Bulb time

Our September meeting was timely – a talk on bulbs from Stan Mahom, whose Carno nursery specialses in them. Sepetember is now their busiest time of the year, so it was good to have him come and talk to us. And what is more, he bought some for us to buy.

This year, there’s a shortage, largely down to the weather. And snowdrops are particularly scarce, not just the extraordinarily expensive rare bulbs. In the wild they are now rare, and are classed as endangered (by CITES) in places like Turkey. That’s because of a combination of plunder for cultivation and habitat destruction. But it’s not all doom and gloom, and Stan took us through various bulbs, with lots of interesting snippets about each one.

Did you know, for instance, that crocuses are a member of the iris family, and that the earliest representation of a crocus dates back to the Bronze Age (Minoan frescos on Santorini and Crete)?

Continuing the archaological theme, irises have an association with death, and were planted on graves in Ancient Greece. But these could be planted in our gardens:

Here’s another astonishing bulb fact: over 3 million tulip bulbs are sold each year in the UK. (Some to us, after the talk.)

Queen of Night, the almost-black tulip which is so popular, is an enduring favourite: it was introduced almost 125 years ago, in 1895. Like QoN, most are cultivated varieties, although species tulips are growing in popularity (there are only 75 wild species, apparently).

What about hyacinths? Well, Stan’s nursery no longer sell hyacinths forced for Christmas flowering. The bulbs are temperature-treated so that they think they ‘have’ to flower and get very top heavy (we’ve almost all had ‘floppy-hyacinth’ disorder). He recommends ordinary garden hyacinths – they are stockier and more compact and don’t fall over. For a display, he recommends growing the bulbs separately and then merging those showing the same level of growth (and for the Spring Show, they need to be planted around Christmas and kept cool).

Then Stan gave us a timely tip: Get the biggest bulbs you can afford, as they will give you the best results. Prepack bulbs are usually second quality – smaller bulbs – so be aware of that.

And there were some beauties for us to choose from, too.

Many thanks to Stan Mahom for an interesting evening.