Our bulb order was a little late in arriving this year, but just as we were beginning to worry whether it would turn up in time to plant, 5 huge boxes were delivered to our potting shed. Bulbs are one of our favourite groups of plants to work with at Gravetye, and the excitement of unpacking the order was like Christmas come early. As we unpack we check off each bag of bulbs against the order list and file them in the shelves of our potting shed, so they can easily be found when we are ready to plant.
We use thousands of bulbs each year at Gravetye, some are grown as cut flowers in the kitchen garden, some for naturalizing amongst the azaleas and heather in the spring garden and 7000 tulips for the flower garden. Probably the most important type of bulb planting we do though, is naturalising bulbs in to our meadows, as Gravetye was the first place where this form of wild gardening was practised.
Last year we planted about 1000 Camassia in our Orchard, which were a great success flowering in combination with the apple blossom. This year we have planted more of these lovely blue spikes, but our biggest single planting is the buttercup yellow Tulipa sylvestris.
The gardens founder, William Robinson, wrote about successfully establishing this plant in our meadow at Gravetye, but had since been lost. Last year we experimented with 200 which worked so well that this year we have just planted 3000.
There was so much excitement over this planting that my greedy dog was convinced that the bulbs must be edible. She probably would have eaten them giving the chance but each bulb is far too precious for her to try. Besides, she is on a diet… she is not a skinny collie but a fat whippet!
3000 bulbs may seem like a lot but in a meadow of 6 acres we have to deal with this quantity or the planting will just get lost in the scale of the meadow. We can plant these bulbs very quickly using our long handled bulb plating tool.
One person punches the holes, while the other plants the bulb and replaces the core. Our speed planting record for this technique was about 1000 bulbs in an hour, although we were some way off the record today as we had to spend some time working out how to make the planting look as natural as possible.
Words by Tom, photographs by Martin and Jimmy