Gardening: protecting tulip bulbs – HeraldScotland

Predators, though, are probably a worse problem. I came close to abandoning all thoughts of growing one of my favourite spring flowers when a platoon of badgers broke my heart. They nonchalantly trashed my lovingly prepared containers, casting them aside, leaving the compost strewn far and wide, with not a bulb in sight. And not even sprouting bulbs were spared this onslaught.

But why should I complain when badgers, rabbits, squirrels and lowly mice succumb to the tasty delights of tulip bulbs as enthusiastically as people once did?

Our earliest tulip bulbs arrived in merchant ships plying between the Netherlands and Constantinople. In 1562, a ship laden with bales of cloth and tulip bulbs arrived in Antwerp and according to the famous botanist, Charles de l’Ecluse, one merchant took some of the bulbs back home. Thinking they were onions, he roasted them on the dying embers of his fire and had them served up with oil and vinegar.

The merchant then planted the remainder beside cabbages in his veg patch, but neglect set in and most died. Fortunately another merchant, George Rye, who was a more enthusiastic gardener, rescued the few survivors. De l’Ecluse then tells us that “to his wise diligence and industry we give the credit to see the flowers that bring so much pleasure to our eyes by their charming variety”. And we shouldn’t forget that de l’Ecluse himself was responsible for making tulips popular throughout Europe as flowers rather than edibles.

So what persuaded me to continue enjoying tulips’ charming variety? Quite simply, rabbit netting. Badgers are formidably powerful excavators, so my technique should also work for squirrels, rabbits and mice.

I’ve just been planting up 20-litre pots with seven Ballerina bulbs each, secure in the knowledge that my hot coloured bed will be ablaze with these splendidly scented orange blooms. Tulips are quite greedy feeders, so I use a 60:40 mix of homemade compost and coarse grit. A soil-based compost would also work.

Put at least 8cm of compost in a large pot, settle the tulip bulbs on top and cover with a thick layer of compost, then put rabbit netting on top. Cut a circle of rabbit netting that’s sufficiently wide to cover the surface and let you sink a shallow layer round the perimeter. Finally fill the pot with compost.

And now for my terrace, which I’ll adorn with Burgundy’s rich purple flowers and the exotically frilled orange petals of Orange Parrot. Luckily, when growing tulips in large planters, I’ve managed to fool the badgers without using a net corset. I put a layer of stones in rectangular planters, 100cm by 40cm by 50cm, then fill with smaller pots which I can switch as necessary. The badgers don’t seem able to sniff out bulbs through two layers of pots. I’m not sure if this method would work against squirrels, but it’s worth trying.

In the open ground, I find the small bulbs of species tulips such as Little Beauty or Sylvestris are less susceptible to attack, but a fortified bulb basket is the only safe solution for any variety. Dig a 15cm hole in the usual way. After planting up the basket, attach rabbit netting to the top leaving a 5cm-wide rim protruding round the perimeter. Then place the basket in the hole and fill, marking the spot.

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