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Visual treats for the coming weeks and months should be occupying our thoughts right now. No matter how dreary the weather becomes, gardening continues and is made more enjoyable by the presence of living colour, indoors and out.

Thursday, 24th October 2019, 4:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 24th October 2019, 5:00 pm
There are plenty of hyacinth bulbs to choose from at garden centres.
There are plenty of hyacinth bulbs to choose from at garden centres.

We’ve already got the yuletide hyacinth bulbs under way in bowls of compost. They stand in darkness and cold-stored in the garage, developing roots as they go. Six weeks hence they`ll be gradually weaned into the conservatory daylight and encouraged into flowering. Unlike hyacinths destined to entertain in spring bedding schemes outdoors next year, these bulbs have been conditioned to bloom in the home after the winter-like treatment. Look for the `prepared` label when buying.Hippeastrum (amaryllis) bulbs, now on sale in a handy gift box containing a pot or bowl and compost, could be blooming alongside if started now. Watching them develop is so rewarding. Push the bulb gently into the surface of moist compost in a pot and stand it in the light. A strong shoot emerges and grows to 30 centimetres or so, revealing up to four flowering buds in process. They open into large trumpet-like flowers, spectacular in appearance, and come in a range of colours.Narcissi, crocus and dwarf iris bulbs, bought now and introduced to containers, are capable of flowering before springtime if they’re potted-up and given the same cold treatment as prepared hyacinths. Traditionally, after planting in containers, they were placed in an open frame outside and completely covered in sand. Several weeks later, careful excavation revealed strong shoots ready for the daylight. The beauty of all these bulbs is their perennial nature. Some can be naturalised outdoors after flowering, others, hippeastrum for example, kept in the pot for future times. And It`s fun experimenting with the planting. A large pot filled with layers of daffodils, one upon the other, is an old favourite. Go for a double, triple or quadruple layer, according to the container size. And why not try a combination of narcissi and dwarf iris/crocus in the same pot!Introducing indoor pot plants to the equation simply adds to the cheer factor. I see cyclamen and phalaenopsis orchids currently on display at plant outlets, and with care both can lasts for weeks, even months, in bloom.

You can't have missed the spring bulb displays and pondered which, if any, to purchase. We've been adding to the existing collection in this garden for as long as I can remember but still buy more on impulse. Those colourful images and deals in the catalogues and media are tempting but they do allow time to cogitate before deciding. The process of ordering also gives food for thought; how long will they take to arrive? How much extra do I pay for postage? What condition will the bulbs be in? I'm happiest facing and handling the real item on display at the local garden centre. And when the lady of the house asks, 'Where are you going to plant them, we have so many spring bulbs already?' A smile is as good as a verbal response, because she already knows the answer which applies to most 'must have' plants; 'I'll find a spot for them somewhere'.Having bought sound bulbs of reasonable size for the type, do them justice by getting the planting right. Planting depth is most important. A general rule is to cover each bulb with two times its height in soil.This means that the tip of a large daffodil will be 16 centimetres below soil level after planting. Bulbs are never happy in soil where drainage is poor. In such cases it helps to work horticultural gravel or gritty sand into the planting holes and set the bulbs slightly higher than the suggested depth. A dressing of general fertiliser on impoverished soil, pre-planting, also helps.Swathes of flowers from bulbs planted in grassed areas look so eye-catching in parks and large gardens, but what follows is a six-week period of fading foliage as they store food for next year. A point to remember if you love a neat lawn and intend to introduce daffodils.Dwarf bulbs are planted in borders and containers. They all keep their heads down and remain unscathed when gusts of wind sweep through the garden. The narcissi, of which there are many varieties, flower much earlier than their taller counterparts, and the blooms last longer. They're ideal for container work, emerging year after year through groups of polyanthus.Do use the disposable plastic gloves that accompany pick-your-own bulb displays, and if the supply has run out, use the paper bag as a makeshift glove. Why? Some bulbs contain poisonous alkaloids that can prove fatal when ingested, and at least cause a stomach upset if a snack follows selecting with bare hands!