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Gardening Tips - 2016 - November/December Print


November and December 2016

Although October is the best month for planting most bulbs, there is still time in early November, so look at a few websites or go back to local nursery gardens. In particular Bulb’Argence, a firm in the Var, has a rare and interesting selection so it is worth studying their website. 

One of the most successful and popular bulbs of the Alliaceae family is Tulbaghia violacea, a fast growing clump-forming bulbous perennial known as the society garlic (or pink agapanthus) because the long narrow leaves and large umbels of pale lilac flowers, in late summer and early autumn, all smell of garlic – well, after all it is the same family! It grows in almost any position, and looks particularly well in large clumps or used as an edging plant. Its requirements are few: full sun and plenty of good compost on a well drained soil. It is also totally drought resistant although a gentle watering now and then is always helpful. Propagate from seed sown in spring, or by division of the clumps when they get too large. A truly useful plant. 

Narcissi grow easily in light soil or heavy clay mixed with fine grit. Plant the bulbs, pointed side up, 10-15 cms deep and 7-10 cms between each bulb at any time between August and November. Narcissi do much better than daffodils in our climate, unless you have plenty of cool, damp soil. Some of the most alluring include the old fashioned Pheasant’s Eye with its wonderful scent; Avalanche, and Geranium, which is like Pheasant’s Eye, but with a much deeper orange centre; Martinette, a gorgeous bright yellow and orange centre; and Actaea, which is also similar to Pheasant’s Eye but has the advantage of flowering earlier. In spring, as soon as the leaves appear, they should be given a good dose of potash to encourage growth. As is true of all spring flowering bulbs. 

Next on my list of really stunning bulbs are other Alliums which come striding dramatically through the undergrowth of other plants, with their round heads of dazzling mauves, pinks and purples, giving colour and distinction to mixed beds. Normally they have a long flowering season and are helpfully long lived. Some of the best include Globemaster, Early Emperor, Hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ and Christophii. Place in a really well drained soil; they are not fussy about what sort of soil but cannot stand soggy or waterlogged positions. This is important as they will not survive unless in full sun and a dry position. Plant approximately 10-15 cms deep and the same apart, with the pointy end upwards, adding a good handful or two of grit to the bottom of the hole. Like many bulbs, do not remove the leaves after flowering but let them die down naturally. Normally, in favourable conditions, Alliums last for many years. 

Amaryllis Belladonna – the Jersey Lily. This lovely lily from South Africa flowers on long, naked stems in August and September, without its leaves – hence one of its names –Naked Lady – bearing 2-12 twelve rosy pink, highly scented trumpet flowers. Place the large bulbs just below the surface of the soil, pointy side up, at a space of 15 cms. Like alliums, they hate damp or water logged soil so find a dry sunny place always adding grit to the planting hole if the soil is too heavy. They resent disturbance so choose a spot where you mean them to stay and be warned that they do not always flower their first year. Look forward to their flowering early next autumn. 

Now for an unusual bulb but perfect as a pot plant for a terrace or terrace garden, the Hymenocallis Litoralis – the Beach Spider Lily – and as its name implies it needs a slightly sandy but rich soil which must not dry out. It produces long strap-like leaves, similar to Agapanthus, and highly scented white flowers with a wide cup and narrow “tepal” segments (petals and flowers). They are natives of the southern parts of the USA, and therefore are better grown in pots where they can be kept moist and fed, every two weeks, with a liquid fertiliser (tomato feed, as ever). Otherwise they are tough and undemanding, have a long flowering season, but should be in full or filtered sun. As the sun goes down they will fill your patio or terrace with a heady scent. 

Last year I wrote about “classic” tulips but now I would like to mention their wild counterparts or “botanical” tulips.  Many of these, and their hybrids, are in good bulb suppliers and have the advantage of multiplying and living a long time. They are suitable to our climate as they originally came from the Eastern Mediterranean, Asia Minor and beyond. The best-known is probably Kaufmanniana, sometimes called the water-lily tulip. The wild form is creamy with reddish markings and there are several hybrids such as Corona also with reddish markings, Ancilla and Show winner, a really beautiful coral pink. Next is Gregii, unmistakable as their leaves have red stripes and their vermillion flowers are bigger than others in the wild.  Some of the hybrids, such as Compostella, are yellow and orange, Cape Cod yellow and red, Chopin cream and red, and Oratorio pink.

Fosteriana, or Emperor tulips, have become popular as they resemble standard tulips; the wild form is bright red but nowadays most of the selections are hybrids such as Red Emperor, Pink Emperor, Easter Moon, and Purissima which is pure white, grows 35-40 cms and naturalises easily. 

Next come the species tulips such as Batolini, growing only 10 cms high in several colours from red to yellow and orange. Dasystemon Tarda is prolific, multiplying rapidly with yellow star shaped flowers and roughly the same height at 10-15 cms. Turkestanica has white flowers with a yellow base that are slightly taller, reaching 20-25 cms.

Finally Tulip Clusiana, the Lady tulip originating from Afghanistan and beyond, is one of the prettiest of the species tulips. It is thought that about 250 different species exist in the wild with Clusiana one of the best as it colonises and multiplies quickly if left undisturbed in a corner. Now is not too late to plant this particular tulip. All these species tulips like cool wet winters and baking hot summers so should all be suitable in our climate.  Most are completely carefree and thrive in any reasonable fertile soil provided it is well drained and in full sun. 

Leaving aside bulbs, don’t forget that autumn is the best time to divide or resettle plants that have outgrown their space, or even to ruthlessly discard those that have offended you and their neighbours. As the FT’s great gardening guru Robin Lane Fox reminds us, after pulling out the unwanteds, one can quickly cheer up flagging spaces with strategically placed late flowering plants in pots. Hidden in autumnal foliage no one will ever guess they are not permanent fixtures.