Spring bulbs are time bombs ready and waiting to explode with scent and colour, says Adrienne Wild
Plant bulbs now for a garden full of colourful surprises in spring. They’re easy to grow – simply dig a hole, pop them in and wait!
Most spring-flowering bulbs prefer light shade to full sunshine and, as they are totally winter-proof, will poke their noses through ground hard from frost or soft from winter rains.
Daffodil bulbs need an early start and should be planted by the end of September. Planting time for crocus and the majority of bulbs is October through to November, while late-flowering tulips will still come up trumps even if left until December.
One of the most popular ideas is to scatter bulbs, such as daffodils, crocuses and snake’s head fritillaries, liberally across the lawn so that they appear as if by magic, like nature planted them.
Choose areas of lawn that you don’t mind being left uncut until June when the bulb foliage has died back, otherwise bulbs become undernourished and will unlikely return in future.
For a modern twist, grow purple ‘Pickwick’ crocus beneath rich-coloured daffodils and early species tulips to create a picture portrait or tapestry effect in your lawn. Alternatively, plant a maze of golden daffodils to provide entertainment for the kids on a cool, crisp day in March.
For effective results, use sand to mark out your design on the grass, then skim off the turf and plant the bulbs so that they are covered with twice their depth of soil – plant them close but not touching. Replace the turf after planting.
A clever way to use spring bulbs is to squeeze them in-between leafy perennials and add an extra tier of interest to evergreen ground cover.
If you want a big imposing plant for your borders, though, few can beat crown imperial or Fritillaria imperialis.
A statuesque plant, the crown imperial is topped by a cluster of large, nodding flowers, which are filled with glistening drops of nectar and crowned with a tuft of foliage.
The yellow variety ‘Lutea’ is one of the brightest and biggest carrying up to 10 flowers.
Look for flowers in contrasting colours, such as blue grape hyacinths, to maximise their appeal but be careful where you grow them, as the whole plant has a strong foxy smell!
For the brightest borders, you can rely on tulips. A winning combo is the sunny, heart-warming shades of yellow wallflowers and orange tulips, cheery colours that are guaranteed to raise your spirits and make you feel alive and ready for action.
To get the look, simply buy wallflowers this autumn and plant them 20cm apart in well-draining limy soil.
Nip out the growing tips to encourage branching. Interplant with tulips. Choose a variety of similar height and plant them up to 15cm deep with 10-12.5cm between each bulb.
Use miniature bulbs to create an air of opulence beneath the bare branches in shrub borders. Bright blue grape hyacinths, or muscari, are the perfect antidote to the dull, dark days of winter and can be used to create rivers and ribbons of blue through beds and borders.
Fluorescent white and scented Muscari botryoides ‘Alba’ can be cleverly used for giving a shady spot a moonlight glow.
Muscari are remarkably easy to grow – for best results, plant them in a cool spot, 10cm deep in slightly moist but free- draining soil. Plant plenty as they make excellent cut flowers but be aware, when left to their own devices, muscari self-seeds and will even push themselves into cracks in the paving.
Anemone blanda, also known as windflowers because they dance in the slightest breeze, will also put on a showy display.
The star-shaped blooms, which are produced on 10cm stalks, come in shades of pale and dark blue, occasionally mauve and pink plus white above attractive leaves, which are fern-like.
Use them to stud the ground between early-flowering perennials to create a carpet of colour or in-between stones in rockeries.
For the cutting garden, plant Anemone coronaria ‘St Brigid’ strain if you like petal-packed double flowers and ‘De Caan’ if you prefer the less flamboyant.
Plant the bulbs as soon as they become available, soaking them overnight in tepid water before popping them into the ground, 5cm deep.
You can also make use of dwarf varieties pots to dress up your doorstep. One of the daintiest daffodils, Narcissus ‘Hawera’, boasts up to five canary-yellow hanging flowers with swept-back petals and wide, short cups on every stem.
At around 18cm tall, this slender variety can be squeezed into tiny pockets rockeries as well as in hanging basket as well as tubs and window boxes.
Puschkinia libanotica grows to a maximum of 15cm tall and produces four to 10, 13mm- diameter, pale blue-white flowers that have a dark blue stripe down each petal.
It grows naturally in damp meadows and scrubs, where the snow has just melted, so to create the effect in pots, top-dress with a sprinkling of grass seed. Alternatively, grow the icy blue flowers with yellow crocus for contrast.
Other good combos for eye-level displays are brilliant blue Chionodoxa sardensis with bright yellow pansies or dwarf daffodils and the all-time favourite ‘Red Riding Hood’ tulips, which have tomato-red flowers that are scarlet on the inside, with a black base and outstanding leaves with dark purple stripes alongside primroses.
For a real attention- grabber in the garden, plant ‘Red Riding Hood’ through a snow-white carpet of Anemone blanda.
Finally, if it’s fragrance you’re after, the rich scent of hyacinths is hard to beat. For something different, try Festival hyacinths, which are multi-stemmed varieties, producing several airy plumes of flowers rather than a single dense flower spike.
To ensure their scent will not get blown away, group the pots in a sunny spot sheltered from strong winds by a backdrop of evergreen shrubs.