Sandy’s Garden

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Bulbs for Christmas

I have grown accustomed, albeit with some reluctance, to accepting that many garden centres have become glorified supermarkets, selling furniture for the house as well as for the conservatory and the garden, clothing for sports wear and casual wear as well as for gardening, foodstuffs of all kinds, glassware, pottery, books, magazines and heaven knows what all besides; and I have had to accept that ‘the Christmas shop’ … ‘Ye Christmas Shoppe’ if one is unlucky … has become a year-round phenomenon which is to be found in some garden centres as well as in some high streets: but I still struggle to come to terms with the setting-out of Christmas items just the moment Summer has passed - that is, from the first day in September.

I have to say that, when I hear the words ‘Christmas bulbs’, my mind locks on to flowering plants such as hyacinths and narcissi and does not immediately go to spare lamps for sets of Christmas lights. However, type ‘Christmas bulbs’ into Google and what is the first site listed? “Christmas Trees | Christmas Lights | Xmas Decorations | Dobbies.” And the second is “Light Bulbs, Rare Light Bulbs, Hard to find light bulbs, Colo…” the odd mixture of ‘Christmas’ and ‘Xmas’, the seemingly random use of capital letters and the choice of which words are presented in bold type taken faithfully from my screen. Only further down the entries does one come across references to bulbous plants that can be persuaded to brighten up the festive season.

And I use the words ‘persuaded to flower’ very deliberately, for floral bulbs need to be specially prepared if they are to have any real chance of flowering indoors at the end of the year … and, again, that word ‘prepared’ is a technical term that will be found beside any display of such bulbs or on their packaging . All … well, just as one should never say ‘never’, I suppose that I should write, ‘virtually all’… so let’s say, virtually all garden centres will have displays of prepared bulbs on show now. It is usually reckoned that the middle of September is the very best time to plants such bulbs if they are to flower in mid to late December, but this date is based on experience and not on any scientifically verifiable data. If the bulbs are pre-packed, they should come with instructions, which should be followed. It is not a good idea to stick the bulbs into a pot without a clear idea of how the bulbs should be planted and cared for. And if the bulbs are bought loose, there will almost certainly be a leaflet on their cultivation nearby, so do remember to pick up a copy.

In very general terms, prepared bulbs are most likely to be hyacinths or narcissi … otherwise commonly called daffodils … and these should be planted in the pot in which they are to flower, so either choose a pretty pot or make sure that the common or garden pot in which they will be grown fits comfortably inside a decorative pot for later display. Part-fill the pot with potting compost or well-damped bulb fibre, leaving sufficient room to allow the bulbs to be planted with their tops almost level with the top of the pot and showing just above the surface of the compost. Water them well and put the pot in a cool spot like the garage, the garden shed or an unheated bedroom … some people advocate keeping them in the dark, but this is optional. Check periodically that the growing medium is still damp, but do not shut the pot up in a plastic bag, which will only encourage mould. After between ten and twelve weeks, the young green shoots should be visible, at which stage the pot should be moved into cool room … not a warm room, initially, a cool room. With a modicum of luck, there will be live, growing flowers to grace the Christmas home.

Sandy Simpson, Polmont Horticultural Society