The catalogues have been flopping through the letter box for a while now but I still can’t really get my head around bulb ordering any earlier than September. Thinking about crocuses and daffs seems all wrong in the long days of summer but it only takes one “They’ve already started selling out” – as happened this week – to stir my stumps.
This year will be a very different sort of order though; bulbs and corms (I’ve never mastered the difference) planted to make the flower beds sing from winter to summer aren’t necessarily the same as those that’ll bewitch in a bunch. Crocus tommasinianus, for example, my all-time favourite for planting en masse under trees, are too tiddly for picking (10cm tall), Crocus vernus Vanguard is a much better bet for a bedroom bunch – 15cm tall and with much bigger flowers. On the flip side, I only really think of hyacinths as indoor flowers – too big a flower head on too short a stem for most beds, somehow – but cracking cut flowers and they last for ages.
The sheer vastness of the choice out there is also enough to make my brain melt. God bless that devoted band of breeders who every year add more sweeties to the pick n mix selection, but do we really need 20,000+ varieties of narcissus to choose from?
For bulk orders, I always use Peter Nyssen – a great selection, not too enormous, and, crucially, an easy to work round website. Also good for big orders are Jacques Amand and J Parker’s. For smaller scales, Bloms is hard to beat, a lovely company to deal with and rightful winners of 63 gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show. Best for the specialties, oddities and all the other things that make you stoop to examine when they come into flower are Avon and Broadleigh, but you really do need to get your order in early with these two as they sell out fast.
As for planting times, does anyone seriously put all their daffs in in August only to slice through them when the tulips go in in November? I plant the whole lot in a oner, ideally before Christmas. One year a combination of my incompetence and a cold hard winter meant I was still bulb planting in January. Yes, the display was a little later but they all flowered just fine.