Choosing my spring-flowering bulbs

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I find the sight of Christmas cards in shops around the end of August an absolutely abhorrent site for my eyes. Robins are still to found flitting gleefully among roses in our gardens gobbling up worms still near the soils warm surface, yet on retail stands they are visually depicted on Christmas cards in all the cold winter glory huddled up, breast feathers out upon sprigs of glossy holly.

The irony being that many robins do not make it through the months of a hard winter especially the males due to them being incredibly territorial with one another. Before you all think I am an old scrooge at the age of twenty one, all these feelings go out the window when I turn the corner of the garden centre and see the sight of wall to wall, floor to ceiling displays of spring bulbs... Suddenly I am happy to forget such madness of retail seasonal inputs upon the shop floor, it is bulb time and I've missed the madness of it! A quote I heard on an episode of one of my favourite programmes, Country House Rescue, from one of the owners of Cothay Manor was ‘’You never stop, you're always thinking about the next season – because if you live above the shop you're always stacking shelves’’. These words cannot be more true if you are a gardener intent on a rich, intense display of blooms from spring to autumn.

Like most people I imagine my gardening spirit levels peak at spring for sowing seeds and autumn for setting bulbs. Sarah Ravens bulb catalogue I really do become obsessed over (it's easy to order your own copy, or view it online), a visual inspiring delight, its glossy cover soon becomes ruffled and stained with tea and various pen marks before it comes to placing my order. I do go mad for tulips but I thought I would focus on other spring bulbs in this blog, as they are worth giving thought to as well for planting containers especially in a bulb  lasagne  and growing for spring cut flowers. Tulips are best not set until  mid November anyway, as until the soil has had several frosts the bulbs are at the mercy of many fungal diseases that are rife until autumn gives way to winter but many other bulbs are better to be set now.

I've normally started buying from other sources by the time the boxes of delights arrive from SR . If there is change in my pocket then it normally goes on a bag of purple crocus, you really want to have a least 30 crocuses for a small tub, pack them in!

Crocus Crocus in a container

Crocus are wonderful, they come and go without fuss and the bulbs flower for years. They emerge like little spears that get plumper from the middle, I like the purple ones best with stamens the shade of a deep orange guinea fowl egg yolk. Plant en masse and you’ll not only get a vision of purple so early in the year that it cannot fail to evaporate winter blues as you walk by them each morning, but the newly emerging bumble bee queens will also be grateful of this planting choice too, often sleeping in the bud of a closed crocus during the night.

Crocus come up, flower and fade away quickly I like them for this and they seem to be happy to be dug up and dumped in a seed tray left in the potting shed until the following autumn to be set again.

Iris 'Katherine Hodgkin'

The little spring flowering Iris ‘Katherine Hodgkin’ is another early visual feast, with a lovely light scent. It’s a favourite of my mums due to the petals colouration reminding her of a blue budgerigar’s facial feathering! This spring flowering bulbous Iris is reliably perennial and nice to have in little terracotta pots around the patio or in  wall baskets.

Bolder and more  in your face musts for my garden are Hyacinths. My favourite is ‘Woodstock’ of the deepest sultry purple. ‘Jan Bos’ I also plant, but when it first starts to come out I often wish I had not gone for it as its fresh petals are a bit too granny lipstick pink for my tastes, but it does fade after a day or so to a more appealing lusher shade.

Hyacinth 'woodstock' with Narcissi 'Rip van winkle'

Hyacinths are another bulb that I find to be reliably perennial, I plant them in pots as out in the border ours seem to flop over and in the spring rain soon go horrid and slimy once they are resting on the soil. Hyacinths of course also have one of the best scents of any bloom.

Hyacinths 'woodstock' and 'Jan Boss' picked with Narcissi 'Rip van winkle'

I try to avoid double flowers but my favourite Narcissi is the unique ‘Rip van Winkle’ - this dashing quite short petite little daffodil is totally double. I love it for this and that it's petals contain a brilliant lime green, very similar in colouration to one of my favourite Soho cocktails, where the yellow orange cordial mixed with ice and vodka merges with the lime juice!

I'm not a huge lover of Narcissi (apologies to those who are!) but I always plant more Rip Vans each year. They also have a good vase life. To make up for their deplorable absence of nectar and pollen I normally plant them with deep blue Muscari.

Anemone coronaria 'sylphide' with Narcissi 'Rip van winkle'

One spring flower that I rarely do well with are the Anemone coronarias. I long to be able to grow a crop of tall ones each year to pick for the house but those that appear are few and far between. A friend has great results growing them in a green house in raised beds where they get lovely and tall. My garden may just be too cold for them but those few that do bloom are a special delight with plush velvet deeply coloured petals.

Does anyone know the secret of success of growing these little corms outside? Happy autumn bulb planting!

Thanks for reading,

arthur