Monday, 29 December 2014

After Christmas

I love that week between Christmas and new year’s day, although I’m never quite sure what to call it. ‘Christmastide’ seems a little forced as an expression, and ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, whilst being overlong and unwieldy, also refers to a much longer period. ‘Twixmas’, a name coined by the travel industry in order to flog short breaks into a traditionally quiet time, is clearly too ghastly to be of use to anyone other than a travel agent or journalist. Whether this time has its own name or not, it certainly has a distinct feeling; with the first seconds of Boxing Day morning, something seems to pass, and a new mood descends for the next few days.

This is one of my favourite times of the year, bringing with it space for considered reflection on what’s gone before, informed planning for the year to come, moments of hibernation in front of the fire, and a sense of peace and tranquility. Even the B road through the village is silent – at four o’clock in the afternoon, that’s unheard of at any other time of the year. Quiet. Stillness. Bliss.

It’s also a great time for pottering, with a measure of rootling thrown in, and while engaged in these mutually compatible activities in a corner of the shed I unearth a stash of bulbs I bought in autumn but haven’t got round to planting yet – hyacinths and narcissus, which really should have been in the ground months ago. I’m rarely too distraught at the discovery that I’ve missed the proper time for sowing or planting something, which is just as well, as such epiphanies occur with a regularity that a more delicate soul might find discouraging. A long-term subscriber to the school of bung-it-in-and-see-if-it-works-anyway, I choose to look upon this as an opportunity, rather than another reason to berate myself, and dash off to get the metal planters I bought last week when I was supposed to buying Christmas presents for other people.

Fortunately for me, bulbs need little mollycoddling between lifting (or buying) and flowering; it’s the period between flowering and dormancy when they really benefit from a bit of TLC, as they build up their store of energy for the next year’s display. Several weeks of cold and dark in a dry corner of the shed haven’t done them any harm – spring bulbs need a period of chilling (or ‘vernalization’) in order to trigger the formation of flower buds, and also to encourage rooting. These neglected specimens all appear firm and healthy, with no sign of rot and a couple of centimetres of healthy looking leaf poking through the tops meaning, if nothing else, that even I should be able to work out which way up to plant them.

It only takes a few seconds to drill drainage holes in these metal planters
I’m using a light, soil-based compost with some added grit, as hyacinths do like good drainage. That being the case, I’ve also drilled some holes in the bottom of the metal containers. If you remember to buy specially heat-treated hyacinth bulbs in September, you can grow them indoors in containers without drainage holes, but you’d need to use a free draining bulb fibre instead of compost, and go easy on the watering. If you’re cunning about it, you can force them into flowering early – in time for Christmas – but you have to be mean and keep them in a dark, cool place for a good six weeks. That’s the kind of organised gardener I aspire to be. In reality, I’m faffing about planting my bulbs several months too late, crossing my frozen fingers and hoping that they’ll feel inclined to produce some roots, and thereafter, some flowers.

Hyacinth bulbs. I spy small rooty things growing out of the basal plate. Hurrah!!
A good horticultural education can give you a keen scientific appreciation of exactly what it is you’re doing wrong. Will that be enough to change my behaviour? Probably not in my own garden. Gardening for other people, I have to be on my toes, but here I can afford to bumble about, buy things, and then forget about them for months. After all, the rediscovery of these bulbs has given me a good hour or so of happy activity in the fresh air, although as the temperature plummets it’s time to retreat back indoors. I put the newly planted containers on the table in the courtyard, where I can look out at them while I prepare another mountain of bubble and squeak to accompany the leftover turkey.