Six on Saturday: Something for Nothing…or Not Much

At the end of the 2019 season, our local garden centre heavily discounted all their remaining bulbs at the end of December; this season’s, however, were only reduced by 50% at New Year, so when I heard last weekend that they were finally reduced to £1 a pack I was down there like a shot when they opened the next morning. Not that I needed any more bulbs, of course, but there is always space for more and £1 a pack is next to nothing. I planted mini daffs and fritillaries on my return, and tulips and allium yesterday – now for the waiting and watching!

I don’t need to wait any longer for the existing narcissi to emerge, as a spell of 10°C days earlier in the week gave them the kickstart they needed. These are at the front of the house and had been disturbed by rebuilding part of the wall and the soil clearly now needs topping up. I might even remove all those pebbles at the same time…

Most definitely free but involving a lot of effort on the Golfer’s part was a cache of pallets from our neighbours on the hedge side, where on-going building work has been going on for well over a year – 15 in total I think, all now dismantled and stored in the shed apart from the bits that required too much effort to pull apart which have gone to another neighbour for firewood.

It’s easy to think that seeds cost next to nothing, and when buying in dribs and drabs on eBay as I usually do I don’t notice the cost – but I certainly do when I go to checkout after being let loose in a seed catalogue! But of course it is worth it for the joy those seed packets bring and I always feel a surge of excitement when seed-sowing starts again, a continuous process now until April and sometimes beyond. I set up my Heath Robinson propagator last weekend, an old pan stand with temporary plywood shelves placed next to the always-warm Aga; less than two days later all the cornflowers had germinated, followed shortly by bunny tail grass, Lagurus ovatus, at which point the seed trays were transferred to the greenhouse for more light and lower temperatures. Don’t you just love the promise of new seedlings…?

Named snowdrops don’t come with a minimal price tag (although blogging friends are generous with spares, and it is good to be able to swap where possible), and after their initial rush to emerge before Christmas there are still a number of varieties that have not made an appearance. My new acquisitions are always planted in deep ‘snowdrop pots’ and plunged into the soil until they bulk up – which makes checking no-shows as easy as lifting the pot and examining the contents. Yesterday turned up a couple of ‘drops that thankfully were on their way after all, three that were little more than partial bulbs and have gone (with little hope) into intensive care but sadly also several pots that were empty. Many of these ’empty’ pots had bulbs that were bought around the same time two years ago, which seems more than just coincidence and makes me wonder if it was the planting medium at fault…

There are always a few casualties each year but this has been my worst loss, especially as there are still others that have not appeared yet. It makes it an expensive specialised interest as I am also usually buying at least as many anowdrops as I lose each year – sometimes I might buy a replacement for a specific variety the following year, but not always. Perhaps I need the courage to not buy ANY at all next year, and just give my existing collection a chance to fully establish – not that that guarantees they will come through each season unscathed. Ah well, such is gardening life…

To finish my Six on Saturday contribution on a positive note, the sixth element is the progress of the hellebores in the Coop Corner – you may remember that two of them had just their leaves trimmed last weekend and this, with the aid of some generous sunshine and milder temperatures early in the week, has boosted them considerably, now proudly acting as harbingers of the spring that is just a hop, step and a jump away…

(left to right: Harvington Double Aubergine, Winter Moonbeam, Anna’s Red)

For more Sixes on Saturday, please visit our host, Jon the Propagator

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37 Responses to Six on Saturday: Something for Nothing…or Not Much

  1. Many of my special snowdrops don’t seeM to have come back this year either but I suspect I dug them up when planting bulbs in the autumn – might try keeping them in pots for next year!

    • Cathy says:

      That’s one of the reasons why my specials have a border of their own, although I do add temporary plants for the summer. I used to use lattice pots for mine, but found that other roots penetrated them and could swamo the bulbs

  2. Ian Lumsden says:

    Strange to read so many thoughts that are similar to my own. Snowdrops are supposed to be tough but mine are intent on short lives. If you would like to exchange a few at the season’s end do let me know.

    • Cathy says:

      Reassuring to know we are of the same mind, Ian! I suspect that some of the new hybrids may just not be good do-ers – after all, the natives have been around for hundreds of years and have proved their worth. I have made a point this year of ordering mostly ones that are listed as good at bulking up. Thanks for the offer of possible swaps – I will email you with details of my likely spares

  3. tonytomeo says:

    It would be nice if narcissus waited a bit longer. Some of ours finished blooming a while ago, and are typically ruined by rain. They happened to look good this year, but there are not many people around in winter (even during a ‘normal’ year) to see them. Daffodils bloom later somehow. I suppose that if more narcissus are ever added, they should be a late bloomer, if there is such a thing.

    • Cathy says:

      And I suppose your seasons are so predictable Tony – we can never be sure when any of our winter bloomers will appear in the UK, such are the vagaries of our weather!

      • tonytomeo says:

        It is difficult to imagine that our seasons are predictable, but they are more predictable than they are in other regions. (The worst storm since 1982 is expected tomorrow after noon!) We know that, as harsh as the weather seems to us, it is mild relative to other climates. We get no snow. Frost is minor. The wind that was so terribly damaging last week, and that is expected to be so dangerous tomorrow, is only as bad as it is because of the huge redwood trees. Such wind is common in Oklahoma, but the trees are not so dangerous.

  4. My husband has been collecting discarded pallets for years and we have put them to good use around the garden. 🙂

  5. Jane says:

    I like your snowdrop labels! I’ve tried all sorts of labels in my garden, but they get sun bleached very rapidly. As for bulbs not returning, I have rather a lot that have nice healthy leaves, but never a flower. Have tried all the usual remedies, to no avail.🙁

    • Cathy says:

      If bulbs are aways just leaves, often it’s a case of them not being planted deep enough – but most tulips don’t reliably come back, not in the UK anyway. I have used black labels with permament white marker pen for years, and they don’t fade at all – and these don’t break if they are trodden on either! This year, however, I am going back to using a labelling machine, with clear label tape and white print, and the same black labels – it’s almost impossible to successfully clean the permanent marker from the labels which meant if a plant failed the label could not easily be reused. At least now I can just peel the tape off (or not kill the plants off in the first place, of course!!)

      • Noelle M says:

        I have managed to clear the writing, so that the labels can be used a second time, by using fine wire wool.

        • Cathy says:

          I will give that a go, Noelle – a tough scourer did make a difference but it was slow going and not worth the time involved. Thanks

  6. I guess it’s a good thing I’ve never seen many varieties of snowdrop for sale over here – it would e too tempting! I do have loads of G. nivalis all over that come back and multiply reliably year to year. They start sprouting in January, usually (although this winter they started at the beginning of December…), and I noticed a few flower buds shivering in the -10 sunshine this morning!

    • Cathy says:

      Yes, the natives are reliable here too, and the first of mine are just opening now, but always the double floro pleno before the singles. Only -5 minimum here today!!

  7. We upgraded our compost heap this autumn, replacing the chicken wire with free pallets, and it looks so much nicer. I’m sure you’ll find a good use for them. My one clump of snowdrops is pretty pathetic, I actually think these are bulbs that look best in large numbers, so keep buying! 😉

    • Cathy says:

      Our compost bins are from pallets too! The natives do look lovely in swathes, and these I can dig up and replant easily with them complaining, to spread them even more – but they are in a different part of the garden

  8. As someone who lives in a place with about a foot of snow right now, I appreciate posts like yours, Cathy. It brings me joy to see plants and flowers already starting to bloom!

  9. Paddy Tobin says:

    Snowdrops are very expensive, silly prices, but such is the situation of supply and demand.

    • Cathy says:

      Sadly yes, that is the case, but I have learned not to get carried away any more, and I now have relatively small limits on the prices I am willing to pay. And only buy them on Buy it Now fixed prices on eBay too, if I source any from there. I did have a full year without buying ANY plants at all a few years back, so if I set my mind to not buying any one year then I know I can stick to it 😉

  10. Array says:

    Glad to read that you got those bargain bulbs in Cathy 😂 You have nothing to loose when they were so cheap. Sorry though to read about your snowdrop losses. I know exactly how you feel! If it’s any help I think that I will be able to replace your Reverend Hailstone in the summer with an offset of the Rev. that you sent to me at least a couple of years ago. I also have a spare Pride Of The Mill which which was supplied to me in error. Your hellebores are looking most prolific.

    • Cathy says:

      Even if I don’t need the extra bulbs there is room for a few bargains, and all of them were good quality and not dried out in any way. It’s odd about snowdrop losses, isn’t it, and quite ironic that you can now offer a replacement offset from a bulb I sent you in the past – they certainly keep us on our toes, don’t they? Yes please to both possibles if you can spare them – and I am seriously thinking I will have a year of buying them next season… The hellebores are still some way from peak flowering, but are at least heading in the right direction

  11. Cathy I am so glad you got 1 Pound packets of mini daff, fritillaries, tulips and allium; you’ll see how they all come out: I love it. Daffodils are great. The palettes are very useful and if they are obtained for free better. Cathy you are working, you never stop doing reforms: your mind never stops, I love it. Your seed propagator is fantastic: in two days all the sprouted cornflowers and then the rabbit tail grass, I love it and seeing the seedlings is New Life! I am so sorry for the great losses of special snowdrops. How the eléboros have bloomed in a week !!! There are the three divine, wonderful: I love them and I love them. Enjoy them and enjoy your lovely garden and gardening. Take good care of the golfer and you. Very affectionate greetings from Margarita.

    • Cathy says:

      It is an exciting tme of year in the garden, Margarita, with the witch hazels, hellebores and many of the snowdrops, so any dafffodils and other spring bulbs will be a bonus

      • Cathy is an exciting time in your garden because of how wonderfully well you have planned your garden plants and their flowering time. You are a genius at gardening. Very affectionate greetings from Margarita.

  12. Cathy says:

    A shame about the snowdrops, but you have just saved yourself a tidy sum from your bulb purchases to reinvest! 😉 In my case I hesitate each year at buying replacement tulip bulbs, as they are not cheap and rarely flower well for more than a couple of years, but then I imagine my garden without them and feel the cost is worth it.
    Lovely to see your hellebores looking so perky!

    • Cathy says:

      Not really a saving though, as if they weren’t £1 I wouldn’t have bought them!! I don’t bother trying to keep tulips any more, and buy what I want each year from Peter Nyssen and Aldi, where they are a reasonable price and good quality

  13. Noelle M says:

    That is real success with those seedlings. See also my note earlier regarding using fine wire wool to clean off the black labels, it also works on the white labels. I use the recycled white labels for plants I pot up to give away.

  14. What a lovely six, Cathy. I get green eyes when I see your collections. When I bought a pricey snowdrop a few years ago, I considered propagating it by chipping or scaling. In the end, as there was only one bulb, I didn’t, but if you have a few (or maybe your damaged ones), perhaps you might consider having a go. Those sale bulbs sound fantastic value even if it turns out they bide their time till next year. Especially great to get bargain fritillaries I think! When do you think your cornflowers will bloom from a sowing now?

    • Cathy says:

      I did try chipping one year but without success – but you are right, I ought to have another go. I try to add some fritillaries every year and the ones I get from Peter Nyseen say to plant immediately, but surprisingly these bargain ones still looked fairy fresh. They were planted alongside the new second path through the woodland so I will know for sure when they come up. I don’t always record when seedlings bloom, but I did note that I planted out Jan sown cornflowers on 25th April last year so they may have been flowering a month or so later, or perhaps early June

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