I LOVE autumn. The light is beautiful, and the days are lovely and warm but becoming cool enough to work without extreme discomfort. And it's time to plant some of my absolute favourite flowers like sweet peas, pansies, violas and spring-flowering bulbs.
Some gardeners are surprised that we can grow bulbs successfully in warmer climates. But the truth is, most of them will do very well. Jonquils, daffodils and freesias will all multiply in the ground and flower year after year. Tulips, irises, ranunculus and anemones may not repeat flower, but they are still worth growing because they are so gorgeous.
They flower in late winter or early spring, and you need to plant them any time from now until the end of May. It's a good idea to buy the bulbs a few weeks before you intend to plant and give them a couple of weeks in the fridge to simulate a longer, colder winter.
You don't need a big garden, or a big budget. Bulb growing is a great activity for children because there is plenty of growth to observe, from the time the shoots emerge to the formation of buds and then the flowers. The whole process is quite magical.
Select an open, sunny situation with well-drained soil and enrich it with some well-rotted animal manure or compost. As a general rule, bulbs should be planted at a depth which is twice the height of the bulbs, and the same distance apart, giving them room to multiply. If you buy the bulbs in a packet, there should be planting instructions printed on the label.
If you're planting in pots, use premium potting mix and plant them closer together and in a couple of layers to produce that lovely full effect. Cram them into terracotta pots. Small pots filled with bulbs can be taken inside once the buds have formed to cheer up a wintry room.
For something really exciting, grow a hyacinth in a vase of water in the fridge. When the flower is ready, that single bloom will fill a room with its wonderful fragrance.
Most bulbs need to be planted with the point facing upwards, although anemone and ranunculas should be planted with their little claws pointing down. Once the green shoots emerge, protect them from snails and slugs and feed them with a complete plant food.
When the flowers finish, feed the bulbs again with a complete plant food and allow the leaves to die down naturally.