It might be of interest to people looking at the Avon Bulb website to see where we grow what we sell. The field has shelter belts of Beech and Hornbeam with a fairly heavy loam soil. The plants are grown in a bed system, sometimes with several patches and then one of which may be lifted every other year. Because of our soils we tend to grow the larger bulbed summer flowering plants and bulbs that are generally dug and split in the spring and supplied from the spring catalogue. Consequently at other times of the year the field can look rather bare.
It has been a tricky decision to make but this will be the last Autumn catalogue that we produce with things as they are. There will be another Spring catalogue early next year but that will mark the end of Avon Bulbs as it is.
I took over Avon Bulbs in May 1987 when it was still very small. It had no computerised records, we did not take credit card payments for many years and there was a staff of 3, one being Alan Street. That was at Bradford on Avon. 1989/90 saw a move to South Somerset and over the next 34 years we gradually built facilities, a reputation on the show circuit (we won 30 Gold Medals at the Chelsea Flower Show up until we stopped attending there in 2017), grew collections of plants - Agapanthus, Eucomis and Galanthus in particular. The staff numbers increased to 10 (not all full time), I got married and the kids who featured in our early catalogues became more reluctant to appear there and have now started on their own careers (Stage Management, System Controls and Robotics since you wondered!) and are not interested in any succession here. In recent years we have been through the difficulties of importing – or worse for us, exporting plants due to Brexit, the pandemic (which as a mail order business mean that we were busier than usual) and in 2021 and 2022 Alan’s illness and death. Avon Bulbs has provided us with a reasonable living and gainful and I hope rewarding work for those employed here. But we have (I admit) been slow to expand, employ young staff or to perhaps grow away from what is a slightly limiting location. We have a very loyal and tolerant lot of customers who I hope know that we try hard to produce and sell interesting plants and bulbs at reasonable cost but as importantly – in a slightly old fashioned way that I hope is ethical and honest. We occasionally make mistakes but try to put them right as long as the complaint is fair and where necessary own up to such errors, sometimes even if the customer was unaware that there was a problem!
Drone shot 2020 (above) New Year's Day on the same landmark that is illustrated on the cover of the Five Year Diary (below)
Second hand greenhouse being erected 1989
Since Alan became unable to work I have been trying to fulfil his role (as well) but without the horticultural knowledge or formal training. I ran the business, organised and directed but I could not hire anyone else to take on his job whilst he was alive and feel that employing a manager in the future, on a site where we will continue to live, would be unfair on them – I do not see myself as an easy onlooker on a business that I ran for so long!
I would like to find a buyer who would like to take the Avon Bulbs name, relocate it and prosper with it. Someone may yet appear and making our position public might trigger some interest.
We would encourage those of you with Gift Tokens as yet unspent to use them up. However let me assure you that we are not closing for commercial reasons – we are solvent and work continues with the next season in mind. In past years we have sold a proportion of our ‘crop’ and either left a proportion to grow for a future harvest, or replanted the ‘offsets’ (the smaller bulbs) so that they may be harvested another year when bigger. This year there is less of a requirement to do that. Consequently we may have larger stocks of what we grow ourselves to sell, or have a surplus of bulbs of a smaller size than we normally send out that might be available. Please enquire if you have a particular interest.
We have found a copy of an Avon Bulbs Spring 2000 catalogue where Alan Street wrote about what started his own fascination for Snowdrops. We thought that it was worth publishing here 23 years later.
My own interest in snowdrops started over thirty years ago when I used to cycle to a derelict and deserted cottage alongside a babbling stream where huge clumps of singles and doubles grew in clotted abundance amongst the ivy and nettles in shade. Little did I know at the time that years later I would be growing and showing snowdrops as a professional nurseryman. In 1891 a special conference was held at Vincent Square with plants and lectures to heighten public awareness of the range of new species coming into the country as well as dozens of garden hybrids available. These selections were chiefly the result of James Allen of Shepton Mallet, Somerset, so it seems appropriate that we are carrying on in the same county where he left off.
Several of his best varieties are still with us, having been passed on through dedicated Galanthophiles, none other than the great E. A. Bowles was one of them! A century ago most snowdrops were only available as dry bulbs imported from Turkey, a sad process which has led to the depletion of species stocks in the wild. But today the snowdrop is having a meteoric rise to stardom, with the 'new' names cropping up that would rival the 'extras list' on the film Ben Hur!
But beware. The sickness of collecting labels can become an obsession. Choose your 'wants' carefully, label properly, or make a plan on paper of what is where. Thankfully many of the latest treasures can now successfully be twin-scaled. This involves cutting a dormant bulb into as many as twenty or more fine slices which will then grow on to flowering size after another two years. So everyone will eventually have the chance to acquire.
And there are probably a dozen nurseries who specialise in snowdrops or who have a substantial range, so the list is growing as is interest and demand.
To this end not one, but three, brave young men have teamed to produce a book at last just on snowdrops, the first since 1956 and only the second in history. What will happen when it is published next year? With superb photographs (I am assured) and hundreds of new descriptions as well as more on the people involved, it is sure to provide a further stimulus. Their greatest charm I think, is like old friends who turn up just when you need them most in the very darkest days, they never fail to excite and get the blood racing again.
The opening lines of this piece give a clue as to where they grow best and the best way to increase them, to use the words of James Allen is to "stir 'em up".
The immortals February 2011
Matt Bishop, Ruby Baker, Carolyn Elwes, Veronica Cross and Ron Mackenzie
Alan Street and Alan's Treat (picture thanks to Val Bourne)
We have received a few requests asking us to provide a list of Snowdrops that Alan found himself or at least in which he had a large involvement in their discovery. This would have been a much easier task were he still here to ask! However we have used our 2023 list of ‘Snowdrops in the Green’ and from that created a list of ones that we know were discovered by him and then a further list of ones that he may have discovered, often in collaboration with others. This may open up some discussion amongst other Galanthophiles … we are open to correction !
His interest in Snowdrops was legendary but one of the very first ‘special’ or distinctly different snowdrops that came to his notice was G. Blewbury Tart which he found in 1975 and was named after his home village, though it has always been a matter of mirth as to what or who was the tart. G. Bankside also arose there, but much later.
We all know that he had a great friendship with the late Veronica Cross in Herefordshire and the island in her garden was the source of many very unusual snowdrops over the years often named on a piratical theme, G. Veronica Cross, G. Treasure Island, G. Pieces of Eight and G. Bitter Lemons amongst them.
There were many other snowdrops that were discovered on trips to France with Matt Bishop and Mark Brown such as G. Angelique, G. Eccuson d’Or and G. Gloria, many of which we find difficult to keep – also true for his namesake; G. Alan’s Treat which was first found in 2003 and listed in 2012. That one has proved to be tricky to grow (and Alan was of the opinion that all those French ones were similarly difficult).
Sally Pasmore bought her house in Ilchester in the 1990s and Alan became a frequent visitor and G. Sally Pasmore and G. Honeysuckle Cottage were discovered there subsequently.
Most of the snowdrops that Alan named were however derived from self sown seedlings that he identified on the nursery, and many of them arose in The Copse. This is an area of mixed woodland initially planted to trees in 1994 where the initial plan was to plant distinct varieties under each tree as a ‘back up’ stock using surplus bulbs or sometimes gifts from fellow Galanthophiles. Over the following decades it also grew many Cyclamen, Narcissus and other bulbs. It is mown a few times in the late summer and autumn with some tree maintenance and thinning in the early winter but nature and the bees have mostly been allowed to do as they wished. As a result seedlings have arisen, been noticed and watched for a few years before being removed to be propagated if thought good enough. Early ones were G. Excelsis, G. St Pancras and G. Button with the most successful being G. Midas.
The last one was found on the day preceding a lunch that we gave for the ‘Immortals’. They were all the folk who we could identify who had a snowdrop named after them and we hoped to get them all together for a lunch and take pictures of them and their snowdrop. With so many eagle-eyed Galanthophiles expected Alan put an old terracotta pot over the single plant of Midas and hoped no-one would notice it. They did not. That was in 2011 but it was only in 2018 when we had build up the stock to a satisfactory level that we released G. Midas for sale.
|Name||First listed by us||Found|
|Bitter Lemons||2019||Copse, Mid Lambrook|
|Blewbury Tart||1992||Blewbury, Oxfordshire|
|Fly Fishing||2013||Mid Lambrook (or Garden House?)|
|Green Ribbon||2018||Mid Lambrook|
|Midas||2018||Copse, Mid Lambrook|
|Quenington Queer||2022||Quennington, Glos|
|Shimmer||2020||Copse, Mid Lambrook|
|St Pancras||2015||West Bagborough, Somerset|
|Starling||2015||Copse, Mid Lambrook|
|The Wizard||2015||Copse, Mid Lambrook|
|Trymming||2013||Copse, Mid Lambrook|
|Under Cherry Plum||2017||Mid Lambrook|
|more combined finds:|
|Fuzz||2011||with Peter Glover, Cornwood|
|Honeysuckle Cottage||2011||with Sally Pasmore, Ilchester|
|Sally Pasmore||2003||with Sally Pasmore, Ilchester|
|Gloria, Angelique||with Matt Bishop & Mark Brown, France|
Alan Street was Head Nurseryman at Avon Bulbs ‘forever’. That position was initially with Walter Stagg who had bought the assets of Mars of Haslemere and combined those businesses at Bathford a few miles west of Bath in 1980. Having recently started work for Colonel Mars, Alan moved to join Avon Bulbs as well. Trouble with the access, to what was a domestic property at Bathford, led to the business being moved to rented ground at Upper Westwood near Bradford on Avon. In 1987 Chris Ireland-Jones bought the business and again, Alan came with it as one of the key assets. In 1989 Chris bought a field and moved the business 40 miles south west to Mid Lambrook in South Somerset where the business began to flourish under more suitable circumstances.
A plantsman to his fingertips Alan constantly used his knowledge and empathy for plants to develop and bring to the attention of keen gardeners some bulbs that were then not so well known. His enthusiasms have included the historic and very largely lost forms of Narcissi that were grown extensively prior to the First World War and which went missing in the upheavals of that time. Eucomis and Agapanthus also took his interest when the heavier South Somerset soils allowed them to be grown more successfully. This eventually led to him organising and co-ordinating the RHS trials of Eucomis at Wisley beginning in 2017. All the while he was nurturing a passion for Galanthus but it was only when there was more shade cover and space at Mid Lambrook that the extent of that interest could be developed and the collection grew. That coincided with the resurrection of an infamous circle of like-minded Galanthophiles, meeting for Snowdrop lunches every weekend in February every year to pass on and share both plants and knowledge. His remarkable memory for detail came to the fore – the salient features of the plant in question - who had found it, when and where and the quirky tales that came with those finds. That knowledge was shared at lectures and talks to many interested groups in a wide range of countries when he could be persuaded to tackle the IT issues involved with lecturing. Peppered with witty asides his talks were amusing, informative and encouraging to the listeners and a thoroughly appreciated tour de force.
The growth of Avon Bulbs was mirrored at the Shows, particularly at RHS events over the past 40 years. The glory days of the then frequent shows at the RHS Halls in Vincent Square brought in like-minded enthusiasts for particular plant groups in their season and cemented bonds of mutual interests. Avon Bulbs often attended five or six shows a year in the spring and autumn, generally failing to quite manage a Gold Medal. A breakthrough to Gold came with displays concentrating on only one genera - Snowdrops, pointing to the difficulty of putting together a mixed display in a very small exhibition space. The highlight of all these was a circular display in 2010 where more than 70 varieties of snowdrop were displayed together, all still growing and flowering perfectly in their pots. That exhibit was a contender that year for the Williams medal for the best single genera exhibit at any show.
Avon Bulbs also showed at the Chelsea Flower Show every year up to 2017. The first Gold Medal was won in 1986, followed by another every year save for 1992 when it was adjudged a Silver Gilt with too much of the flower still in bud – a small error in timing in what was a very hot May. This long record saw the transition from very formal displays with regimented isolated plant groups under the old canvas tent to the much less tiered and more open displays (arranged under the new, higher marquee with better light transmission), the plants arranged more gracefully to provide an informal look that included more annuals (seed sales were now possible at the event). All this involving timing the growing and flowering of hundreds of varieties so that they all peaked in the third week of May which in some cases was 6 weeks later than they would normally. To achieve this required the plants undergoing time in cold stores and a great deal of effort spent attending to each variety’s needs. Achieving such a consistency of result over 30 years at the world’s premier flower show using such basic resources as Avon Bulbs owned is testament to his skill.
Apart from Chelsea, Avon Bulbs also attended many other shows and events from Harrogate (in April) to Hampton Court (in July). No records of the medals won at these shows remains, though there were many Gold Medals. Perhaps a culmination of this was the spring show at the Malvern Flower Show in 2018 when Avon Bulbs were the RHS Master Growers with what seemed like a huge exhibit.
Avon Bulbs’ success followed the trajectory of the boom in the supply of plants by Mail Order. In all that time Alan was the core plantsman at Avon Bulbs, identifying plants that would be suitable to grow and sell and leading the way with new plants that could be of interest to the gardening public. That has resulted in a number that have been named for him by others – Agapanthus Alan Street, Primula Alan Street and Galanthus Alan’s Treat included, but many more precious Galanthus have been identified, named, propagated and released along with other widely varied bulbs such as Gladiolus Thunder and the Camassia Stellar hybrids. His work has also led to a concentration on increasing the production of such plants as Tulipa sprengeri, the range of ornamental Hedychium and Cosmos peucidanifolius, plants that are not readily available ‘in the trade’ but he felt should be more widely known and as a result are now more widely available.
Alan trained to be an RHS judge although he was never called upon to perform – which may have been a relief to the exhibitor fraternity as his standards were very high and he was very opinionated as to how standards should be maintained. He was for years on the RHS Bulb Committee and a keen-eyed assessor at the trials ground at Wisley. He has written a number of articles for the horticultural press including The RHS Garden magazine.
That is just the potted history of a life cut short but well lived and hugely appreciated by his friends and colleagues. His half hour programme on Radio 4 on Open Country "Snowdrop Country" in January 2021 encapsulated his passions and interests and his ability to put those over to the public, it is well worth a listen.
By clicking the link you will be able to view a collection images that we have brought together for the Celebration of Alan's Life on Friday 21st October.
Christine Mole's tribute to Alan Street in her own style.
May 2022We were happy to be back on the show circuit after the trials and tribulations of the last two years, exhibiting at the Malvern Spring Show with a topical slant to our stand.
We are pleased to announce that the Avon Bulbs stand at the Malvern Spring Show was awarded a Gold Medal by the judges.
RHS Long Service Award for Alan Street
In recognition of more than 40 years working for Avon Bulbs we have been able to nominate him for the RHS Long Service Award. There has sadly been no opportunity to present him with this award at any notable event so a physically distanced coffee time catch up at work was the best that we could do and perhaps a bit downbeat, such is life at the moment ! Hopefully this it will go some way to publicising his achievement. He does of course have several plants named after him, an Agapanthus, a Primula and of course Galanthus Alan's Treat !
The cool early summer in the lead up to Hampton Court gave us problems in getting Allium sphaerocephalon into flower for the show where it is usually one of the stalwarts. However this was more than made up for by the Eryngiums and Triteleias which were used to good effect on the Avon Bulbs stand which was 225 sq ft (21 sq m) divided by a path leading to a wrought-iron bulb sculpture at the centre surrounded by lilies which certainly had the wow factor.
Some of our plants had a mention during the BBC coverage and that certainly brought the visitors to us. One plant that certainly caught peoples' attention was Nigella papillosa which we were showing for the first time and displayed two varieties 'African Bride' -white flowered plants with purple black stamens and 'Midnight' - ink blue flowered plants with blue stamens all flowering over the typical 'Love in the Mist' foliage. They then produce attractive and architectural seed heads which will self sow in succeeding years.
In 2018 we were the Master Grower at the RHS Malvern Garden Festival. We learnt quite a lot from that experience and when the RHS chose the theme for the floral marquee in 2019 to be ‘Through the Lens’ we thought we could build on that and produce a truly magnificent stand in both size (440 sq ft) and content. We teamed up with the Aberystwyth University Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Studies (IBERIS) and commissioned electron micrograph images of structures in the plants that we were showing. After all, plant photography has brought the beauty of plants, wherever they are found as exquisite examples of the amazing colour, form and diversity of nature within grasp of us all. But photographic imaging has its limitations and modern electron microscopy now brings parts of plants that previously could only be imagined into our visual world. This collaboration into previously unseen structures and parts of plants builds on what capturing light through a lens has done in the past.
We were very pleased to have been awarded a Gold Medal for our exibit which consisted of a dazzling mix of Lilies and Alliums for height with Eucomis, Eryngium, Dahlias and Triteleia for contrast. Despite it being very hot in the marquee, visitors certainly enjoyed what we had to offer especially the Allium sphaerocephalon, an interesting plant that the bees just love which sold out every day.
We were also showing Agapanthus Alan Street which has a lovely indigo flower which caught Carol Klein's eye and was filmed by the BBC as part of the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show coverage. The plants will be available for sale in Spring 2019 so do follow the link and "register an interest " to receive an email as a reminder just after Christmas. We expect to be despatching them from March 2019.
After an up and down spring, weather wise we had a lot of stock in the cold stores in the weeks before the show holding the flowers so that they were at their peak for our show customers. Our decision not to go to Chelsea meant we had more preparation time for the show and satisfyingly, we were awarded a Platinum medal for our display. The show was very busy for us from the start on Thursday through to Sunday afternoon with customers who couldn't get enough of the Ixia Spotlight and Triteleia Rudy Luckily the weather was not too hot which was good for stock, staff and customers alike, there was even a little drizzle on Saturday morning but it did not last. By Sunday afternoon we more than ready for the sell off, which went well and allowed us to clear the stand and get away in good time.
We decided after 30 years of exhibiting at Chelsea to miss this year. We had to to do a very small display in conjunction with our Master Grower's status and with time in hand, we did a quick sweep of the still unfinished marquee and the completed gardens. Inside the marquee there are some gems - Ashwood's display of Hellebores is quite technically amazing, they look as though it is still late February. It is jam packed full of exquisite flowers -evidence why many other nurseries have deserted that plant family in the face of such expertise ! But actual specialist nurseries with an equal attention to detail are less evident elsewhere, gaudiness seems to be to the fore. Who would expect to see Polygonatum (Solomon's Seal) and Convallaria (Lily of the Valley) in close proximity to Gloriosa (the Flame Creeper of India and Southern Africa)?
Outside in the gardens, the emphasis seems to be on urban chic, shiny surfaces (or Cor-Ten rust), structure first and plants a distant second. In many cases the planting is too colourful and dense for my taste with too little emphasis on the foliage or the form of a plant. Subtlety is not very apparent except in some of the Artisan gardens. There were a couple of big gardens at the Ascot and Malvern shows that I liked better!
Malvern, by comparison, was much lower key, much more plant orientated, more relaxed and probably better value. I suspect that this is the way that things have been for a while but we have had our noses too close to the grindstone to see it. There is an allowance now for nurseries to sell a 'limited' range of material at Chelsea - welcomed obviously as some sales can offset costs, but it is intended to be restricted as space is very tight and restocking arrangements in SW3 are complicated.
However with commercial possibilities come hard choices and what I think may be dubious practice - is late May really a good time to plant any newly purchased bulbs that are available there? If the RHS (or nurseries) are to be seen to be educating the public with regard to good practice, is this the right way to go?
One and a half minutes covering what happens in the office and in the packing shed to get your order out. Shot in 2016 and starring the full packing team.
Everything is somewhat sped up, so please do not expect next day delivery from ordering (though we do ship as quickly as possible! Hopefully it will raise a smile!
Put together by Chris' children as a birthday present!
We were excited to have been invited by the Royal Horticultural Society to builld a Master Grower's exhibit at the Malvern Spring Festival 2018. In building this display, we only use plants that we have grown ourselves from the same bulbs that we supply to the general public through our catalogues and website. The display boards and screen (with photographs and video by Neil Hepworth) provide additional insight into the nursery with some "back of house" views.
23 July 2017
Are you uncertain over what to do with your pots of spring bulbs that are now finished and the foliage has dried up?
One way to really help get the most out of those bulbs is to move those pots or tubs into a bit of shade and turn the container onto its side (get help if it is really heavy). On its side the soil will slowly dry out and should be unable to be further wetted by more rain and the bulbs within it will get a drier summer rest. Remaining in wet soil in a pot that is sun warmed by day is a recipe for a rotten disaster for resting bulbs.
Then in mid September you can shake the contents out onto a dust sheet and recover the bulbs, planting the best of them again for another year.
22 June 2017
We showed a 'new' Triteleia at the Gardeners' World event and Carol Klein talked about it on the TV (without revealing where one can obtain it!). So, as they are plants that flower in June it is an ideal moment to suggest Triteleia Foxy, bulbs of which can be delivered in the autumn. The Foxy got omitted from the catalogue but the bulbs are available online, they are illustrated alongside.
The flowers are mainly white with a broad purple blue stripe down the middle of each petal. Triteleia Rudy (which we have listed for a while) by comparison is nearly all purple blue with only the edges of the petals showing the white base colour. They are both easy bulbs to grow in sunny conditions where the soil is relatively free draining and their papery flowers last surprisingly well, even when it is hot.
Names are not only tags, in Horticulture as in other areas of study they provide a context, a history and a description, sometimes all at the same time. Sometimes these can be useful, others may have been once, but now seem weird. Have you ever stopped by a Muscari (the Grape Hyacinth family) and sniffed, after all the name alludes to the scented musc like properties of some of them, or wondered why Narcissus are so called? (It is after the Greek narkau, to grow stiff because of their narcotic properties). Or Chionodoxa, from chion (snow) doxa(glory). Some names are difficult on the tongue (and possibly the ear), Hermodactylus (Mercury's finger, alluding to the shape of the bulb) or unguicularis (narrowly claw shaped - which is probably even less helpful). To the interested it is a whole different field of investigation and possible study.
Illustrated Muscari ambrosiacum
We often get asked 'How do bulbs increase?' There are several ways - but at this time of year many of the bubs being lifted have 'offsets' around the mother bulbs (in this case around the 'crater' where the mother bulb was growing). By removing the biggest saleable bulbs one is left with the smaller ones which, now free of the maternal suppression, can be grown on, often requiring several years to provide us with more bulbs which will be clones of the original parent bulb.
(Left) The mother bulb of Fritillaria acmopeta having been removed there is left a ring of tiny bulbs around the crater where the mother bulb was removed called 'rice grains'. These may take three more years to flower.
(Right) Gladiolus byzantinus with small offsets around the base of the mother bulb. As this variety is sterile (a large flowered tetraploid) this is the only way of increasing the stock
As long as you do not garden on cold unforgiving and poorly drained clay soils and the light is good, there has to be an Allium to suit? Some last in flower for many weeks (Globemaster) but look on them as fillers with attitude in that pre-summer break when the garden has yet to get going. In our heavy loam we have A. cristophii (illustrated) seeding around in amongst the Camassia which is a lovely pairing, and whilst most flower in May and June there are inexpensive dead certs such as A. sphaerocephalon which just do it with lovely egg sized heads swaying in tall stems in July without any fuss and pretty much unnoticed till then
This is a good month to 'chip' many summer-dormant members of the Amaryllidaceae: Narcissus and Galanthus in particular here. Micky has been hard at work for several weeks now, first cleaning up the bulbs, then disinfecting them ahead of slicing them up - always with a sliver of the basal plate from which will grow a new bulb in time. It requires concentration to avoid a snowdrop 'muddle' as all the naked bulbs look alike and to avoid chopping off a finger. Twelve weeks of incubation follow and then those that have formed their tiny bulbils get potted, a start on their journey which we hope might result in saleable bulbs in 3 or 4 year's time, sometimes sooner for the most vigorous forms. Our Dormant Snowdrop list will be out in late July and that will have lots of new ones on it !
Bulbs for shadier places –
Not everyone has a very sunny garden but most of us have the odd place where it is shady. Generally speaking, bulbs would prefer more sun than shade, but here are a few that actually relish shade.
Erythroniums -the choice is quite wide even within one family. Amongst the stronger ones are E. White Beauty which loves it under shrubs and bushes, lasts well in flower with clean creamy white flowers and is clump forming with pale glossy green leaves. This is not as big or bossy as the well known yellow flowered E. Pagoda but demure and lovely. Another strong performer is E. revolutum (image to the left with a white flowered Lunaria (Honesty)) with pink flowers and variously mottled foliage. This one seeds itself about so will spread more widely in time, usually best planted in short rough grass under trees.
Scilla lilio-hyacinthus - (above right) a broad shiny leaved plant with either white or blue flowers which is lovely in leaf as well as in flower and a very useful addition to the spring tapestry.
Bluebells - (left and right) (the English ones of course) for light shade but also variants on that well known purple blue coloured form - pinks, whites and rather weird and whiskery forms with extra long bracts for those that love quirky plants.
Droppers - (August) Digging our own Camassia Stella hybrids for our orders recently revealed the way that some bulbs 'find' their way down into the soil from where they first germinated as a seed. Our soils are basically a heavy loam, and in areas that are not dug or disturbed very often they settle and compact appreciably. The photograph alongside shows two mature bulbs but also two young seedling Camassia, ones that probably germinated in early last year at the soil level (about 25mm above the soil one can see) but now has created a 'dropper'. These are stolon-like structures which are hollow but contain, at their tip, a daughter bulb which will occupy a lower level in the soil than the mother plant from which it derived. Other plants such as Narcissus, Hyacinthus and Iris do not have droppers but instead have 'contractile' roots which effectively 'drag' the bulb deeper into the soil.
Hand Picked: (September)
The last few weeks have been partly spent lifting or unpotting our bulbs to be sorted and graded, the small ones replanted to grow on for another year. We have had boxes in lots of different sizes delivered in readiness, labelled the varied assortment of crates, mushroom trays and pots in which the bulbs are stored ready to be 'picked' for an order and taken delivery of some of most of the bulbs that we buy in. In other words - the main Autumn Packing Season is about to kick in.
All our orders are picked and counted by hand. There are machines that could do this but they are not suited to small orders of varying numbers of bulbs. They are better suited to the prepacking and wholesale operators. But counting out by hand should allow a final check of what is being sent out, discarding damaged bulbs and recognising what might be a problem. It is concentrated work, there are more than 300 varieties, many sold in 2 or 3 pack sizes. 100% accuracy is what we aim for, but we are all human and errors do happen; rest assured we are doing our best to avoid them!
When the sun does shine these Iris have a sparkle and depth of colour pretty much unmatched at this time of year. Ours grow in an unheated greenhouse where they stay a bit drier and are a bit less weather bashed. In the garden they prefer the backing of a south facing wall to provide that shelter. They will make big clumps in time. Some consider them too untidy with lots of long, sometimes rather browned, leaves. My grandmother used to shear these off to unnatural and sad looking mounds but that was too severe, the leaves protect the flowers in the worst months and more besides.
They are available in the early Autumn as plant divisions when they are about to make their new feeding roots (the wiry anchorage roots persist year round). Mary Barnard (image far right) is the darkest blue, Marondera a larger flowered one than the species but roughly the same colour and Walter Butt (middle image) is earlier to flower in the palest ice blue. There is also a white form with only white and yellow colouration and no blue.
Perennial plants that originate in South Africa, but many hybrid forms are now available providing the potential to have a display of Agapanthus in the garden or pots from late June through to the frosts. They divide into two groups, but it is not always apparent where the divide lies! Do be aware of what your growing conditions will be so that you choose the right variety for your particular aspect, soil, latitude and altitude. All factors to take into consideration.
Most importantly they are sun lovers. They are also very drought tolerant, but do often perform better in wet summers and if the soil is good they will make huge clumps. New flower buds are formed the previous autumn so they flower better after a long damp autumn. There are probably hundreds of varieties to choose from and of these it would probably be no loss if half of them disappeared! They should be with you for years so apart from hardiness select your purchases by colour, height, form of the flower, abundance of flower and flowering time. Well established plants only need further division when flowering diminishes, they are very versatile, ideal for seaside gardens are not palatable to rabbits and relatively unaffected by slugs and snails.
The evergreen forms derive from plants from milder and wetter parts, they tend to have broader and fleshier leaves and because they keep their foliage through our winters they require some protection. At the other end of the scale the deciduous forms tend to have narrower foliage and shed their leaves before the winter so they are considerably hardier.
All the same, it is still worth mulching their ‘crowns’ with something in the late autumn – if this is soil-enriching manure all the better as they are hungry feeders, and therein lies the problem for plants in pots - the restricted root run is fine whilst there is some nutrition available, but when the compost has been depleted of nutrients they will not flower. Also the compost in pots suffers more from freezing and thawing than the soil at any depth unless you provide some added protection during the winter. There is a trial in progress at RHS Wisley of the hardy forms of Agapanthus which might be worth a look?
There is a new pest of Agapanthus that we are being told to look out for, the Agapanthus Gall Midge, so new that it has yet to be properly named. It is uncertain yet whether this is just going to be an annoying pest that we are going to have to learn to live with, or how devastating or manageable it might be. But I feel that is a case in point for better biosecurity on imported plants. There is scant information anywhere about it, just type in Agapanthus Gall Midge to find out what all there is.
The indication as to whether plants will be supplied from pots or from division is offered as a guide only, it cannot be guaranteed upon. Plants from division (ones which we have divided from bigger ‘crowns’ dug on the nursery) might take longer to become established in the garden and to flower well, they may take a year to settle in. But after a year plants from division and plants from pots will be very similar, all other things being equal.