It may seem a way off, but autumn is the time to plant your spring bulbs – you’ll really appreciate those splashes of colour after the grey winter months. Bulbs look great in drifts under deciduous trees and bushes or at the front of borders, but work well in containers too. Here are a few to try.
One of the first flowers to emerge in February, they create a pretty wash of purple or yellow naturalised in the lawn and are lovely clustered under magnolia trees or crammed into pots. Soft purple C. tommasinianus ‘Barr’s Purple’ with its golden orange stamens is a winner while C. vernus ‘Pickwick’ is more robust and bigger (12-15cm), so good for impact on a dull winter’s day. Sarah Raven’s favourite C.minimus ‘Spring Beauty’ is a stunner and great in pots on the windowsill where you can admire the striking dark purple stripe on the outer petal. Most need well drained soil and sun.
Daffodils are a must for cheerful spring colour and lovely scent, and there’s a variety for every taste. N. ‘Carlton’ (45cm) is for fans of bold bright yellow daffs, they flower early (March) and make great cut flowers. For a subtler look, N. ‘Thalia’ has elegant off white sweetly scented flowers (35cm). Even more dainty is ‘White Lady’, and ‘Tete-a-tete’ is a cute dwarf daffodil with golden petals, perfect for pots. Full sun to part shade.
Flowering from around April these pretty spires of tiny grape-like flowers in blues and whites are easy to grow and look great lining pathways as well as in pots mingled with narcissus or hyacinths. M. armeniacum with its brilliant blue flowers is a classic (though it can colonise a bit) while M. azureum is a less vigorous early flowerer (March) with paler blue heads. They like sun but will tolerate shade.
These are showy highly scented bulbs that flower in April and May and look lovely in pots with tulips as well as in the border. Along with white and bright pink there’s a huge range of purples and blues. One of the most stunning is H. orientalis ‘Woodstock’– a deep plum that looks fab with tulips of the same shade. H. orientalis ‘Peter Stuyvesant’ is a dramatic dark violet colour and ‘Blue Pearl’ is a classic with violet blue flowers and dark green leaves. They like full sun or part shade.
Stunning and stylish, a big block of tulips will brighten up your garden from April/ May and give you weeks and weeks of enjoyment. They come in a mouthwatering array of colours from the stylish dark varieties such as ‘Queen of Night’ and the more beetroot purple ‘Negrita’ to the pastel ‘China Pink’. Pure white ‘Catherina’ is gorgeous, ‘Spring Green’ is pretty and fresh, while ‘Ballerina’ is for those who love hot orange and red. Most like sun and well drained soil.
Plant the smaller early flowerers such as crocuses in late September, daffodils in October and tulips in November when the soil is cold. The rule of thumb is to plant them between twice and three times the depth of the bulb, around 10cm apart depending on the size of the bulb. A bulb planter is helpful to gauge depth. Bulbs tend to need well-drained soil so add a handful of sharp sand to into the hole before planting to minimise rotting. (Snowdrops are best planted in the green in the winter months.)
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This article first appeared in the October 2017 issue of SE22 magazine.