Spring-flowering bulbs to plant in autumn
Bulbs are a brilliant way of adding colour to your garden - easy to grow, quick to deliver and cheap!
Bulbs are great because they can be grown in any garden situation - in pots, borders, rock gardens and grass. They burst from the ground, dying back again in the course of just one season, injecting highlights of interest into the garden when more permanent plantings are lacking. Here's a taster to whet your appetite for bulbs year round.
Bulbs for spring: plant in autumn
Spring bulbs come from cooler climes than the tender bulbs of summer and autumn, and can be planted and left in place to flower every year as they would do in the wild.
● Snowdrops (above: top left) are a firm favourite, heralding the beginning of new life after the bleakness of winter. Particularly good for naturalising, large-flowered Galanthus elwesii will form a dense carpet if left undisturbed, enjoying the light shade offered by leafless trees.
● Early-flowering Iris reticulata (above: top right), early daffodil species, snowdrops and winter aconites look wonderful at the front of borders, where they can be admired before herbaceous perennials and deciduous shrubs begin to grow.
● Daffodils look best when naturalised in clumps beneath trees and among grass. Their bright colours make them perfect for growing among evergreen rhododendrons, conifers and yew. Try ‘Spellbinder', ‘Carlton' or ‘Golden Harvest'.
● A great advantage of crocuses (above: bottom left) in grass is that their foliage can be mown as little as six weeks after flowering. Crocus tommasinianus and Crocus vernus are particularly good for this purpose.
● Later spring gives way to showy double daffodils, including ‘Tahiti' and exquisite ivory ‘Ice King'.
● Bold Fritillaria imperialis (above: bottom right) provides show-stopping early colour for the flowerbed, in bold contrast to its understated cousin F. meleagris (the snake's head fritillary). Choose from orange-red ‘Aurora', bronze-red ‘Rubra' and lemon ‘Lutea', and be rewarded with bold flowers reaching heights of 3ft.
● Tulips may mark the end of spring, but they're a beautiful prelude to the colours of summer. My favourites include the long, tapered petals of Tulipa acuminata, the velvet maroon of T. ‘Queen of Night' and the cheerful scarlet of T. ‘Aladdin'.
● Other spring bulbs include hyacinths, the Dog's Tooth Violet, muscari and puschkinia.
Get the best displays all year round
● Bulbs generally need to be planted in a hole about three times their size, in well-drained soil. Dig gravel into your planting area if you have heavy, clay-based soil in your garden.
● Plant in layers according to bulbs' flowering season and size, planting late-flowering daffs beneath early snowdrops for a double whammy of bloom.
● The easiest time to move bulbs is when they've just finished flowering but are still in leaf - this way, you can see what you're doing!
● Don't plant bulbs in ground that regularly needs to be dug over. Plants produce the best displays when left to naturalise.
● Feed and water established clumps of bulbs after they've finished flowering to ensure a good display for next year.
● Bulbs need to have their leaves untouched in order to bulk up a food store to support next year's display.
● Stand on bulb planters to save your back and give you control over planting. Use one to cut your holes first, then plant and backfill as you go along.
● It may seem obvious, but plant bulbs where you can see them - along paths, at the front of borders, and so on.