allium sphaerocephalon img_4500.jpg Allium sphaerocephalon

Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival

July 2019

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.

hampton court 2019.jpg Eryngium `x zabelii Big Blue

Through the lens 

May 2019

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.

9b tulip flower stem ts a x3000 a xylem vessel colourised.jpg Tulip xylem x 3000
hampton court 2018 full.jpg Avon Bullbs exhibit at Hampton Court

Hampton Court Palace Flower Show

July 2018

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.

alan and carol k with agapanthus a s.jpg Alan & Carol Klein with Agapanthus Alan Street
birmingham 2017.jpg

Gardeners' World, Birmingham

June 2018

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.

Chelsea 2018, a personal view

May 2018

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?

Avon Bulbs Master Growers

RHS Master Grower

May 2018

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.

What happens to your order. Click View to start.

What happens to your order?

November 2017

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!

What to do with your Spring Flowering bulbs during the Summer?

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.

tritelia foxy img_1405.jpg

Triteleias at the Gardeners' World Show 

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. 

muscari ambrosiacumimg_2119.jpg

What's in a Name?  

September 2016

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

Bulb increasing
August

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

glad byz.jpg

Snowdrop chipping

June 

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 !

allium cristophiiimg_6603.jpg

Alliums for All 

August 2016

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

shade 1.jpg

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.

shade 4.jpg Shade Bluebells

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.

shade 3.jpg Shade Bluebells

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.

droppers.jpg Camassia Droppers
packing parcel.jpg Packing parcels

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!

packing overview.jpg Autumn Packing

Iris unguicularis

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. 

iris 1.jpg Iris unguicularis
iris 2.jpg Iris unguicularis Walter Butt
iris 3.jpg Iris unguicularis Mary Barnard

Agapanthus

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. 

agapanthus alan street  img_4890.jpg Agapanthus Alan Street

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.