Perhaps the most unpredictable growing I do is the nurturing of bulbs for Christmas and early Spring sales. Last year we had one successful and cheery market at Wolvercote just before Christmas where we sold Paperwhites in vases as well as various iris reticulata and crocus in small, vintage terracotta pots. For this Christmas, the aim was to build on this by growing more and offering more choice.
The gentle, and almost continuous coaxing and moving of bulbs in and out of the house and greenhouse to encourage them to bloom at the right time was a long slow marathon which began in October. Too late perhaps for some of the smaller bulbs such as Scilla siberica and Muscari which need a longer time as well as a sustained period of cold. Too early for some of the Paperwhites which shot into growth, but were held back by a move to the cold shed.
Erlicheer, Avalanche & Grand Soleil D’Or, were all slower to take off than Ziva and some didn’t make it for Christmas and are still at various stages of growth. Some look as if they may not bloom at all.
A few Paperwhite vases planted in mid October bloomed in late November/early December- too early for the stall, but lovely for presents and to enjoy ourselves. The perpetual dance and re-positioning of pots went on until mid December when the Homesown stall was back at the markets.
Iris and crocus were planted again this year in small pots along with the Scilla siberica and Muscari. When their roots showed at the bottom of their pots, some were brought in and forced for Christmas, while the rest are growing more slowly in the cool of the greenhouse and hopefully will be ready for early Spring when very little else is flowering.
So what have we learned? Paperwhites, particularly Ziva are the easiest to grow for Christmas. The other varieties are pretty and delicious smelling too, but have a much longer (as well as unpredictable) growing period. Perhaps not worth the extra effort. The smaller bulbs were popular, particularly in the terracotta pots, and their green shoots were hopeful in the depths of Winter. These will definitely be on the list for next year along with hyacinths for something new. After a couple of months break, meeting regular customers at a cheery market before Christmas is definitely something we want to do again next year.