Monday, 18 December 2017

back in the garden

Finally it thawed out, a bit.  I was all set to plant the tulip bulbs from last year's pots in the dahlia bed, but by mid morning there was still frost lying on top of the Strulch, and I decided I'd better stick to weeding and deadheading.  Soil is an extremely efficient insulator, so you really don't want to go burying cold or frozen lumps of it six inches down, where they will sit like little blocks of ice, chilling the roots of your plants.  Tulips and dahlias, both left permanently in the ground, live together quite happily, the former having pretty much finished doing anything for the year by the time the latter have really got going.  I suppose, following on from what Fergus Garrett said in his lecture, that you would not want to have a tulip with massive, broad leaves right next to any of the dahlia crowns in case it shaded out the new dahlia shoots, but I don't pack them into the bed that densely.

The combination started as a way of reusing the bulbs from the displays in pots, unless they had split into tiny offsets that wouldn't be capable of flowering for years, because it seemed a shame to throw them away and I couldn't think where else to put them.  I didn't want to risk reusing them in the pots in case they didn't flower again.  Like my amaryllis on the kitchen window sill, bedding tulips bought from a bulb merchant are virtually guaranteed to flower in year one, but the following seasons are more hit and miss.  I didn't mind a miss or two in the open ground, but pots with only two or three flowers in a display that was mainly leaves would be a disappointment.

The only issue with replanting the bulbs afterwards, apart from making time to actually do it, is that your choice of colour scheme for the pots is then limited by what you've already got in the garden.  The tulips in the dahlia bed are a medley of hot colours, deep reds, orange, purple and bright yellow.  If I fancied soft pinks or cream in the pots for a change I'd have to think of something else to do with the bulbs.  A couple of years ago I did opt for pink and soft yellow, and the bulbs that were fit to be reused ended up being planted around the hybrid tea roses.  This time to make things easier for myself I have gone back to purple and red.  We both like the hot colours anyway, and they go well with the lime green flowers of Euphorbia characias that are out at the same time.

Some people plant their spent tulip bulbs in grass that's allowed to grow long, taking the view that if they die out after a season or two it doesn't matter.  Prince Charles used to have them at Highgrove, though he may have bought them specially for the purpose, before deciding that it was not a green or sustainable form of gardening and switching to Camassia.  I toyed with the idea, but couldn't think of a piece of grass where they would look right, and doubted I would get much of a display even in year one.  Asking a tulip to cope with competition from grass as well as our dreadful soil seemed too much.

The tall bedding varieties are not reliably perennial in the ground anyway.  A few stalwarts last for years, of which the most determined has to be the pillar box red 'Apeldoorn'.  I even have an odd tulip that looks just like 'Appeldoorn' that comes up reliably every year in the gravel, close under the house wall in a spot where I never planted it.  I think it sowed itself there, otherwise if it is a legacy of the previous owners it has survived since 1993.  'Appeldoorn' is a Darwin hybrid, and they are reckoned to be among the best of the tall tulips for permanent plantings.  The lily flowered orange 'Ballerina' is pretty good as well.

I am running ahead of myself, though, since I never got as far as planting any tulips today, and had to make do with deadheading lavender and pulling sheep sorrel out of the gravel.

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