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Handle with care when buying bulbs

A grape vine is a good, long-term investment. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
A grape vine is a good, long-term investment. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

When handling display bulbs to check soundness and size, do remember that they may bear poisonous alkaloids harmful to humankind.

Narcissi contain narcissine, which is known to have been fatal in cases where, mistaken for shallots, they’ve been added to cooked food.

Snowdrops (Galanthus) have galanthamine in their sap, and autumn crocus (colchicum) holds poisonous colchicine.

Bulbs for sale should be accompanied by polythene gloves or bags to facilitate handling. If not, don’t forget to wash your hands afterwards to avoid an upset stomach, or worse.

It’s not unusual to see shoots of spring bulbs appearing from late October, but it does not follow that they’ll bloom soon. Nor should we worry about how they’ll cope with frost or snow. They have evolved a strategy for survival that involves temporarily transporting water from peripheral cells deeper into the plant.

Longer term planning for next spring and beyond is ongoing.

The displays from Polyanthus Stella Mixed were so agreeable that we retained the strongest plants in a raised bed where they’re already showing colour. Soon they’ll be divided up for planting in containers and the open garden.

I’m constantly adding apple trees to the collection, even though it takes a year or two before full-on cropping occurs. In keeping with pears and plums, given reasonable attention, a hundred-year tenure is possible.

As for the grape vine at Hampton Court, it was planted when Capability Brown was head gardener.

Whatever the initial outlay for these brilliant plants, you certainly get your money’s worth!