A Beginners Guide to Exhibiting at the Caley Spring Show – Part One

Part One – The Bulb Planting Workshop

At the Caley’s annual Spring Show in 2014, as I was wandering around admiring the beautiful exhibits, two questions kept popping into my head. How on earth does one get bulbs to bloom in peak condition on the precise date of the show; and then how does one transport them to the Botanics without them being ruined?


I promised myself that I would discover what magic was involved and that the next year some of my own blooms would be on show!

So last year, in Spring 2015, I entered some of the novice categories. The Friday afternoon spent setting up with other exhibitors was wonderful fun, with lots of experts around to help with advice and secret tips. There is great banter between age-old rivals and a lovely spirit of competitive camaraderie.

I was amazed and delighted to actually win something too! I got a second and third place and, most special, a ribbon for the best Irish-bred daffodil by a novice. I was such a novice that I didn’t even know that any of my bulbs were Irish-bred and completely missed the ribbon when I went to look at the results!  Spring 2016 was even better as, due to the poor number of entrants, I won the novice cup. This I did notice!


So how did I do it? How did I find the answer those two questions I asked at the start of my journey back in Spring 2014? How did I capture that magic of achieving peak condition for the exact day of the show?

Well, with great guidance from The Caley every step of the way, of course!

The first step in that guidance is the Bulb Planting Workshop every October at the Botanics nursery. This is a must if you aren’t entirely sure what you are doing! I knew about forcing hyacinths for Christmas but that’s about it and I’d never actually done it because I hate the smell of hyacinths!

The workshop is fantastic value for money as it includes all your compost, pots, bulbs and labels plus use of the plunge bed at the Botanics nursery for four months. It’s so good that lots of members go every year!

This year the workshop was led by past president Pam Whittle.


Last Saturday about twenty of us were spaced along the potting bench, some were regulars who enter every year and some were complete novices like I was myself a couple of years ago.  It is all very easy and fun, with tips and pointers gbulb2-charlotteiven along the way.


Charlotte here is already a dab hand and was potting up bulbs for other people, who hadn’t been able to make the workshop.



Pam explained to fill our 2 litre pots about ¾ full of compost, so the bulbs will be almost covered once the compost is added on top of them. We used bulb compost but multi-purpose is fine too.




Remember to place the bulbs the right way up and, to prevent rotting, it is best to ensure the bulbs are spaced so they do not touch each other. The most vital instruction is to label your pot with the variety you are planting!



For daffodils it is standard practice to plant five bulbs per pot. We each planted four pots of different varieties of daffodils – they were Thriplow Gold, Golden Amber, Madam Speaker and Rapture.

For the hyacinths, it is standard practice to plant three bulbs per pot. This year we had a choice of two varieties – Jan Bos or Delft Blue.


For the tulips, it is standard practice to plant six bulbs per pot. I still haven’t figured out why, as the show schedule for a pot of tulips is for five, so one always has to be cut away later.  This year we had a choice of two varieties – Fur Elise or Albert Heijn.


The pots are all then placed on a trolly to be moved to the plunge bed.


The plunge bed is any bed (in this case a raised bed) which has had the topsoil dug away to leave space of twice the depth of the pots. The pots are placed in and then covered up with the topsoil, to cover them to about the same depth as the depth of the pot. This is to keep light out, to force them to grow up straight and strong.


If you don’t have space for a plunge bed, then there are lots of other ways to do this stage. The aim is to keep the pots cold and dark, so covered with black plastic in a shed or garage or corner of a garden does just as well. A past competitor even found a pot he had forgotten under a hedge, and went on to win with it!

A must at this stage is to protect from mice, who will love to munch on those juicy bulbs over winter. We used heavy wire mesh but a roof tile or chicken wire works well too on individual pots.


With the bulbs put in their cosy home for winter, now is the time to start browsing the schedule for the Spring Show. This gives an overview of each class, the rules and what the judges are looking for. You can find it on the Caley website.

Initially this document can be somewhat bamboozling as there are over one hundred possible categories to enter. It’s all rather overwhelming for a novice especially if, like me, you didn’t know there were different types (called divisions) of daffodil depending on their form.

I’d advise you to skip straight to the section titled “Novice/ Beginner Class“. If you are under sixteen then skip straight to the section titled “Junior Classes“.  This is the section which will have other competitors at about the same level as you are. If you have attended the Caley bulb workshop in October, you will have enough bulbs to enter most of the classes in this section.

There is also a separate competition for schools to enter, with dwarf daffodils in smaller pots.

All we have to do now is wait until about Valentine’s Day for the second part of the bulb workshop, when we will lift our bulbs to take home and grow on. The February workshop includes a talk and demonstration on how best to care for your bulbs and how to get to that magic point of peak condition on the precise day of the judging!

Until then,

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Getting ready for Spring!

A short burst of energy prepared the plunge bed at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh nursery for the Caley bulb planting workshop on Saturday. Sorry there isnt a picture – but they havent yet fitted cameras to spades!

Some great bulbs are waiting to be planted by workshop participants. Narcissus Thriplow Gold (division 1), Narcissus Golden Amber (division 2), Narcissus Madam Speaker (division 4), Narcissus Rapture (division 6), Hyacinth (either Delft Blue or Jan Bos), Tulip (Alber Heijn or Fur Elise).

Watch out for pictures and updates over the coming months.

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Autumn Colour at Redcroft




Some of the stars of the garden make their presence felt at this time. Foremost among them are the Nerines. From a small clump given to me thirty years ago by my parents-in-law from their Norfolk garden, this spectacular display appears with complete consistency every year. Their strong stems make them wind proof and they don’t blink an eye at the fiercest of rain. Nerines are native to South Africa and were introduced in the 1880s. They seem to enjoy the pleasures of Edinburgh when placed in a sunny, well drained spot for they grow well in many gardens. I also grow Nsarniensis, the Guernsey lily, which is a beautiful colour but not hardy, and a less enthusiastic flowerer.




Of the many Sorbuses with beautiful berries  Sorbus Joseph Rock is one of my favourites. It is also at its best at this time of year. Our tree, planted in the late 80s, gets better and better. It is full of berries of a subtle yellow, at the moment seen against the green of its leaves, but soon these will turn to a brilliant golden colour and a different colour scheme will emerge.




The autumn crocuses which grow in profusion in the orchard have been excellent but are almost over now. They are seen to their best in the slanting evening light which makes their petals almost transparent. I prefer them in clumps to being randomly spread, and I dig up a few each year to try and achieve this. The white ones stay in tidier clumps than the pink ones, and come out slightly later.


The garden is open by appointment for the next two weeks – all the information is on the Scotland’s Gardens website under Redcroft, 23 Murrayfield Road, or ring the bell if you are passing and see if I am here.                                                           Anna Buxton, Edinburgh

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Rain and shine on the allotment


We all turned up last week but the rain was so heavy and the forecast not promising we fled home and then it turned into a beautiful sunny day. We did manage to pick a few runner beans though in the rain!

Today the sun shone again and we could see and hear the geese high overhead.

The spring broccoli was stoutly staked and tied in to keep them upright in the winter gales and the netting raised.

The first of the Brussel sprouts are ready for picking. We don’t want them yet when there are still summer vegetables but you don’t always know what you are getting when you buy plants.

The strawberry runners have rooted so time to make the new bed, cover the ridges with weed suppressing matting and get them planted. We work on a three/four year cycle with the strawberries and, since the plants are still healthy with no viruses, there is no problem with using runners to make new plants.

All the remaining apple varieties bar one are almost ripe so they were all picked today. The only apple left is ‘Adam’s Pairmain‘ the latest variety we grow. The most productive have been ‘Sunset‘, an eating apple similar to a Cox, more suited for a Scottish climate and the cooker ‘Lord Derby‘ which is cordon grown and has given an excellent crop with no disease.

The autumn raspberries are now over but we are still picking the redcurrants. They do fine left on the bush and get sweeter and darker.

It hasn’t been a good year for sweetcorn for us with poor pollination and not warm enough even with a variety which is supposed to cope with such conditions ‘Northern Extra Sweet‘. With our cold exposed position, it is always a chancy crop but we live in hope since the cobs can be so delicious when fresh.

This Weekend on Bridgend Allotment site

Just a reminder about our Harvest Fiesta taking place this Saturday 8 October from 14:00-16:00 at Bridgend in the Dutch Barn …

This is a great chance for us to get together over some home-fired pizza and celebrate the end of the growing season – just bring anything at all along to share (and your own plate and cutlery, plus a cushion if you like).  It’s BYOB but tea and coffee will be available for all.

There’ll also be an opportunity to meet the Bridgend Bees and see the hives in action.

Jobs for next week
Finish planting out the strawberry runners
New raised beds

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Getting Ready for Apple Day

Popped into the Botanic Garden in Edinburgh today and checked to see if Gentiana The Caley was in flower as it was such a lovely sunny day. As you can see they were not quite there yet. (Or have I missed it – my own aren’t quite flowering yet which was why I thought I would check.)?rbge-011016


But the garden never disappoints as there is always something of interest.






However the real reason for going was to to get things ready for Apple Day on Sunday  from 12- 4 in the Botanic Cottage.

There will be a large range of apples to help with identification, some from the Botanic Garden, some from East Linton and others from the Borders.  For tasting we have a good selection of different varieties.  So if you want to check out the apple in your garden or taste the difference between Merton Beauty, Aroma, Norfolk Royal Russet, Cevaal, Rival, Pitmaston Pineapple, Nutmeg Pippin, Captain Kidd and Sweet Society come along.

Please Note: I resisted the urge to taste today but will definitely be choosing my favourite on Sunday.


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Truly inspiring

Today was a double celebration.  It was an opportunity to celebrate 10 incredible years of Grow and Learn, the Caley’s horticultural award that recognises individual achievement through experiential learning and personal development for people with a learning disability or complex learning needs. 10-year-cake-2 But even more important it was an opportunity to present awards to some of the participants who had recently achieved their goals.

They came from many difpottersferent parts of Scotland, form Stranraer, from Eaward-ceremony1dinburgh, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Stirling, Ayrshire and more.img_9342_fotor

(Just a few of the edinburgh-collegepictures from a great afternoon.)



Truly inspirational and a great cake!

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A very hardy fuchsia

Fuchsia Riccartonii

Probably the best known and toughest of  the hardy Fuchsias which are now at their best. The name  originated from the garden at Riccarton, nowadays the site of Heriot-Watt University  near Edinburgh.  It is thought to be   a variant of F. magellanica which was introduced from South America  in 1788. This species grows wild near the Straits of Magellan. It flourishes on west  coasts  and especially in  Ireland where it can make  hedges up to 8 ft. high.  Further east and north it is liable to die back in hard winters but in spring fresh shoots sprout  from the base which can grow up to  5 ft. tall in a season.


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