Spring bulbs are planted in Autumn which is fast approaching and to have you pick of the plumpest bulbs it’s time to get into those catalogues online or otherwise. I must admit I bought my Tulips about 3 weeks ago, so excited was I to see the order books open for ordering.
For me Tulips, other than species, are added to every year, they can go on for years and years but tend to fade in vigor after 3 or 4 so to keep plantings looking really spritely I add a few more each year if I’m keeping the same scheme going, or as advised by cut flower aficionado Charlie Ryrie, I pull the whole bulb up at the end of the growing season if I’m making a change.
I was once told by a lovely NT gardener that their cycle runs. Eranthis, Galanthus, Narcissus, Tulipa, Scilla, Anthriscus; which roughly translates to Aconites, Snowdrops, Daffs, Tulips, Bluebells and Cow Parsely. This he said took them through from January to June without much effort. Sadly there didn’t seem to be a similar plan from July to December!
There are of course umpteen alternatives to add into this sort of mix; Grape Hyacinth, Wood anemones, Cyclamen coum, Crocus, Chindoxa, Ornithogalum, Iris reticulata Fritillaria, Anemone, Camassia, Allium, Hyacinth, Erythronium and so on . Planning a good run of flowering bulbs for the seasons marks the seasonal changes and with a bit of planning and hard work in Autumn you can enjoy months of colour.
Chindoxa – Dainty star shaped flowers, I grow both C.forbesii and C.luciliae and they wander about the woodlandy part of the garden quite happily. More recently they have made tracks into the lawn where the crocus are too, but slowly. Chindoxa flowers rise over strap like leaves and a mass of blue lilac flowers emerge lasting for days at a time and cutting well for the first of the spring flower posies. They grow in all kinds of conditions and work well in swathes with blue wood anemone. Plant in September/October
Glanthus – Snowdrops have become something of an obsession for many but a swathe of the simplest G.nivalis lifts the spirits in a way nothing else can on a dark winter day. I am not a Galanthophile but I do love the yellow Wendy’s Gold which flowers reliably for me each year though it is not bulking up very quickly, if at all. Another stunning cultivar is G. S Arnott. If you have patch already dig, divide and replant them in the green just after flowering, to make new colonies for the following years. Plant bulbs in October/November of in the green in March
Narcissus – Choose the highly scented multiheaded varieties for interest. Pueblo in delicate white, Jet Fire in rich yellow and orange and Minnow in creamy white. Tall Thalia and Poeticus continue the theme of whites and for something very late try Pipe Major. I grow blocks of Minnow, Tete a Tete, Thalia and Hawera for cutting. Plant in September/October
Alllium – If you can only have one, it must be Purple sensation which of course is seen everywhere but for very good reason. An excellent plant that comes back year after year with vigor and statuesque elegance. I you like a bit more bang for your buck try Globemaster, they are on the pricey side but huge dense flowers are breathtaking and last very well. Delicate Schubertii and Christophii dance through a border with their enormous starry heads. As they are such show offs I limit them in numbers to create punctuations in the tapestry of planting. For white Mount Everest towers on thick strems for weeks and the squat fat Ivory Queen. Once they have flowered don’t be tempted to leave the seed heads, the plant puts energy into making seeds first then replenishes the bulb so if you want sturdy plants next year chop the flower stems off once they go over. If you want some seed to sow, leave one plant each year, different plant each year. Plant in September/October
Tulipa There are literally thousands to chose from and I like to try one or two new ones each year to see how well they do in my conditions. There are of course hot favourites every year, this year I suspect the New Sarah Raven Tulip will be much sort after. Old favourites get that way by being reliable plants and standing up well to garden conditions White Triumphator, Black Hero, Ballerina, China Pink, Abu Hassan and Angelique to name a few.
Plant in large blocks for impact, 25 or more works well in a border or large pot. Tulips start flowering around the end of April, just as the Narcissus start to go past their best and continue flowering well into May sometime even early June if the weather stays mild. Carefully choosing colour mixes and timings (early to late) can allow you to literally change the colour of a border in a very short space of time as varieties come and go. This can be great fun but is costly to do well and quite a bit of work in the planting which is usually done by layering colours over one another.
This year I have chosen Carnaval de Nice (white and red striped) to go with Sarah Raven (deep red) and Spring Green. If like me you grow a patch for cutting you can’t beat this offer from GEE TEE (future readers, this will be time limited!) Plant in November.