If there is one single thing you can do to transform your garden, it’s plant bulbs. Garden Designer, Susan Begg, recommends ten bulbs guaranteed to light up your garden.
It might be tempting to hunker down and forget the garden until spring. One final sweep with the mower, and it’s inside for Bake Off season. That’s fine. It’s up to you. However, if you do, you’ll miss out on your best chance of transforming your garden into the garden of your dreams.
If I could issue one word of advice it would be: don’t let autumn slip by before you’ve studded your garden with drifts of spring bulbs. Plant as many as you can lay your hands on. Bulbs are nature’s lifeline, bringing joy and sparkle at a time of year when such delights are in short supply.
The rewards are huge, especially when you consider how easy it is. There’s very little that can go wrong, except for perhaps not planting enough. A packet of supermarket bulbs flung in the ground is to be encouraged – a step in the right direction. But bulbs need volume to create impact, think in terms of 25-30 for tulips and narcissi across a couple m2.
If you have limited time, space or resources then plant one type of bulb to maximise impact. This is one occasion it’s OK to have all your eggs in one basket.
Seasonally in order of appearance:
Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrop)
Life would be utterly miserable without the snowdrop. Drilling up through frozen ground the snowdrop is as defiant as it is beautiful. I’m not one for scrabbling around on my knees looking up their skirts, or collecting multitudes of varieties. I’m just happy to see them whatever they are.
Flowers: Feb-March. Height: 10-15cm
Iris reticulata are a welcome touch of the exotic. I grow mine in pots by the front door. They might be small but they shine in February when there is little competition. They can also be forced indoors. I prefer the strong colours of ‘Harmony’ or standard Iris reticulata for early flowering. And the wispy, delicacy of ‘J.S. Dyt’ for later.
Flowers: Feb-March. Height: 15cm
Anemone nemerosa (Wood Anemone)
Anemone nemerosa have a clean, luminous, simplicity that is especially welcome after the drab winter months. They will naturalize happily at the base of trees and shrubs, lighting up shady spots and asking for little in return. Strictly a rhizome rather than a bulb but planted like a bulb (after soaking).
Flowers: Feb-April. Height: 15cm
Narcissus lobularis ‘Lent Lily’
Lobularis ‘Lent Lily’ also known as Narcissus pseudonarcissus is a form of wild daffodil. They have a slender yellow trumpet with paler primrose coloured petals. Unaffected in appearance and perfect for naturalising in grass or woodland edge. More tolerant of shade. This is a planting that will reward more and more over time.
Flowers: March-April. Height: 25cm
Image Source: Pinterest
N.’Thalia’ is an enchanting pure white narcissi that flowers rather later than other daffs. It bears multiple starry heads on tall stem, that cling to the last of the light at the end of the lengthening days. A true twilight treat. Despite its angelic appearance it’s tough as old boots.
Flowers: April- May. Height: 30cm
Species tulips are the only truly perennial tulips. It used to be rather tricky to get hold of them but they are returning to vogue, and to catalogues. T.’Sylvestris’ is Europe’s most prolific wild tulip. Ideal for naturalising in short grass and beneath deciduous trees it will establish healthy colonies of louche, pendulous, elliptical flowers. Very graceful and dazzling in sunshine.
Flowers: April. Height: 45cm
Tulipa ‘Jan Reus’
I plant a few tulips in pots every year, colourful combos that I expect to renew each year. However, if I’m planting in borders – either my own or a clients’ – then I want a tulip that stands a good chance of flowering year on year. It also has to be weather hardy, long flowering and have wonderful deep colour. T. ‘Jan Reus’ is a sumptuous dark crimson that ticks all these boxes.
Flowers: April- May. Height: 50cm
It was a great surprise to me that I became so fond of this orange, lily flowered tulip. Orange can be a tricky shade but T. ‘Ballerina’ is exquisitely spiced with darker flashes of burnt and blood orange at the base. It has real sophistication. Scented too. And as with T. ‘Jan Reus’ ticks all my boxes.
Flowers: April- May. Height: 55cm
Something of a rogue in my fail proof list, but one that made the cut based my love of quirky plants. So dark, mysterious and hooded. Very seductive. But I’ll warn you it’s not the cheapest. Still at 1m tall contrary to bulb wisdom a group of 5-7 will make an impact. Best in free draining soil.
Flowers: April- May. Height: 1m
Allium sphaerocephalon (Drumstick Allium)
Many people are familiar with the great purple pompoms of Alliums that flower in late spring. Fewer are aware of the equally playful A. sphaerocephalon – the drumstick allium -that beats out a colourful tune through summer. Very useful for it tall then presence planted en masse amidst summer perennials.
Flowers: July-Aug. Height: 90cm
Make lighter work of bulb planting by buying a bulb planter. The sturdier the better.
Susan Begg is one half of acclaimed practice Semple Begg Garden and Landscape Design.
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