Tag Archives: crocus

Spring gardens? Prepare now by planting bulbs

By Sarah Buchanan. First published by Rattan Direct on 18 September 2016.

Spring might seem an age away. It is raining and doesn’t feel like spring at all but planning for my garden in spring is a bit of a boost because it means thinking about the wonders of spring bulbs. Seem like a good idea to you? Garden centres are showing a dazzling array of bulbs and options for spring colour and scent. The RHS reckons that spring bulbs can be some of the most rewarding garden flowers, with some varieties offering quick and wonderful results. What’s to stop you? Another of our blogs encouraged you to plant bulbs in pots and now is the time to go for a bigger canvas!

Spring bulbs for sale in garden centres – now is the time to buy. Sarah Buchanan

What to choose?

Choose the flowers you want, and which will suit your patch. Among spring bulbs, perhaps daffodils are the flower we long to see after winter: bright and golden, with a real feel of spring. There are hundreds of varieties to choose from – miniature to giant, gold to white and even pink.

Crocuses are my favourite spring bulbs. Small but bold, and bees love them for their early pollen. Again, a huge range to choose from in different colours and flower sizes. I love those with fragile pale mauve blooms that seem almost too frail for the weather but carry on regardless. Few of us have the chance to create vast carpets like these in Sunderland, but a carpet in a small space can work wonders for morale on a cold spring day – try some!

spring bulbs
Crocuses in Backhouse Park, Sunderland geograph 3880583 by Macl McDonald licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence attribution share-alike generic 2.0

And then there are winter aconites. Once established, these little jewels can create a carpet of flowers like a field of gold. Cyclamen aren’t a bulb (they are a corm) but are for sale now and, if you have a place for them, I recommend their sturdy little flowers as a great spring boost. Autumn varieties of cyclamen flower about now. These are different varieties that like being planted when they are in growth rather than dormant.

Hyacinths and tulips are next in the spring bulbs popularity stakes, but don’t plant these until October or November. Decide now where you want to enjoy them, buy them and keep cool and dry until it is time to plant them.

What about snowdrops? These little wonders do best when planted after they have flowered (it is called planting them ‘in the green’) so decide where you want to see them, and wait until the spring to buy and plant.

There are plenty more spring bulbs to choose from. What do you fancy? Thompson & Morgan’s top ten offers more ideas, and there are more varieties waiting for you.

Top tips for buying

Choose spring bulbs that suit different parts of your garden: read the labels for good information.

Aconites do well in shady areas, under shrubs or trees. Miniature daffodils or narcissi and tiny iris reticulata look great in rockeries and at the front of borders. Drifts of different coloured crocus in lawns, under trees and in flower beds all look stunning. Grape hyacinth like drier soils and do well on the edges of paths. They can be invasive but their blue is, well, so blue it is worth it. Snakeshead fritillary are so pretty but hard to grow without damp and undisturbed soil – I have tried often and not succeeded but enjoy memories of a shady, water’s edge garden in Herefordshire with masses in full bloom.

Buy the plumpest and firmest bulbs in your choice of variety. Don’t buy damaged bulbs. Bulbs showing small green shoots are OK: they have just started growing early, but don’t buy any with long spindly shoots.

How to plant spring bulbs

Be firm, and clear out summer bedding plants that will not last the winter and trim back perennials. If your garden compost is ready to use, fork some into the bare soil.

If you are planting under trees or shrubs it is hard to do more than remove weeds, but do that. And before you plan to plant in grass, be sure you can easily mow around the bulbs from about November until six weeks after they have flowered.

Read the labels and plant bulbs at the depth they need and where they like to grow. A rule of thumb is to plant a bulb at a depth three times its size – small bulbs are planted less deeply than large ones, and large ones need a good deep hole.

To create informal drifts of flowers, lightly throw a handful where you want them. Use a good trowel or, if you have lots to plant invest in a bulb planter that looks like a shark with ‘jaws’ that open and close, to make holes at the depth you need.

Bulb planters with ‘jaws’ may be helpful when planting lots of bulbs. Sarah Buchanan

On heavy (clay) soils and soils that tend to be very damp, put a small handful of grit or small gravel at the bottom of each hole to improve drainage.

Pop a bulb in each hole, cover with soil and firm down, and move on to the next one.

For a more formal look or a dense block of colour, use the edge of a trowel to mark the shape or line you want to achieve, dig or make one hole for each bulb and off you go.

Bulbs in rockeries often like, and look good, in a sunny spot and benefit from some basic fertiliser in the hole where you plant them.

So, what will you see in your spring garden?

Order spring bulbs now! (I know it feels a bit early)

First published by Rattan Direct on 31 July 2016.

Spring bulbs on my mind

It seems a long way in the future but this is the time to order spring bulbs for planting in the autumn. I’d like my new bulbs to do two things:

  • provide early nectar for insects after their long hibernation
  • answer the question of what on earth I’m going to do about my small, shady and challenging front flowerbed.

Spring bulbs for nectar

Nectar is essential food after insects’ long hibernation. And insects are essential for our gardens and for agriculture. How can we help out in our choice of spring bulbs?

Snowdrops do provide very early nectar for bees but are best planted ‘in the green’ (just after flowering) in January and February rather than as dry bulbs in the autumn. Winter aconites are the same.

I love the strong blue flowers of grape hyacinths and insects love the nectar in the bell/cone shaped flowers. They were in my garden when I moved in and I certainly don’t have the problems of long, messy leaves that Alys Fowler mentions. Perhaps this is because they’re in the poor, stony ground near the hedge. The wind blows straight through here so, except on still days, I usually miss their lovely fragrance. I’ll plant more to create that wonderful blue haze. It would echo the wonderful blue haze of the (English) bluebells – also loved by pollinators – in the fertile soil under the hedge on the other side of the garden. Oh, and grape hyacinths are great for pots too.

Colourful daffodils and grape hyacinths on a Cornish hedge beside the Gannel, Cornwall. Spring bulbs
Colourful daffodils and grape hyacinths on a Cornish hedge beside the Gannel, Cornwall. © Rod Allday, licensed for re-use under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence.

A crocus is a crocus is a crocus, isn’t it? No, there are different types although they’re all variations on a theme of saffron yellow, blue/purple and white. They’re all loved by insects and look at their best in large numbers, naturalised in lawns or rockeries. They like a sunny rather than a shady spot.

A bold crocus near Woolhampton, West Berkshire. Spring bulbs
A bold crocus near Woolhampton, West Berkshire. © Pam Brophy and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons
Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence.

Spring bulbs for the challenging flowerbed

This front flowerbed faces north-west, it’s by the hedge with next door (which protects it from the prevailing wind) and it’s a bit dark. Quite a few plants I’ve tried here have disappeared, one way or another.

In the spring, though, bulbs flower beautifully. Snowdrops are well established and perfectly happy. I’ve had daffodils here but the leaves tend to look a mess afterwards.

One answer to the messy leaves problem is to combine bulbs with perennials as ground cover: as the bulbs are dying down the perennials are growing up. Their foliage can be a lovely complement to new bulbs coming on. Some people use hostas or daylilies but that’s obviously no go for me, living in a slug zone. Perhaps I could use lady’s mantle, Alchemilla mollis, which does well here but is, as Helen Yemm calls it, an ‘old cottage garden thug’. Or perhaps I could use the even more invasive periwinkle which also does well for me. Neither of these are at all bothered by the slug and snail contingent. I’m also wondering about Siberian bugloss, Brunnera macrophylla. It looks great with tulips and also comes in a variegated form which might brighten up the gloom.

Variegated Siberian bugloss by Wouter Hagens. Spring bulbs
Variegated Siberian bugloss by Wouter Hagens. Worldwide public domain


[Of course, there’s no foliage problem worth speaking about if the bulbs are in pots. After the flowers are over, just tuck the pots away somewhere sunny.]

So what about the bulbs for my small bed? I still have very successful snowdrops around the edges of this tiny bed. I might add a few purple crocuses (despite what I said about being best in a sunny spot), and some of those pale white/yellow narcissi. I haven’t decided about tulips yet: something to think about on a sunny afternoon in a garden chair. Join me in looking for and ordering bulbs to suit what we want to do in our gardens and which suit their conditions.



Autumn flowering bulbs gleam from September to November

First published by Rattan Direct on 17 July 2016.

I don’t want to jinx the weather if it’s gloriously sunny and your plans include relaxing in the garden or being out and about. Autumn will seem far, far away. But if it’s a little cool and that fleece jacket seems rather tempting, it won’t be difficult to imagine autumn.

Whatever the weather, now is the time to plant a few bulbs or corms to flower in the autumn and brighten up any dull days.

Autumn flowering bulbs

Aren’t bulbs a spring thing? Yes, of course: snowdrops and daffodils are part and parcel of the spring. Some bulbs, though, flower in the autumn and they should be planted in late summer. Have a look in your local garden centre or order bulbs from specialist nurseries now, to be sent out in August. Bulbs look best together, so think about planting them in groups of at least five.

Nerines are spectacular

I sometimes think that the colour ‘shocking pink’ originated with nerine lilies. There is a white version but the pink Bowden lily (Nerine bowdenii) is startling and dramatic and at its best from September to November, depending on where you live.

Nerine bowdenii in Herefordshire in October. Autumn flowering
Nerine bowdenii in Herefordshire in October. © Jonathan Billinger, licensed for re-use under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence.

The tall stems (up to 60cm – 2ft) have wonderful funnel-shaped and spidery pink flowers. After flowering, their strappy leaves develop and look good until early summer. Nerines like the sunshine and well-drained soil. They also like being crowded so they suit being in pots, or they will grow happily when they’re sheltered by a wall. Originally from South Africa, they are pretty hardy and can be left in the soil over winter.

You’ve got just enough time to plant these and to be amazed in a few months time. Plant near the surface, with their tips just showing above the ground. Those gloomy days of late autumn will never be the same again.

Hardy cyclamen shine in a bright autumnal carpet

Cyclamen hederifolium has lovely pink or white flowers which shine brightly in a low autumnal carpet before the leaves come through. It’s a woodland plant so it likes the dry and partially shaded conditions you find under trees – and not many plants do that. It self-seeds easily and the ivy-shaped leaves (that’s what the hederifolium bit of its Latin name means) provide useful ground cover. Plant the corms so that the tops are level with the ground. And they prefer to be planted when they’re in growth rather than dormant.

Wild cyclamen in the grounds of Killerton Chapel, Devon. Autumn flowering.
Wild cyclamen in the grounds of Killerton Chapel, Devon. © Rod Allday and licensed for re-use under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence.

What else?

Other autumn flowering possibilities are two quite separate plants which are sometimes confused.

Step forward the wonderful autumn flowering crocuses, best under trees and shrubs for protection from heavy rains. These are crocuses (yes, I know, but please read on).

Step forward the colchicum. Although it is, confusingly and wrongly, also known as the autumn crocus, it is not a crocus. It’s sometimes known as meadow saffron or naked lady, because it flowers before the leaves come through in the spring. Colchicums don’t like the rain much either but can look good naturalised in lawns. Pinky-purple Colchicum ‘Waterlily’ is one of the most popular varieties.

Finally, plan ahead and beat the rush!

If you’re thinking about spring flowering bulbs, start ordering them now for planting in the autumn as stocks usually run low in September.