Short, medium and long-term planning has been a key part of gardening since Adam was a lad. This can be broken down into simple sections; weekly, seasonal and future.
The weekly plan begins with a mental note of must-do tasks observed on the twice-daily walk around our garden. This turns into a notepad list in order of priority, to be followed from Monday onward of any week.
Repetition is part of it, and current daily tasks include opening the greenhouse and checking plants, picking ripe fruits and casting an eye over the mixed borders. The grass is still growing so mowing is pencilled-in for the first dry day, and the time has come to give the hedges their final trim.
My seasonal target begins with the here and now, then carries us up to late December.
Chopping sounds emanating from the kitchen can be traced to the lady of the house cutting and blanching the last batch of runner beans for the freezer. Remaining potatoes have been lifted, dried and stored, as have onions and marrows. Cobs of sweet corn are cropping up on the plate more frequently, but who wants to complain if they’re boiled and accompanied by a knob of butter?
Fruit harvesting is ongoing. We’ve just picked a few Conference pears that are of decent size, but rock-hard. Store them in a drawer that is opened frequently so they’re not forgotten. Apples are picked weekly for storage and this will continue into November. Autumn raspberries will also run out of steam around that time.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves; the most important current task is to plant bulbs in containers, with indoor Christmas flowering in mind.
Hyacinths are top of the list because they offer fragrance. Look for bulbs that are displayed with the important word ‘prepared’ next to them. This confirms that they’ve been subjected to a treatment that encourages them to bloom early.
First identify quality bulbs and compost. Bowls are the best containers, but check if they have drainage spaces as it makes a difference. Most composts can be used when excess water is able to drain away, but bulb fibre is the best way to avoid stagnation in enclosed bowls.
Plant in groups of three, five or more so the tips are showing and bulbs not touching, then store in a cool, dark place for two months. I confine them to a box in the garage, but the traditional method involves burying them outdoors in the equivalent of a sandpit.
After eight weeks or so they’re brought into the warmth and light, think it’s spring, and flowering spikes develop.
Fragrant narcissi respond well to this same treatment, blooming months ahead of their normal time. Success also comes with several dwarf bulbs.
If you can’t find the plants you want locally, try one of the main suppliers online. Parker’s (www.jparkers.co.uk) offers prepared hyacinths in a range of colours. Its 16cm to 17cm bulbs come in packs of five for £5.99, or 10 for £8.98.