Change of season spells hard work

Leaving tulips in the ground saves space and time. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
Leaving tulips in the ground saves space and time. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
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As May gives way to June and the hope of frost free nights runs high, it’s time for the change-over from spring bedding displays to those of summer, and it involves a fair amount of work.

There were several large beds at the horticultural centre of my youth, and as we were permanently in the public eye via day and evening courses, not to mention visitors, the standard had to be high.

Visit a public park today or look over the winner of a front garden competition and you have an idea of the standard required.

A typical spring bed would involve tulips flowering above polyanthus, both of which were saved at the change-over, with autumn replanting in mind.

The tulips were dug up and checked for soundness, then stored in open boxes in a cool, dry shed with daylight entering.

When an acquaintance asked recently if he should be digging his tulips, the message was ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’. Very few people bother to dig up and save the bulbs now, rather leave them in the soil to build up reserves for next year’s effort.

That’s the way it is in this garden because the alternative of finding a suitable storage place and regular checks against disease is consuming of space and time.

Some tulip cultivars have bulbs that deteriorate over time wherever they spend the intervening period. So if you grow a variety that reappears annually, puts on a stunning display without fuss, then leaves the scene quietly, why interfere?

Polyanthus are different. Too precious to throw on the compost heap, they’re best seen as a golden opportunity to increase your stock.

Divide each clump that should have formed since last autumn into sections and plant these on a spare patch of garden. Keep them watered as necessary, and come this autumn they’ll have bulked-up and be ready to go.

Consider carefully any plants used for spring displays with an eye to keeping costs down next year.

Non-flowering stems of pansy are capable of rooting, and if any seed pods are present on viola, wallflower, et al, recognise that as an opportunity to propagate.

Beds or containers that have supported spring flowering plants will have less to offer newcomers by way of nutrients so the soil will need organic material dug in before autumn planting of spring displays. It may be composted vegetable material, cow or horse manure – something that will add body to the soil, holding moisture and encouraging beneficial organisms.

Preparing the same patch for summer displays is much simpler, adding fertiliser only.

The long-standing favourite which I still use is organic-based fish, blood and bone. After removing weeds, a dusting is broadcast over the surface of a bed and forked lightly in.