Updated: Nov 7, 2021
When I start to choose spring flowering bulbs I behave like a child in a sweet shop. I end up with a basket full of more than I can sensibly plant, but still order them all with an optimism that defies common sense. Well, I did the same this year and have hundreds of bulbs arriving from two suppliers over the next few weeks. Add to these the bulbs from previous years which I recycle into new positions the year after they flowered in pots and a mammoth task confronts me later this autumn.
Naturalised Fritillaria meleagris - also known as the snakeshead fritillary. You can get white florwers as well as purple, but only the purple ones have that distinctive chequerboard pattern on their petals.
Brexit has restricted the UK suppliers anyone can use for plant buying to those which have the appropriate plant health certificates (more about what this involves in a future blog). These are expensive and time consuming to acquire, so very few suppliers from the UK are now prepared to supply the EU. After much gnashing of teeth on my part I started to discover other EU sites - most notably in the Netherlands - and this year have added Farmer Gracy to my list of bulb suppliers. (https://www.farmergracy.co.uk/). My other go to bulb supplier is Peter Nyssen (https://www.peternyssen.com/). They are also based in the Netherlands. Both suppliers are actually close to Keukenhof (https://keukenhof.nl/en/) which is, in my view, the world capital of bulbs. I am extremely excited about this year's choices.
Keukenhof Botanic Gardens, in Lisse, Netherlands
Following the enlargement of various borders, which took place last week I have ordered Tete-a-tete daffodils - small, vigorous daffodils which are perfect for the front of my newly extended borders and then yet more alliums for established borders.
Every year I order Allium hollandicum Purple Sensation which is a really good 'do-er' - medium height and flower size and a powerful purple blue. In previous years I have ordered Allium schubertii which is low growing and with fire cracker heads of flowers, but this year I am going to try the gigantic Allium cristophii (also known as The Star of Persia) in the dry garden. I have never grown this before.
Allium cristophii (left) and Allium hollandicum Purple Sensation (below)
Another group of plants I am experimenting with are fritillarias. I have never succeeded with these in France. Last year I had a disaster with some highly expensive Fritillaria persica Adiyamen, which I grew successfully in Northumberland many years ago. I planted this in (yet another) new border which promptly flooded in the horribly wet winter we had. The fact that this is the lowest point of the garden caused it to act as a sump to add to the problems with the excessive rain. Fritillaria persica is, as you would expect from the name, native to the rocky slopes of Turkey and Syria. It would thrive here in a drier site, but I just got it wrong. The bulbs were never seen again. I will try again once my psyche has recovered.
However, now I understand the characteristics of this particular patch of garden I am going to have a go with my favourite fritillary - Fritillaria meleagris, which thrives in damp meadows. Years ago, when we first moved here, I saw big drifts of purple Fritillaria meleagris along the Dropt river flood plain just outside of Monsegur (33580). It was the first time I had seen them growing in such quantity in an unspoilt, natural setting and they were breathtaking.
Fritillaria meleagris (right) and imperialis (below left)
I have also bought another fritillaria which will go into our hot garden - this is Fritillaria imperialis. Huge, orange and, loved by small birds who drink the nectar. You have to remember to plant the bulbs on their side or they may rot if they collect damp in the little hollow which you can find on the top of the bulb. All of these have come from Farmer Gracie, and it will be interesting to see how they perform.
Meanwhile, I have bought my tulips from Peter Nyssen, as I always do. I have stuck to old favourites - Princess Irene, Virichic, El Nino, Purple Doll and Spring Green. I plant these in pots, in batches of ten at a time and move them around the garden to suit both their colour and flowering time. In future years I move them into borders/grass and attempt to naturalise them (with limited success).
Tulip El Nino - we didn't grow these last year as Peter Nyssen had sold out before I placed the order.
Delivery starts in October - then it is down to work immediately with the daffodils, fritillarias and alliums, while the tulips are best planted in November.