Spring may seem a long time away but now is the time to get your spring bulbs ordered. Planting bulbs is a cheap and satisfying way to bring masses of colour and interest to your garden; the delightful displays almost make up for the chore of planting them (almost, mass bulb planting is a task I try to delegate!).
With a bit of fore thought a long succession of flowers can be achieved. This can be a methodically worked out process or a more haphazard selection which quite often leads to exciting and unexpected results. Bulb catalogues tempt you to go overboard with your purchases and why not, you generally get a lot for your money. Bulbs hold the same sense of anticipation as annual flower seeds; everything is happening underground, unseen then one day that little spike of green appears. What is even more enthralling is that they arrive after the bleak winter months which makes them so welcome.
I specify all the bulbs in my planting schemes however I also pass on details of a good bulb supplier to my clients so they can increase and add to the display over time; there is always room to squeeze in something new. I generally choose simple planting combinations with larger quantities of fewer varieties to give stronger impact.
Crocus always herald spring and I love to see rivers of them planted in grass; The Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh have a magnificent display. They are just as lovely filling garden borders when the perennials are still sleeping and I often opt for a single colour option for impact, a favourite being Crocus ‘Whitewell Purple’.
I always include a dwarf daffodil for front of border planting such as Narcissus ‘Minnow’ which is a nice soft yellow. Returning to the yellow question again I do generally steer clear of the very strong yellows but that is really personal preference. I prefer large plantings of white daffodils and often use Narcissus ‘Thalia’ or ‘Ice Wings’; the white seems to have a much more elegant presence in the garden.
Alliums are another must have, although later in the season they fill a gap before the perennials are in full swing. Their pompom heads bring form and height amongst the perennial foliage and they are best planted in the midst of this to hide the unsightly foliage as it dies back when the flower heads are blooming. As with all bulbs they are best planted in groups to give a better display and I usually stick with the reliable Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ and Allium ‘Sphaerocephalon’.
Tulips are one of my favourite flowers particularly for displaying in the house; I am more than happy to receive a bunch of tulips over any other flower (but maybe not yellow ones!). Having said this I will only specify them in my garden designs if I know the client is a keen garden and is prepared to look after them. The compromise on this is to have them in pots which makes them a bit easier to manage and with layering a long and changing bulb display can be achieved. The pots look great framing a doorway or flight of steps or they can be positioned in the flower border to plug gaps until the perennials make their presence known. Tulips offer the most wonderful palette of colours and some amazing combinations can be created; just dive in to that bulb catalogue and go mad.
There are far too many bulb choices to cover here but for a few pounds (and a bit of effort!) different options can be tried and tested and changed as often as you like.