It’s tempting to reach for a pot or two when planting up your spring bulbs, but have you considered another way? A swathe or two of bulbs in grass is one thing, but why not inject an element of creativity into the process? Plant in geometric or symbolic patterns and as the spring days lengthen your design will begin to emerge. With the majority of bulbs repeating their display year on year, this garden feature will bring cheer to chilly days for seasons to come.
Planting a snowdrop heart – The snowdrop heart flowering in early March – © Maxine Adcock/GAP Photos
This simple heart-shaped design of snowdrops is a gentle reminder to the creator that they have a generous spirit and cheerful outlook. What more could you want in chilly January?
Galanthus nivalis – Snowdrops growing in circles round a Prunus – plum tree – © Christa Brand/GAP Photos
A simple pattern of ever-increasing circles provides a subtle boundary for this veteran plum tree. Try a similar effect with crocus, eranthis or reticulata irises.
Anemone blanda ‘White Splendour’, Anemone blanda ‘Blue Shades’, Muscari azureum, Muscari azureum ‘Album’ Chionodoxa luciliae and Chionodoxa luciliae ‘Alba’ planted in lines in the lawn – © Hanneke Reijbroek/GAP Photos
A pleasant tapestry of anemones, chionodoxa and grape hyacinths is given structure with these long, rectangular beds. Stylish and functional, mowing between the multiple beds is straightforward.
Crocus planted in spiral in grass – © Howard Rice/GAP Photos
This secluded spot is utilised well with a simple spiral of light mauve crocus. Incorporating extra spirals of narcissi, species tulips and other dwarf bulbs could create a kaleidoscope effect.
Extending the growing seasons gives you at least an extra two months worth of harvest time. Covering up crops with cloches also protects foliage, making it more supple and tender to eat. It’s also a simple yet effective way to fend of pests and diseases. At this time of year there are three major reasons to use cloches – to protect hardy sowings, to extend the harvest period of autumn crops and to fend off pigeons.
There’s a surprising number of veg that can be sown now – pea shoots, rocket, mizuna, mustard, leaf and oriental radish, hardy lettuce, annual spinach, turnip tops, Swiss chard – this highlights just a few. A small pinch of seeds can easily be covered with a glass dome cloche, but if you don’t have one to hand then the upturned bottom half of a clear plastic bottle works just as well. Picking up glass demijohns at car boot sales is a savvy way to get hold of large glass cloches – view online tutorials to be shown how to easily remove their bases (leaded Victorian cloches look stunning but are joined by a hefty price tag). Tunnel cloches, ideal for covering long rows, can easily be fashioned out of Aunt Dora’s net curtains and some stout wire domes. These larger covers are ideal for cloaking rows of established spinach and chard for buttery, strand-free October pickings. Bearing in mind that class retains more heat than other cloche materials, it’s time to view old windows in a different light. And what about some home-made pigeon defences for those precious winter brassicas? A simple dome of interwoven woody prunings will keep their voracious appetites at bay while being easy on the eye.
Hyacinthoides ‘Peter Stuyvesant’ – Forced hyacinths in a wooden container – © Jonathan Buckley/GAP Photos
In autumn, when cheery souls chirp to you that “it’s almost Christmas..!” deal with their wry smile by sending yourself on a jolly to the garden centre. There, among the bare root plants, bags of bulbs and beginnings of tinsel towns, you’ll find such plump lovelies as hyacinths, paperwhite narcissi and hippeastrum. All classic bulbs for forcing into bloom for Christmas, they appreciate being started off during October. Yes, you can buy the potted bulbs in bud during December, but it’s easier on the wallet and far more satisfying to start them off from scratch.
Hyacinths are the first to be planted. Needing 10 weeks of cool followed by 15-20 days of warmth, set them into pots of bulb fibre now and keep them in the shed or garage (make sure you buy ‘prepared’ bulbs). Ensure they’re dark and moist then in early December, move them to a cool room indoors (too warm and the leaves smother the flowers). Huge hippeastrums and powerfully scented paperwhites simply need 10 weeks to transform into flowering displays. Pot them up in the middle of the month, keep them well watered and in good light in a cool room, then give them pride of place when in full bloom. Pea sticks help to support top-heavy flowers, and moss or pebbles create an attractive mulch to bare compost.