As the evenings start to draw in and thoughts turn to autumn stop lamenting the end of summer and welcome bulb planting season. Get surfing the catalogues, visit the garden centre and start planning your spring garden! So what to choose?
These virginal pest-free dainty blooms are the first signs of floral life to emerge from the winter soil, gracing the ground with a white carpet from January to March. They bring hope, optimism and anticipation, as if spring cannot contain itself a second longer. With over 1000 varieties and 20 wild species to choose from you are going to have your work cut out narrowing down which bulbs to grow.
Plant snowdrops October to November as bulbs or ‘in the green’ at springtime, which can be a little cheaper but they will need planting out straight away. Once established your snowdrops are easily multiplied by lifting and dividing. Plant in containers or drifts in the ground.
Native Galanthus nivalis (‘milk flowers of the snow’) are quick to self-seed and spread. G. elwesii has large honey-scented flowers whilst G. woronowii stands 15cm tall and will grow just about anywhere. This tough little flower originates from Turkey and south Russia and has distinct green markings surrounded by delicate white petals. Fancy a double? G.’Ophelia’ is exceptional as is ‘Flore Pleno.’
Get down to soil level to fully appreciate these intricate drooping flowers heads or plant them in a raised border where they can be appreciated from below.
With around 50 species and a staggering 2500 registered narcissus cultivars, large or small cups, single or double heads, there is a lot of choice. Plant daffodils September to October for flowers March to May; select early, mid and late flowering bulbs for months of colour.
Narcissus ‘Tete-a-Tete’ is an early flowering dwarf variety; at 15cm it is ideal for rockeries and pots or try mid-season multi-headed N. triandrus ’Thalia’ for pure white elegance. Late flowering N. poeticus ‘Poet’s,’ Pheasant’s Eye, is highly scented pale bloom with a striking small red tipped centre.
For multiple long flowering blooms ‘Cornish Chuckles’ produces seven stems per bulb, each 45cm stem hosting three flowers! Or for long trumpets N. cyclamineus certainly is a talking point, breaking with daffodil tradition.
Fritillaria or Persian lily is an easy to grow perennial of around 100 species, just watch out for lily beetle! Plant bulbs from September to October for flowers during April and May.
F. imperialis, stands a heady 1-1.5m tall, favours well-drained soil as prone to rot in damp; infamous for its whiffy scent but boasts a majestic crown. Want something shorter? Try its junior F. raddena. F. persica holds around 20 black bell flower heads per stem. Each spike can reach an impressive 90cm whereas F. michailovskyi grows 10-20cm tall with distinct yellow tipped maroon umbels. F.elwesii are 35cm tall and display purple flowers with a streak of green in April.
The distinct chequered snakeshead fritillary, F. meleagris, grow well in cool, damp meadows and are a reliable top performer earning itself, F.pontica and F. acmopetala, the pointed-petal fritillary a RHS Award of Garden Merit.
These diverse nodding bell-shaped heads all hold a unique individuality; hosting an impressive kaleidoscope of colours. Ideal for rockeries, flowerbeds and many are suited to naturalise in lawns and thrive when undisturbed.
There is a phenomenally diverse range of tulips to choose from to suit everyone’s tastes. From traditional early singles to late doubles, lily tulips to peony, fringed to parrot, green viridiflora to dwarf species tulips ideal for rockeries and to naturalize in lawns.
Some of my personal favourites include pale pink late double peony ‘Angelique’ and ‘Foxtrot’ which flower April/May and deepens in colour with age; ‘La Belle Époche’ an exquisite antique apricot which looks sublime planted alongside forget-me-nots and Tulipa bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’ a delightful little species tulip with an egg yolk centre which stands 25cm tall and flowers in March.
If you fancy something more unusual try ‘Black Parrot’ with its contorted fringed petals, ‘Carnaval de Nice,’ raspberry-red streaks splash the brilliant white petals of this double late peony or ‘Green Star’ which is a lily-viridiflora fusion.
Ideally plant bulbs in November to avoid soil fungal diseases such as ‘tulip fire.’
As tulips fade these elegant lollipops emerge adding structure to a border. Alliums are a superb addition to lasagne planted pots. They add longevity to your display right into June…and beyond.
Long after the flowers have faded allium’s architectural seed heads make perfect dried flower displays. Even a single individual stem has impact.
Grow ‘Star of Persia’ Cristophii for huge ball heads, mimic gigantic sparklers with Allium schbertii or send the pollinators wild with the smaller round-headed leek, Allium sphaerocephalon.
Or try something completely different. Nectaroscordum siculum, Sicilian honey garlic. This unusual allium relative brings grandeur to the border with a statuesque long-lasting flower head, whose seed head looks equally impressive. It is one of those head-turning plants, which everyone mutters ‘what’s that and is a magnet for pollinators too?’
Good to note
- Snowdrops and narcissus are deer and rabbit proof. They contain lycorine, a bitter poisonous chemical that keeps mammals away. Alliums also deter due to their onion aroma.
- If you are reusing last year’s dried bulbs then check none have perished whilst stored. Gently squeeze each bulb to see if firm or squishy. Discard the latter!
- Always wear gloves when planting as some bulbs can cause irritation to sensitive skin.