Mystery bulbs mean spring will be a bigger surprise

Allan Jenkins

I grew up in a magical land of meadow snowdrops, woodland bluebells and hedgerow primroses. There were riverside banks of wild garlic, which I loved for the flowers but was repelled by the smell – it was a sheltered English 60s childhood in very rural Devon.

I guess I have been a bit sniffy about growing bulbs in pots ever since, though it has been many years since we had our own flower garden. Winter pots on the roof terrace were for green leaf, multiple shades and colours of hellebore.

We left it late this year. The geraniums are living longer, flowering through into January, so I hadn’t the heart to replace them. But when we ordered tulips for the beach hut, we found ourselves adding a few extras for London and, for the second year, we have shoots coming through.

Bulbs seem to me the most hopeful garden purchase, even more so than seed; and after pushing them into winter’s cold, damp earth in anxious hope of spring, I check on them obsessively (like much of my gardening), and now they are stirring. Three pots have sprouted – green, grave, finger-like things. I suspect they are daffodils, perhaps paperwhites. The tulips will appear much later.

I don’t, however, keep records of what I have planted or sown, or draw up plans for the plot. It is as though I cherish being absentminded. I want to be open to imagination, maybe magic, though it could as easily be laziness. My work life is very ordered, pages run to tight deadlines and budgets, and I need my gardening to be different.

So, sometime soon, the rooftop shoots will start to bud and we will remember which pot was planted with what. Until then, I will marvel at the miracle of spring conjured with the help of superior bulb suppliers.

Allan Jenkins’s Plot 29 (4th Estate, £6.49) is out now