When is a bulb not a bulb?

Looking at all the tiny specks of green starting to push out of the ground, one of the first signs spring is definately on the way again, but when is a bulb not a bulb? Ohh the conversations gardeners have!?

You may think that if a plant has an underground storage organ, that remains there year after year, pushing through the soil to flower such as lilies, crocus, cyclamen, erythronium, iris, daffodils lily of the valley and dahlias, then it must be a bulb.

But you would be wrong! Although some of these are true bulbs, the internal structures are quite different – if you look at where the buds and roots originate, and cut them in half you can see how they are all really either adapted stems or roots. We looked them up in a book to make sure - its a long time since I was at college...

· Bulbs – Modified stems, where the overlapping leaves have been adapted to swell and store food and nutrients for the plant eg. Lilies & Daffodils
· Corms –Stubby modified stems, which are vertically orientated eg. Crocus & Erythonium

· Tubers - Short, thickened regions of stem or root, which are used to store food for later growth eg. Cyclamen (stem) & Dahlia (root)
· Rhizomes - Modified plant stems that grow near the soil surface and producing the upward shoot and downward root system eg. iris and lily of the valley.

Plants often modify themselves to ensure survival, and all these modifications occur to survive the British climate - when temperatures drop below freezing, the plant does not have to produce food using photosynthesis – it has plenty stored already for the next year.

Climbers for winter interest

Walls and fences can sometimes be overlooked in the garden, and are incredibly useful for supporting climbers and trained shrubs. These add an extra dimension to your garden – a horizontal one! As plants with winter interest need selecting carefully, I have listed a selection of plants which provide either flowers, berries, or evergreen leaves during November to January.

An evergreen Clematis which flowers in the winter is Clematis cirrhosa. There are a few varieties to choose from, the flowers are pale cream, sometimes spotted red, and hang delicately like small bells. Another evergreen is Clematis armandii, with large leathery leaves but this doesn’t flower until spring.

Cheerful yellow flowers can be found on bare branches during late winter covering a couple of wall trained shrubs. Forsythia suspensa has bright yellow blooms, while the delicate looking pale yellow flowers of Chimonanthus praecox are strongly scented. Popular Jasminium nudiflorum, the Winter Jasmine is a tough shrub and easy to grow.

Berries will provide winter colour along with food for the birds, and evergreen Pyracantha’s can easily be trained along fences and walls. They will flower and fruit well even in positions which receive little sun, and varieties are available with orange, yellow or red berries. Cotoneaster horizontalis can also be used to similar effect with bright red berries.

Evergreen Ivys (Hedera) can be used as a backdrop with summer flowering climbers twining through them, as can Garrya elliptica, the Silk Tassel Bush with its dangling catkins throughout winter. Normally seen as a shrub, Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’ can be wall trained, and is worth seeking out for its sweetly scented white flowers.

A Wedding at the Manor

One of the big events of last year was my wedding to Pat, after no less than 17 years of living together - we thought it was about time!

We had a lovely informal ceremony in May at the neighbouring Flitwick Manor, and all guests then travelled to Toddington Manor gardens to have the obligatory glass of champagne and accompanying photos.

All the gardeners had been busy making it look spick and span the previous week, and the alliums which line the herbaceous borders looked at their best. I was lucky enough to be able to create my bouquet from the flowers and foliage in the gardens (my previous job ages ago was in a florists, so the experience came in handy!) and the flowers for the tables also were from the gardens.
It was a small wedding party, so then back to Flitwick Manor for the feast and speeches, and the day was rounded off by a barbeque in the back garden. We had watched the weather all week, crossing fingers and toes, and as luck would have it, we managed to get married on one of the few sunny days last summer, and it even had the decency for one small rain shower just as we were eating, so didn't disrupt the day at all.

The Manors owners we even on hand to help serve the champagne to our guests from the conservatory, and I managed to pose for one photo with a fork, and one on the 3 wheeler garden truck too! We both had a great day, and it was made special by spending time in the gardens with everyone, along with the individual bouquet and finished with friends, family and all the staff enjoying the evening at home.