before noon, saving me from spending the rest of the day waiting around for it, and managed not to coincide with the postman or the recycling collection so nobody got held up in the lane. The driver had received the warning to back up the track, instead of the delivery instructions being taped to the pallet in the back of the truck like they were last time, and had followed my advice. His pallet jack wouldn't work on the gravel, as neither of us thought it would, but at least he could use the tail lift to bring the load down to ground level, and it didn't take us too long to offload the pallet at the back of the lorry, after which he was free to go. When the last load of Strulch arrived the driver came in forwards, baulked at the gate, couldn't use the tail lift because his way out would then have been blocked by fifty bags of chopped straw, and ended up handing down every one of the fifty bags to us from the side of the lorry. He was not a happy man by the time we'd finished, while I wasn't too impressed myself. Gardening is supposed to be a relaxing hobby, I'd paid handsomely for the Strulch, and it wasn't my fault that his employers couldn't follow a simple set of instructions. It took me an hour to move the bags after he'd gone, but it was a lovely sunny day. Success all round.