Buying spring-flowering bulbs is a bit of a lottery.
Is it best to get them early when there should be a big selection of healthy bulbs, or to wait until the rush is over and there’s still a decent choice of bulb types, colours and varieties?
If you’re buying at a garden centre, best go early; if you’re buying from a specialist retailer, it doesn’t really matter as long as they don’t run out of the bulb varieties you want.
You tend to pay more for the latter, but it could be money well spent, particularly if you’re after tulips.
Most gardeners tend to grow tulips which flower in March and April because they provide such strong colour early in the spring.
Among the big sellers are the Greigii types which have mottled foliage. They have short stems (about 15cm long) and come in many colours – ‘Red Riding Hood’ (red, obviously), ‘Stresa’ (yellow with red flash) and ‘Pinocchio’ with a red base to petals edged in white.
For an April/May tulip reminiscent of old Dutch oil paintings, see if you can find the double bedding tulip called ‘Carnival de Nice’.
It produces large, fragrant double white blooms with strong bright red flares that set it well apart from single colours.
Very fashionable of late are the fringed tulips which have heavily serrated edges to the petals.
They bloom from late April to May on tall stems and provide extra interest with their flashy bi-colours and fascinating petal forms.
Before then, of course, the autumn-flowerers will have to be sorted out.
After the first frosts, the foliage of dahlias and canna lilies will turn soft, brown and limp, indicating that the growing season is over and that the tubers need to be dug up ready for storage. Dry them thoroughly before wrapping them in newspaper to reduce the risk of rot.
The simplest regime is to cut off the stem about 15cm (6ins) above the tuber and to remove any soil by hand.
After being placed upside-down in a cardboard box for three or four days, the tubers should be ready for packing away for their winter rest.
Label each plant carefully so that next spring you can identify appropriate colours, and wrap each tuber individually in a couple of sheets of old newspaper before storing in a large cardboard box in a frost-free spot like a garage.