Bulbs revisited

As forecast, the astonishing Hill View Rare Plants catalogue arrived in the post just days after my last bulb entry.  Oh my Lordy.

And while I love what on-line catalogues can do with glorious back-lit images, I’m still a great fan of the hard-copy catalogue which allows you to scribble and mark as you go (not to mention the pleasure of finding something other than bills in the letterbox – once upon a time there was the occasional personal letter, but that’s all died since email).

My standard process is to wait until there’s time for a cuppa and a long, slow browse, pen in hand, to make my standard double vertical line next to the name of anything that I’d really like.  I don’t mean anything I’d like, as such, as there’s not a single bulb in either the Hill View or Lambley bulb catalogue discussed earlier that I’d refuse if I was given them.  This is the list of stuff I really want.

Some of that marked is stuff that I once grew, and that I’d love to grow again.  Bulbs like the very distinctive Crocus banaticus on offer from Hill View, which I left behind in an earlier house move.  I even had the albino form, for heaven’s sake, both being wonderfully generous gifts from Australia’s patriarch of bulbs, Otto Fauser.

More of the bulbs marked fall into the category of stuff that I’ve known or encountered during my thirty-year garden journey and that I want to grow for memory’s sake, like Tulipa sprengeri from Hill View that takes me straight back to Great Dixter, as do Arum creticum and Camassia quamash (see a pic of that in an earlier post) on offer from Lambley.  The delightfully scented Cyclamen purpurascens and the many forms of Iris reticulata listed by Hill View also transport me back in time, to magical evenings at Dreamthorpe in Mt Macedon, when Penny Dunn had her nursery there.

Also included in my initial list are plants that aren’t so much rare, but that I eventually want to have heaps of, like Narcissus ‘Nylon’ (in both catalogues) or Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ from Lambley.  The pleasure in these for me is in the critical mass, rather than the individual beauty of the flower.

In fact, looking again, its clear that almost nothing I’ve marked is really rare, collector’s stuff.  I’ll get around to those one day, but meanwhile, for reasons explained in my earlier post, I generally stick to things suited to the rough and tumble of real garden life.

Then, after that magically indulgent process, I go through put a second mark against the stuff I really, really want, that the unfortunately limited budget might stretch to include.   That’s usually pretty sobering.  The problem is not that they’re expensive, in fact I’ve often wondered how Hill View can offer such rarities at such good prices – it’s just that I always want too many different bulbs, and too many of each.

Anyway, that’s my normal process.

Last year, on a whim, I wrote to Marcus Harvey of Hill View and told him that I was interested in autumn flowering crocus, that I’d been given $50 for a birthday present, and asked if he’d just send me a bit of a mix of stuff adding up to that total.  I knew that wasn’t likely that he’d double up too much on what I already had.  What that process lacked in mouth-watering catalogue-trawling points it more than regained in the receiving of a parcel of total surprise contents.

I just so wish that either offered some sort of gift voucher.  It’d be the top of my gift list every time.


  1. Both the catalogues are stunning! I spent a happy hour (or two!) perusing them and writing lists. I have to start with a budget or I’d break the bank with their mouth-watering offerings. Last year I planted 50 deep yellow crocuses in a circle surrounded by purple pansies – they looked magnificent until the parrots joined in. So I have to think of some protection for the rarer ones I want to buy this year. The cyclamens too are tempting me!

    1. Brings to mind a fabulous old quote from a short story by SAKi:
      “There seems to have been an irreconcilable difference of opinion between sparrows and Providence since the beginning of time as to whether a crocus looks best standing upright with its roots in the earth or in a recumbent posture with its stem neatly severed; the sparrows always have the last word in the matter, at least in our garden they do. I fancy that Providence must have originally intended to bring in an amending Act, or whatever it’s called, providing either for a less destructive sparrow or a more indestructible crocus.”
      Clearly, in the absence of destructive sparrows, parrots fill this important role…

  2. Ah Alliums! They bring to mind the vision of a field of purple splendour, all in neat rows, as we drove through Holland in July 2011.

    1. I remember coveting an old wooden bucket out of rural China in an antique shop a few years back. I then stumbled across an importer, and stepped into a shipping container full to the roof with them. My lust was instantly cured. There was a danger of a similar effect from that field of alliums. It was somehow appalling to see such fabulously bold-formed plants, with such garden power, reduced to nothing but a field of colour. But I guess it was in the knowing that I couldn’t even take one of them home with me that the deep longing was maintained..

  3. I agree that a gift voucher for Lambley would be the best present ever! I got the second best one this Christmas, when my son gave me David Glenn’s four DVDs. What a joy to see the plants I’ve read about in the catalogues actually growing and to hear David’s intelligent and useful commentary. I wasn’t familiar with Hill View, but will look them up; thanks for the recommendation.
    I’m glad to have found your blog, as I always enjoy your writing. I hope you’ll continue.

    1. I agree – those DG DVD’s are excellent. Don’t you wish they’d make some TV like that?

  4. I dream of a garden channel along the lines of the Food Channel… Maybe with your media contacts, Michael………..?

    1. A whole channel? You dream big. I dream of just one decent, empowering, inspiring garden show…just one..

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