Once the danger of frost has passed, it’s time to plant summer bulbs. They’re powerhouses with beautiful blooms says Adrienne Wild

Tall and dramatic

Known as desert candles or foxtail lilies, the stately spikes of eremurus like it sunny and dry and, in order to induce flowering, a cold snap in winter.

Eremurus are reliable performers that produce erect flower spikes 1-2m tall clothed with tiny star-shaped blooms in midsummer. For good effect, plant them among earlier-flowering perennials to extend the life of the border. They look especially stunning next to round blooms such as those of poppies.

Plant the fleshy, star-shaped roots in holes dug 15cm deep and 30cm across, fanning them out and pointing slightly downwards. Space the plants about 30cm apart. If left undisturbed, they will grow into large spreading clumps and happily produce seedlings at a healthy rate.

African beauty

Agapanthus or African lily is a glamorous plant, which from July to September, produces large, round sparkler-like flower heads that are made up of bell-shaped blooms in deep shades of blue, violet-blue or white, on stout stems up to 90cm tall.
They cannot abide frost, so in cold regions choose the deciduous varieties, or grow them in containers.

In the garden avoid shady spots. Plant in well-drained soil 20-25cm apart and with their crowns 5cm below the surface. Once established, covering the soil with deep mulch should ensure that they survive winter.


Arum or calla lily, more correctly Zantedeschia, can be used to transform a dull water feature, as they grow best in the damp, boggy soil at the edge of a pool. They thrive in full sun to partial shade.

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‘Crowborough’ is the hardiest variety, and although a deciduous perennial, will remain evergreen. It is tolerant of drier soils, too, so can also be grown in pots.

Find room for it in boggy borders. Plant the tubers in spring, 15cm deep with a spacing of 30-40cm between each plant. Apply mulch around the base of the plant to protect it from cold.

Slim fit

The beautiful exotic-looking blooms of gladioli come in a range of colours, including romantic pastel shades, which can add glamour to the garden, as well as bright, bold colours and the acid-green variety ‘Green Star’, that will make a statement in mixed planting schemes.

The bulbs, known as corms, can be planted straight out in the garden. Find them a sunny spot with rich but well-drained soil. For cutting, plant them in rows 10cm apart and 10-15cm deep. Mulching will help protect the bulbs in winter or you could dig up the corms, dry them out and snap off the stem before storing in a frost-free shed.

Himalayan giant

The giant cardiocrinums, which grow 2-4m high, can be grown at the back of a shady border. Cardiocrinum giganteum have the typical trumpet flower of the lily, but with distinct heart-shaped foliage.

Cardiocrinum bulbs are available in autumn and spring, and should be planted straight away with just a little soil over the top. Small bulbs tend to establish quicker than larger ones.

The main bulb dies off soon after flowering but is replaced by daughter bulbs, which take around three years to flower.

Taste of the tropics

The exotic blooms of Indian shot plant or cannas blend well with the tropical planting schemes and even without the flowers, the leaves, which come in rich shades, make a dramatic statement.

Must-have varieties for spicing up late-summer borders include lush Canna ‘Tropicanna’, which has dark foliage with bright red veins, ‘Durban’, which has bright colourful leaves and green and yellow striped Canna striata, with flowers in bright orange, yellows and pink, with big, orchid-like petals.

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Cannas are frost-sensitive and greedy plants that flower from June to October. The tubers are best started in pots indoors and planted outside when the risk of frost is past.

Daisies that dazzle

Dahlias require well-nourished soil with good drainage and plenty of sunshine. They come in wide range of colours and flower sizes.

Plant the tubers 30cm deep and around 75cm apart. Taller varieties will need staking and the growing plants fed, watered and spent flowers removed regularly.