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Cornucopia - How to have a bulbous bonanza

How to have a bulbous bonanza
Heather Russell

I am not good at sowing seeds but an article extolling the benefits of growing bulbs from seed some eight years ago caught my attention. Hundreds of otherwise costly bulbs could be grown for virtually nothing but for that great gardener’s virtue of patience.

Shortly afterwards I visited Bob Brown’s nursery and some shiny brown bulbs of Tulipa sprengeri tempted me, and as I bought five at £1 each, in my head I saw hundreds!

Later that summer I harvested four fat seed pods, the fifth having come to grief. These I sowed into a few 4” pots, but doubting success, far too thickly. The unprotected pots were put outside for the winter but to my surprise and glee, germination was excellent. After another year of neglect, I decided to line the tiny bulbs out in my 'nursery' and encouraged by the larger leaves dug them up the following August, gloating over the hundreds of tiny brown bulbs.

Once again they were lined out with a sprinkling of bone meal. Those that flowered the following spring for the first time were, sadly, cut off to save energy. The harvest yielded bulbs of all sizes, the tiddlers put back, some were planted, some potted up and some found other homes. It has certainly taken time, but little effort, and now, 8 or 9 years later, I have generous colonies of Tulipa sprengeri flowering and multiplying very happily indeed around the garden.

About four years ago, encouraged by the tulips, I started the whole process off again, this time with Galtonia candicans. Galtonias are about 2’6”" tall and elegant with white hyacinth-like flowers spaced out up the stem. Flowering in August they add a welcome classy sparkle to the flower borders. I made the same mistake of sowing seed too thickly, but they germinated well and were left out for two, but it could even have been three winters with plenty of frosts, because, to be honest, I forgot about them most of the time and the labels had disappeared.

Then last spring I picked up one of these anonymous pots and could feel such tension in the bulging plastic, I quickly cut the sides revealing a solid 'wodge' of little white bulbs. The amazing power of growth!

After prising them apart into little clusters, I planted them out, much to their relief I am sure, and some went on to develop small flowers, so this year I should have some half decent blooms. I forked up a few in early April, a little late as they already had ½” roots, and potted the larger ones up so that they can be planted out in the border later on.

Christopher Lloyd wrote that Galtonia bulbs are usually bought in with the virus to which they are subject and gradually fade away, but I hope that my 'toughies' last long enough to have made the project worthwhile. The cost has been nil, and the effort minimal, just time, patience and mother nature’s magic.

Last year, on buying a little pot of pretty Leucojum autumnale, the grower told me that they were easy to raise from seed, just to put a little pinch of seed into each pot and let the winter do its thing. So, taking note of the 'pinch', that will be my next bulb enterprise.

If you have never tried it why not have a go, all you need is a little patience!

First published in the North East Group Newsletter, May 2007
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 23
© Copyright for this article: Heather Russell

This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2009. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.


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