Bulbs for winter and spring decadence

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Most bulbs aren’t edible (except garlic and onions, and the stamens from the saffron crocus). But they provide cheerful colour, often with a heady fragrance. They can lift your spirits, and fill your house with great bunches of flowers.

May is the last month for planting spring flowering bulbs. Actually, some of mine were starting to shoot already, so I’m just scraping in. I even slipped some jonquils in, which will flower earlier (mid winter). I also planted hyacinths, giant scented freesias and ‘black’ ranunculi (one of my dreams is to plant a black flower garden one day).

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Bulbs are usually planted about the same depth as the size of the bulb; large bulbs can be planted quite deeply. I balanced one hyacinth bulb over a vase of water, to grow inside the house, and put the other two into a long pot that I found at the tip shop. You can buy special hyacinth vases to grow these bulbs in; you may be able to find cheap suitable vases at the op shop. It has to hold the bulb just above the water, letting the roots dangle down. Pop a bit of charcoal in the water to keep it fresh.

The jonquils, freesias and ranunculi I planted by a bed of violets and agapanthus. The jonquils might not flower well this year – they don’t like being moved – but they naturalise well and should grow strongly the following winter. I planted them about a spade depth deep (10-15cm). The freesias I planted about 8cm deep, and the ranunculi quite shallow with only about 3cm of soil on top.

I ordered the hyacinths, freesias and ranunculi from Bulbs Direct by mail order, using my birthday money to give myself the luxury of spring fragrance. The jonquils I dug from a large patch elsewhere on my rental property, where the bulbs were so congested that they were lying on top of the soil. You can also buy bulbs from garden centres, or possibly from seed swap groups. You’ll have to ask around in early autumn if you want to find local spring bulbs, because you’ll need to dig them up while they’re still dormant.

I also dug up and moved a patch of unknown bulbs that were growing in the driveway. For several weeks I’ve been driving over the top of them, trying to avoid crushing the leaves and thinking ‘I must move those bulbs’. I think they are jonquils, but I will find out when they flower!

Sometimes you find hidden surprises in rental properties. It takes at least a year to learn what plants are in your backyard. If you find a patch of something that you want to dig up and take a bulb or corm from, mark the place with a large rock when the leaves are dying down. It can be hard to find once the plant is dormant. There are some lovely neglected daffodils on my parent’s property that I want to rescue, but I couldn’t find them last time I looked. They will have sent up shoots by now. I’ll place an old brick next to them so I can dig down and find them in late summer and shift them somewhere where they’ll be seen.

And now, the growing anticipation of something scented and beautiful, emerging silently in sequence from the dark earth over winter and spring.

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