As November fast approaches, it feels like every season other than winter. Like a strange and surreal echo of spring, my latest batch of autumn crocus from Spalding have burst into bloom. Their petals are even more beautifully marked than the first lot I planted – like fine old china, traced in delicate lines of blue and mauve.
Today is oddly summery, and it feels rather weird to be planting tulips in a t-shirt – the thermometer inside the shed says 20 celcius! These are the last bulbs I’ll be planting this year, unless I can get my hands on some autumn-planting shallots. However, there’s no real rush with tulips: unlike earlier bulbs such as daffodils and crocus which want to be planted as soon as possible, you can leave tulips in their packets until Christmas if you need to. Once when I was working for BBC Gardeners’ World, we filmed a plant trial at RHS Garden Harlow Carr, in which they tried planting tulips at monthly intervals from September right up till January. Amazingly, there was very little difference in flowering, even for those planted after New Year (although those that were planted in the earliest batches didn’t do quite as well).
So I always take advantage of late-season special offers on tulips as retailers try to make way for their Christmas stock in November. I adore tulips – they are a real shot in the arm of vibrant colour (who doesn’t love a bit of zingy orange after all the tasteful pale pinks and creams of spring cherry blossom?), and frequently their flowering marks the first moment when you can venture outside without feeling cold at all. So how appropriate to be planting them in a t-shirt on this warm sunny October day.
I grow small ones such as Tulip ‘Red Riding Hood’ in pots by the front door, and this year I’m putting a row of the scented, double-flowered ‘Cartouche’ on the allotment for cut flowers. One of my very favourites is ‘Prinses Irene’, whose yellowy-orange flowers which are streaked with maroon, flame-like patterns. Like ‘Cartouche’, it’s scented, so plant a few where you can easily sniff them and enjoy a glorious, fragrant and colourful spring.