Joys of Spring Bulbs Part 2
If my previous article, focussing on daffs, snowdrops, and tulips, left you wondering why I had so heartlessly excluded your own favourite spring beauties, fear not. There are, of course, many more bulbs to choose from, from the well-known and well-loved crocus and hyacinth to the less common Glory of the Snow and Crown Imperials.
Nothing lifts the spirits quite like an early spring carpet of crocuses in purple, white and orangey-yellow. The dainty little flowers seem to shine in early spring sunshine, especially with a glimmer of the morning dew on the petals. Crocuses need good drainage, so add some horticultural grit when planting, and bulbs need to go into the earth at about twice their depth. If you’re after a specific variety see my earlier article for recommended suppliers, but any good garden centre will be offering a cheap and cheerful mixed selection which is often as pretty as the more rarefied bulbs on offer.
Muscari armeniacum, or grape hyacinths, are a double-edged sword: their intense blue flowers are stunning and difficult to resist, but they are prolific self-seeders and once you’ve got them it’s near impossible to control their spread. If you’re a relaxed gardener you’ll enjoy seeing them pop up in new corners of the garden, producing unlikely planting combinations or colonising bare patches. If you like everything in its place you might prefer to steer clear…
…And go for ‘proper’ hyacinths instead. Their intoxicating perfume is too much for some, so if their scent is just too sickly for indoor use simply plant outside. A large container, such as a half-barrel, is ideal. Position it near a door and you can enjoy the scent gently wafting around you as you go in and out. Hyacinths are available in a myriad of colours – pick your favourite and go for maximum impact by filling your container with just one variety. Hyacinths don’t tend to last well year after year, so expect to replace them annually for the best show.
Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snow) is a tiny but beautiful plant that needs to be planted en masse if you want to fully appreciate its vivid blue and white colouring. Usually in full bloom around February-March, it is quick to establish and great for filling in gappy borders while perennials and deciduous shrubs are still dormant. Alternatively, take inspiration from Kew Gardens, who plant it in a large area of grass to give an impression of a sea of twinkling blue stars.
Perhaps one of the most individually gorgeous bulbs is the fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris). With its purple colouring and snakeskin-like patterns the small, nodding flower rewards close inspection. I like it best when dotted through a mixed spring border, where the deep purple adds some depth to brighter daffodils and other more gaudy plants. Much more of a reluctant beauty, this allows people to ‘spot’ the fritillaries and bend down to see them better. They are also available in white (Fritillaria meleagris var. unicolor subvar. alba), and you could try using lots of one sort and a smattering of the other in a border for a chic and unusual scheme.
Most surprising of all spring bulbs are Fritillaria imperialis (Crown Imperial). Growing up to 1.5m in height and topped with clusters of yellow, orange, or red flowers, they add a dramatic and exotic touch to the garden. The earliest varieties come into flower from early April and some will last until June, so if you really fall for them choose a selection to give you a display lasting 3 months. Due to their height they need to be planted deeper than other bulbs – about four times their depth should do it, and be sure to plant on a layer of sand. The bulbs don’t like wet conditions and will rot if not given good drainage. One word of warning – they do have a strong foxy smell so are best at the back of the border.
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