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Planting bulbs now for a future reward | Allan Jenkins


A dreich winter morning, the dark reluctant to lift. The rain has been incessant for days. But there’s digging to do. Or, at least, some unexpected late planting.

For the first time in 15 years, we’ve succumbed to spring bulbs on the plot. We’d been a bit sniffy before. The flowers we grow there have always been annuals, from seed.

We use classic companion planting: mostly nasturtium and calendula – cheery children’s flowers. Marigold-shaped memories. Howard and I have gradually added in other tagetes: scarlet Ildkongen and, this year, a classic, tall, old-school orange. Plus, morning glory and many sunflowers.

But until now, never, ever bulbs. Perhaps it was a purist idea about allotments being for food. Maybe simply because we grow tulips and narcissi on the roof terrace. But this year I felt a deep need for colour as an antidote to gloom.

So one morning in November – after first clearing the idea with Howard – I find myself in my local garden centre in search of daffodils. I stock up on pheasant’s eye, my favourite narcissi, white-petalled with an orange-red cup. I add Narcissus Thalia ‘selected for woodland and shade’, a delicate white with ‘slightly twisted’ petals. Three packs each of seven bulbs.

The next day, somewhat addicted now, I return for golden yellow Sweetness, yellow and orange Kedron, and Doll Baby, an apricot-hearted white. Others I’d wanted all sold out.

So, early Sunday morning, at the plot in heavy winter rain. Drenched and dripping. We’ve settled on three small sites of about 20 bulbs each. In opposite corners and a spot nearer the centre.

We clear. We plant. We get comically soaked. Howard bent like an elegant bird. He plants one-handed, holding an umbrella.

It’s quick work. We’ll soon be watching out for bulbs breaking through. Early spring on the plot will have scent and colour.

Allan Jenkins’s Plot 29 (4th Estate, £9.99) is out now. Order it for £8.49 from guardianbookshop.com



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