Now that autumn is in full swing, it’s time to plan ahead and plant some fabulous spring bulbs for next year. So settle down with a cuppa and start browsing for some beauties to boost your spring garden. Check out specialists like Peter Nyssen, Bloms and de Jager for a huge choice, and also look out for some lovely pots to marry your blooms with matching containers.
To inspire you, the picture above is of my garden last April, and it only took an afternoon to plant this colourful display. The reward was over two months of colour, starting with early flowering daffodils in March and ending in late May with a feast of drumstick alliums. To plant bulbs, just check the packets and plant at the depth and distance apart they recommend, but if you are planting in pots, pack them together more closely for a fuller display.
Most bulbs prefer a light, free-draining soil, so if yours is heavy clay, either dig in a few bucket-loads of horticultural gravel or plant in containers. You can use special bulb planters, but I find it easier to dig out a big hole and plant en masse – just check you don’t dig up your summer flowers at the same time. A good sharp spade or small trowel will do the trick perfectly.
Don't miss out of daffodils
Daffodils come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, and they’re perfect for beds, borders, rockeries and pots. Check the flowering times when ordering, and opt for a selection of earlies, like Minnow, which produces lots of pale cream blooms on each stem in March. Follow these with late varieties – I used the April-flowering ‘Milk and Honey’ in this pot, and planted a sprinkling of blue grape hyacinths in the ground to set them off. Also look out for the scented Tazetta and Jonquilla types and plant them close to your back door – they’ll greet you with a wonderful perfume every time you venture out.
Tulips to die for
If you don’t have a selection of tulips in your garden, you are most definitely missing out. There are tiny species tulips, such as the white and yellow ‘turkestanica’, that are ideal for rockeries and gravel gardens, elegant traditional single flowers, and big blowsy double blooms that look like peonies, such as ‘Angelique’, one of my all-time favourites.
Another tulip at the top of my list is ‘Artist’. Its exquisite blooms look like they’ve been painted with brushstrokes of peach, green and purple. Yum. Here, I’ve edged the pot with a frill of double-flowered pansies, which will flower from spring till midsummer if you pick off the faded blooms.
Try something different
As well as tulips and daffodils, remember to order a few irises. Tiny, early flowering reticulata species are great for small pots and rockeries, while the elegant Dutch irises, like this ‘Gipsy Beauty’, are sublime – plant them in groups of ten or more in a border for a dramatic display from May to June.
Plant alliums for a sophisticated finale
Among the last bulbs to flower in spring, blooming from early May to early June, alliums are the designers’ favourite; anyone who has visited Chelsea Flower Show will have seen them in almost every show garden there. Most look like Christmas baubles stuck on top of tall slim sturdy stems, and they make fantastic focal points in a bed or border. The most popular is the richly coloured ‘Purple Sensation’, and deservedly so, but I also used ‘Violet Beauty’ (pictured) and the chunky white-flowered ‘Multibulbosom’ (below) to add some variety to the mix. As you can see from my picture, alliums are also wonderful wildlife plants, attracting bees, hoverflies (which eat aphids) and other beneficial insects into your garden.
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Zia Allaway, Garden Expert
View all posts by Zia Allaway, Garden Expert