Shrub of the month: Russelia
Shrub of the month: Russelia

Bulbs and corms are wondrous things, guarding life, as they do, deep inside their fascinating forms.

They often hint — a tender green shoot here, a fragile, tentatively searching thread of root there — at nascent life, but corms, often deceptively wizened and hard, rarely do. Both are an absolute joy to grow, indoors and out, and both can be planted right now.

There are no secret tricks to growing them, just guidelines that it is wise not to ignore.

Firstly, and of obvious importance, is to meticulously check each single bulb and corm you wish to purchase: this isn’t always an easy task as many are now imported, largely from Holland, pre-packed and thus sealed away from probing fingers, in which case, you can only do the best you can by trying, through the wrapping, to feel for health.

Healthy, viable bulbs and corms, are firm to touch, are undamaged and, if already waking up, show no more than a quarter of an inch to half an inch of new growth: if displaying growth more than this, avoid them as the resultant plants could very well be too ‘leggy’ for their own good.

Do not, whatever else you decide on, allow the seller to talk you in to buying obviously damaged or partly rotten/infected bulbs or corms. It is the sellers’ job to sell his stock at a profit; he/she is not interested in your end result.

Bulbs and corms are an absolute joy to grow and they can be planted right now

The vast majority of imported bulbs and corms — as against the climatically more suitable tropical, sub-tropical and indigenous ones — must be provided with a growing medium that freely and quickly drains off excess water: this is to prevent the scourge of cooler climate bulbs which have become so popular here and that are rot.

Special bulb compost can be purchased, or you can make your own using a balanced mixture of river sand (not sea sand), loam, fully rotted down, preferably organic and preferably homemade, compost and — as it is no longer (for environmental reasons) recommended to use peat, then finely chopped, coconut coir instead.

Ensure, by placing broken pieces of clay pot, at angles, over them/it, that drainage holes in the base of selected pots/containers, have unobstructed drainage at all times.

Keeping it simple, if a bulb is two inches in length, from tip to base, plant it four inches deep, so that its top is covered by two inches of soil/compost. If one-inch long, then two inches deep with one-inch of soil/compost above it. The same applies to corms.

Asiatic lily Orange enchantment
Asiatic lily Orange enchantment

There are, as always, exceptions, the most common being Dutch hyacinths, which are often planted with the top one third of the bulb exposed, or with just the growing tip exposed, or indoors, grown balanced just above, not in, a narrow-necked container of water.

Bulbs and corms to plant now include: Dutch hyacinths, Dutch iris, gladioli, tulips, daffodils, narcissus, anemones, ranunculus, sparaxis, grape hyacinths, crocus, freesias, Asiatic and Oriental lilies and cyclamen.

Seed sowing suggestions for October:

Flower seeds: Lots and lots to choose from this month with the following being just some of them: Antirrhinums — dog flowers, snapdragons. Cerinthe major atropurpurea — honeywort, wallflowers, sweet Williams, sweet sultan, cornflowers, nigella, bellis, Queen Anne’s lace — ammi, violas, pansies, larkspur, godetia, geraniums, pelargoniums, pinks, carnations, coreopsis, petunias, lobelia, alyssum, verbena, salvias, ageratum, bidens, aquilegia, candytuft, mixed annual poppies, annual chrysanthemums and, after the middle of the month, sweet peas.

The vegetable garden: Winter cabbages and spring cabbages, cauliflowers, broccoli and calabrese, kale, green onions, lettuce, spinach, leaf beet/Swiss chard, endive, pak choy, giant red mustard, mustard, mustard mizuna, turnip greens, radicchio, endive, chicory, beetroot, carrots, turnips, rutabaga, French radish, Russian, Spanish and Chinese winter radish, broad beans, bush beans, climbing beans, peas, sugar snap peas, celery, kohl rabbi, red and white onions, plus, in Karachi and with care, tomatoes. Potatoes and garlic can go in, all over the country, this month too.

In the herb garden: Coriander, calendulas, nasturtiums, chives, garlic chives, parsley, fennel, bronze fennel, aniseed and dill. Zeera (cumin), oregano, marjoram, thyme, lavender, lemon balm, chamomile, rosemary, sage, watercress, cress, borage, lovage, mint varieties and, if you can find seeds, comfrey.

Narcissus
Narcissus

Shrub of the month: Russelia equisetiformis — Fountain bush, firecracker plant. It is a member of the Plantaginaceae family. This evergreen perennial, indigenous to Mexico and Guatemala, can reach a height of about five feet and has a weeping habit. Excellent for hedging and as a specimen shrub on a large rockery (it would smother a small one). It bears bright vermilion, tubular flowers from spring through to autumn although pink and white cultivars can also be found. It enjoys sun to partial shade and humus-rich, well-drained, loamy soil. Propagated by division in early spring or by stem cuttings taken at any time of the year. A stunning shrub when in bloom.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to zahrahnasir@hotmail.com. Remember to include your location. The writer does not respond directly by email. Emails with attachments will not be opened

Published in Dawn, EOS, October 4th, 2020

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