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Beautiful bulbs

By garden designer Andrew Fisher Tomlin. Plan now for a splash of Spring colour!

I realised how quickly the growing season had gone by when I visited a local nursery and found the owners stocking up with Spring bulbs. Yes it's bulb planting time again!

I have to say that I'm a big fan of Spring bulbs in particular. They are the one sure way of getting February gold really early colour into your garden. Plants such as Narcissus February Gold do what they say on the packet, consistently flowering in early February and sometimes even in January. You can plant a whole range of varieties of daffodil to get flowers right through to May. If you don't believe me then plant some Narcissus Pheasants Eye - I had them flowering in my garden in Chelsea week at the end of May last year.

SnowdropFor many people bulbs seem an inconvenience. If the thought of getting down on your knees and digging endless small holes to plant the same thing time after time fills you with dread then just think what you'll be missing come the new year. You can understand how easy it is to avoid planting them but you'll regret it come Spring when your neighbours' gardens are blooming with yellows of Narcissus, the blues of Chinodoxa and, best of all, the pure white of Snowdrops.

Ah! The Snowdrop. The perfect flower to lift your spirits in the coldest and darkest part of the Winter. Imagine clumps of strappy leaves with nodding heads of white, creamy white, even white tinged with green. The double headed Galanthus nivalis Flore Pleno is a robust double headed variety that I use every year. However, I don't grow them from dry bulbs but buy them "in the green" in February/March from a wonderful nursery in Scotland. They are the only bulb that I'd recommend you wait to plant, be patient and this way they'll establish much easier than the ordinary dry bulb.

CrocusSo what else should you try? Well as much as I love big swathes of crocus coming through the lawn I've found that they are consistently destroyed by birds and squirrels. It's almost like the squirrels are watching me plant them and then dig down just an inch or two to eat them. You can go to elaborate methods of planting by laying chicken wire over the top of the bulb, then topsoil and re-seeding but even for me that's going a bit far!

Fritillaria meleagris For something a little more unusual I love Snakeshead Lillies Fritillaria meleagris. They look great in the border but also plant some in a pot so that you can get right up close and see their amazing shapes and colours.

The main problem with bulbs is that they can rot off in the ground if the soil is too wet - something we've got used to in August this year. Bulbs like reasonably dry conditions and if you've got a sandy, free draining soil they'll love it. Two of the best bulbs for this type of soil are Cyclamen coumCyclamen and Tulips. Cyclamen coum pallidum 'Album' is the most fantastic clear white flower and despite it's name is also a very simple form and easy to grow. Readers near Wimbledon Common with its dry soil will find them very easy to grow in relatively un-cultivated soils. Tulips are also a must have. They are perfect for pots, especially the parrot tulips such as Tulipa Texas Flame and for borders I always find that the Darwin hybrids such as Tulipa Apeldoorn and Tulipa Apeldoorn's Elite will come back year after year.

For a truly stylish planting grow only white specimens of Snowdrops, Narcissus such as the saucer sized Narcissus Mount Tacoma and Tulips such as Tulipa Swan Wings against a backdrop of greens. On the smallest scale try these in a trough with a simple box plant.

And finally a little tip about dying daffodil leaves. They look untidy but you shouldn't cut them back, tie them up or lift the plants. Let them die down naturally but plant amongst ferns and the new fronds of the ferns will disguise the dying leaves of the daffodils in no time at all.

Some great bulbs to look out for:

  • Butterfly daffodils such as Chanterelle and Parisienne are a real talking point.
  • Narcissus actaea and Pheasants Eye are the nearest to the wild daffodil you'll get and give off great fragrance.
  • Spectacular new tulips include Tulipa New Dawn white with purple edges and Tulipa Barcelona a deep pink.
  • Don't forget the Summer bulbs such as the Alliums - Allium Christophii and Allium 'Purple Sensation' are real stars.
  • The Foxtail Lily Eremurus stenophyllus costs a fortune in florists in the summer but you can plant it now at a fraction of the price and the Summer Snowflake Leucojum aestivum is just fabulous!
By Andrew Fisher Tomlin

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