Our Flower Patch

Inspiring a new generation of growers

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It’s that time of year again. The nights are as dark as a cave; the shops have started playing Christmas songs (!!); the mornings have that touch of crispness about them. My dahlias have blackened and most of the annuals have come to an end. It’s a sad time of year, saying good bye to the glorious blooms of summer, and thinking about the bleak months to come. However, it’s also a time of hope and longing. It’s a time of preparing for a burst of colour come spring; a time for a small amount of hard work for weeks of glorious results! Yes ….it’s tulip planting time!

Now, the Our Flower Patch member seed starter pack, which you receive when you become a member is just that – seeds. Glorious Higgledy Garden seeds, to be precise. Ffteen packs of flower seeds and an ornamental grass to be even more precise. However, as a member, you also receive a special discount from Peter Nyssen, the fabulous bulb and plant online store. This means that you can extend your flower picking season. You’ll be able to cut more flowers to sell as a young business enterprise and make your school garden group self financing, or raise funds for your school. However, you may happen across a bag of tulips as you are wandering though your local supermarket, garden centre, or even Wilkinson’s. So why not pick up a few bags and pop them in the ground so you too can enjoy some amazing spring blooms and start selling your flower bunches earlier in the season? Even if you decide not to sell them, bulb planting is a great activity to get your pupils outside on a crisp autumn day getting their hands dirty and being in touch with nature. Plus it will enhance your outside classroom and school grounds earlier next year.

The advice when planting tulips is to wait until it has got cold. Whilst daffodils and narcissi can be planted earlier, November is usually the right time to get tulips in. This year is it still quite mild, but usually the cold of a late Autumn planting can help reduce incidences of “tulip fire” a fungal disease that can cause brown spots and twisted, withered and distorted leaves.

Tulip bulbs planted in a row.

Row planting, using soil from digging one row to cover the bulbs in the previous row.


Tulips should be planted at a depth of twice to three times the height of the bulb, and at least twice the bulbs width apart (officially). I do tend to plant mine closer than that because they are being grown in rows, as a crop. I dig a trench and then put the bulbs along it before covering them over with the soil from the next trench I dig. (see photo above)

Row planted tulip bulbs

Pretty bulbs all in a row!

By planting with this method you can plant lots of bulbs quickly, and they are in nice easy rows to make cutting them as a crop to sell more efficient. Of course, if you are not planning on cutting tulips, to sell, or to have in a vase then you can plant them in areas around your home or school garden to make it even more attractive come the spring. Another trick I use is to plant my tulips in the beds that my dahlias have previously flowered in. I go against many folks’ advice and leave my dahlias in the ground over winter.

I do not have space to store the number of dahlia tubers that I now have, and even when I had many less dahlias I found that I always lost some during storage. So last year, I tried something new. I had planted the dahlias in raised beds, and come tulip planting time, I cut back the blackened foliage and planted tulips around them and then piled a load of recycled compost on top to protect the dahlias. I had a pretty good result from the dahlias. I lost a few but not as many as when I’ve previously lifted, and the tulips were fantastic. Hopefully the extra depth of planting of the tulip bulbs may also mean I get some tulips to re-bloom next year. I’ll let you know. It’s a bit of an experiment. I can normally get two rows of tulips between each dahlia row and then squeeze a few more in between the dahlias themselves. (I normally get three dahlias in a row across my raised beds.) This method also means that my beds are being used pretty much all year round. Even if you decide to lift your dahlias then you can plant your tulips in those spaces.

Tulips interplanted with dahlias.

Tulips interplanted amongst the dahlias.

So enough about the technicalities of planting. You can read more if you do so choose here by Sarah Raven or here from the RHS.

Now on to the good bit, the best bit, the glorious flowers! I had not really bothered growing tulips for cutting previously, but last year proved a revelation to me. I had been bored by the small lifeless tulip blooms that you pick up in the supermarket at £1.99 for 10 or whatever they cost. They seemed to die very quickly and although they would grow a little bit in the vase, they didn’t excite me. The short vase life of those had put me off growing my own. How wrong was I! Twitter chums encouraged me to give it a go, and I will never look back. There’s an amazing vibrancy of colour. Some are even scented – Ballerina smells like orange jelly! They have a vase life of a week to ten days, sometimes more. They grow in the vase and move to create a living display. Some even open and close their petals during the day. They are a  true revelation. So here I share with you some of my favourites in a festival of tuliptasticness!

Tulip blooms

Tulip Mania

Look out for these…………….


Ballerina (super lovely), Orange favourite, Orange Emperor, Orange Angelique, Cairo, Malaika (also known as Bruine Wimpel), Princess Irene (gorgeous with dark purple/black).

With this year adding Perestroyka, Apricot Impression, Jimmy

Dark ones

Black Hero (amazing bloom looks like a peony), Black Parrot, Havran, Jan Reus, Recreado.

With this year adding Ronaldo,

Whites and pales

Purissima, Swan Wings, Snow Parrot (my absolute fave white but I can’t find it this year!), Spring Green

Menton, Angelique, Greenland, La Belle Epoque (petals like ruffled silk!)

With this year adding Ice age, Tres Chic and Albert Heyn But how did I miss Mistress Grey! That looks amazing!

Bright Pinks

Doll’s Minuet (just gorgeous), Artist

This year Antraciet as I missed out on it last year.

I’m sure there are more, but this gives you a snap shot of some of my favourites. You can be very thorough about it and choose some to flower one after the other, or you can do as I do and just buy all the ones you love the most from the drool-some photographs! Just scanning through the photographs online at Peter Nyssen now, I have spotted some that I will add to next year’s collection. The great thing is you can search for tulips by colour, and then pop them on a wish list for next year. On Friday I planted 350 tulip bulbs. Not that many in comparison to some growers, but a lot more than I planted last year. I get the feeling they may become a bit of an addiction for me. You may be too late to buy tulips online, but you might find a bargain bag hanging around in the garden centre. Just check the bulbs are still firm and show no sign of mould and then go for it! Pop them in and wait (impatiently) for them to bloom. Start planning next years purchases now. The best tulips sell out quite quickly.

I also shared some of my favourite tulips over on Veg Plotting. Why not take a look? Knowing me, as I wrote that on another day, my faves may be a little different now. But isn’t that the glory of growing your own? You can grow so many faves and pick the ones that look the best to pop in a vase, or to sell as a bunch.

If you have any questions about the tulips shown in the photos please comment below and I will dredge my memory banks.

Happy Tulip growing! Let me know if you get caught by Tulip mania, just as I have.

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Bring a Bulb to School Day

Gloved hand planting daffodil bulbs.

Bulbs grown for cutting can be planted quite closely together.

There are plenty of tasks to be done in the flower patch in the autumn and planting bulbs is one of them. Plant them in drifts around the school grounds or garden; create bulb mazes, spirals and patterns; plant them in groups of five or seven in borders; plant them in pots near entrances; plant them close together in trenches ready for cutting in the spring.

As a general rule you should plant daffodils and alliums in September but wait until November to plant tulips because they don’t form roots until the weather gets colder. If you plant them early they’ll sit in the soil and be prone to attack from slugs and fungal disease.

Bulb planting is a great opportunity to get the community together improving the neighbourhood and sharing the workload. Add in coffee/hot chocolate/juice and cake, some crisp, sunny autumn weather and you have the makings of a perfect few hours.

If you are a school community, it’s a great opportunity to spread the word about your flower patch, get parents in to work in the school grounds with their children and encourage  some regular volunteers to help out. Hold  a ‘Bring a Bulb to School Day’. Ask for donations of lots of bulbs beforehand and cakes and workers on the day itself. Each class could do an hour’s planting and take responsibility for a one area. Then it doesn’t become too onerous.

It may seem a bit extravagant to give space and time in your cut flower patch to bulbs like daffodils and tulips, which only produce one flower but it’s worth it. They don’t take up a lot of space, are easy to grow and will fill the gap before your annuals and biennials start to flower. Choose a few of lots of different varieties which flower at different times, so that you have something to admire and pick over a longer period of time.

When selecting bulbs choose those that feel firm when you give them a squeeze.

Daffodils like a sunny spot but can cope with a bit of shade. Pop them in pointy side up. The advice is that you can plant them close together but not touching if you are intending to lift them after flowering and about 10cm apart if you are going to leave them in the ground. (My cutting daffodils are planted close together and never lifted!) Don’t forget that all parts of daffodils are toxic. You may want to wear gloves when picking daffodils.

Popping a few paperwhite narcissi in pots will give you some blooming presents for Christmas or something to sell at a school Christmas Fair. They take about six weeks to flower after planting.

If space is tight, the bulbs to grow are alliums because they can be interplanted with biennial flowers and you won’t find them for sale in the supermarket . I plant mine in October in a sunny spot  incorporating some grit into the ground and sinking them to about three times the depth of the bulb.

When the weather is colder, I plant tulips in rows in between my dahlias (which I also leave in the ground). By the time the tulips have died back the dahlias will start to produce shoots, giving two crops in one space. Simple.

It all sounds ideal doesn’t it? But beware squirrels. Squirrels can be  pests, digging up and munching newly planted bulbs in your school grounds. Try a belt and braces’ approach. Clear up any debris after planting (the dry ‘tunics’ which fall off bulbs when planting) so that pests aren’t attracted, provide a source of food for squirrels well away from bulbs and cover pots and trenched bulbs with wire mesh. Above all, stay vigilant. Children will love going on squirrel watch.

A bit of organisation and hard work now will be well worth it in the Spring.

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It’s Earth Day today (from April 21st )

Tulips for village shop to celebrate Earth Day

Tulips headed for Sara’s village shop.

Sandwiched between numerous opportunities to celebrate being English…the Queen’s birthday, Shakespeare’s birthday, St George’s Day, and at the height of seed sowing frenzies in gardens up and down the country (especially ours) comes Earth Day. It’s yet another opportunity to raise awareness world wide about climate change, green technologies and sustainability. I don’t know about yours but my own children are uber educated about saving the planet already. My own town of Bradford on Avon is active in all sorts of initiatives – solar panels for schools, community orchards, wildflower verges, limiting food waste, local food. What more is there to say or do? And so here at Our Flower Patch we are celebrating Earth Day with THE flower of the moment – the tulip. Tulips in April symbolise what we and our members are doing to reduce fuel consumption, build sustainable communities, educate people about the importance of local, seasonal crops and create numerous pocket habitats for wildlife in school grounds and gardens up and down the country. Sara has been selling ‘no miles’ tulips at her village shop. She grows them in her field, providing a great habitat for wildlife, picks and conditions them, wraps them in compostable packaging and delivers them to the shop on foot. They are even fertilised with local alpaca poo! (If you haven’t discovered the wonders of alpaca poo, get in touch.) In Bradford on Avon, Fitzmaurice School have been selling their flowers to parents at the school gate on Fridays (in recycled jam jars) and at Christine’s Sustainable Supermarket in town, keeping the school garden profit making and local flowers available to the community as a whole.