Nothing announces the arrival of Spring like a striking spread of white snowdrops followed by a fanfare of bright yellow daffodils in early March. After winter’s wicked kiss has wreaked havoc on the landscape, the sight of spring-flowering bulbs that have awoken early from their earthy bed raises our spirits tenfold. Suddenly, the more we look, the more we spot the signs of new life. It might feel only five minutes ago since we were enjoying the arrival of this year’s spring blooms, but now is the best time to plant those spring-flowering bulbs, while the earth is still warm and workable.
Planning in advance will ensure you have a succession of bulbs that successfully flower from January to May. Most dry spring-flowering bulbs should be planted immediately after purchase around September-October as this gives them sufficient time to put down roots and get established before winter. The exception to this is tulips which are best planted during late autumn to help avoid disease. Bulbs grown in natural-looking drifts where they can be left to their own devices to spread and multiply arguably look the most effective and naturalised bulbs require very little maintenance. They are a good way of tackling difficult to plant areas of the garden such as shady spots under trees, or turning rough patches of grass into a pretty flowering meadow. We spoke to expert local grower Peter Shotton, owner of Cottage Garden Nurseries in Gateshead to find out more about the nation’s favourite spring-flowering bulbs.
TOP TIP: Never cut spring-flowering bulbs back, always leave them to rot away in the ground so the energy goes back into the bulb for next year. Keep on top of dying flowers by bending the foliage back and covering with soil to keep your garden tidy and allow the flowers to die back naturally.
Flowering Period: February-March
Where: Pots, beds, borders and lawns
They may be small and delicate, but planted en-masse, snowdrops can quickly make a big impact. Despite their seemingly-delicate nature, they are exceptionally hardy and perfect for chasing away the winter blues. Most varieties prefer a dappled, shady spot and thrive in nutrient-rich soil that has been supplemented with leaf mould or compost. Peter recommends buying snowdrops whilst they’re ‘in the green’ rather than as bulbs. This simply means that established plants grown by nurseries are lifted from the soil just after they have finished flowering, around February, bundled together and wrapped in paper to keep the roots damp until they can be planted in the soil in your garden at home. Snowdrop bulbs are available to buy, but as Peter explains, they are prone to drying out and can take a season for them to establish, if at all. ‘In the green’ snowdrops should be watered as soon as they are planted to re-establish root contact with the soil. Snowdrops are often planted as clumps between dogwoods, ornamental bramble and viburnum, and rub shoulders well with hellebores or winter flowering aconites.
Best In Show...
Scent: Most snowdrops are scented to some degree, the ‘Ginns’ variety in particular is likened to almonds while the G.elwesii has sweet honey-scented flowers.
Structure: The Galanthus ‘S.Arnott’ variety is a robust plant with large flowers perfect for making an instant impact in any garden.
Colour: The Galanthus nivalis ‘Margery Fish’ is a distinctive snowdrop with green stripes on its outer petals.
For expert information and advice on growing snowdrops visit www.galanthus.co.uk
Flowering Period: March-April
Where: pots, beds, borders and lawns
Bright, beautiful and beloved by bees – every garden should contain clusters of crocuses. These fluted flowers grow on delicate, thin stems in delicate whites, pale yellows and deep violets, and are show stopping when grown in a mixed colour combination. Like snowdrops, crocuses are deceptively delicate in appearance yet are exceptionally hardly plants. They prefer a sunny, south-facing spot and well-drained soil but will grow in a variety of soils, from light clay soils to heavy chalky, acidic and alkaline soils – making them a versatile choice for most gardeners. Crocuses are also perfect for naturalising in grass: plant ten centimetres deep and refrain from cutting the grass until after the leaves have died back.
Best In Show...
Scent: Few crocus varieties are scented, save for the Crocus chrysanthus fuscotinctus variety. Lemon yellow flowers give off a sweet fragrance from February-March and are best planted in pots and window boxes where you can best appreciate their scent.
Structure: Mixed colour combinations of crocuses are best for creating beautiful bouquets and focal points in the garden.
Colour: The Conqueror variety of crocuses are striking deep violet and blue flowers which appear from late September-October.
For expert information and advice on growing crocuses visit www.alpinegardensociety.net
Flowering Period: February-May
Where: Pots, beds, borders and lawns
Ranging from jaunty sunburst yellow to creamy buttermilk, paper white and soft ivory, there are few who fail to be seduced by drifts of daffodils on a warm Spring day. Happy to grow in full sun or partial shade, they should never be planted under shallow rooted trees as they will have to compete with the roots for nutrients and are unlikely to thrive. Never plant bulbs under a walnut tree since the chemicals in their roots will kill anything in their vicinity. Daffodil bulbs should be planted two to three times as deep as their circumference, and you can either dig an individual hole for each bulb, or a larger hole and plant several bulbs of the same variety, as long as each bulb has room to multiply. Ensure the pointed edge of the bulb is planted upwards, and the daffodils will do the rest. A bed of daffodils that is grown in neutral to slightly acidic sandy soil will bloom for many years, potentially for decades. Daffodils will hang around until late May, sometimes early June depending on the weather then dig them up and wash the bulbs thoroughly before letting them dry and storing them until the next planting season. Storing the bulbs in an onion sack or even a pair of tights will promote good circulation and keep storage rot to a minimum.
Best In Show...
Scent: The Narcissus Ziva variety is a beautiful variety of paper white bulbs best known for their intense fragrance. They make excellent cut flowers and can flower as early as December if forced.
Structure: The Narcissus Salome variety features beautiful, bright yellow cupped flowers which can grow up to nine centimetres.
Colour: Narcissus February Gold is a fast growing golden yellow variety which thrives in pots and window boxes.
For expert information and advice on growing daffodils visit www.daffodils.thenortherngroup.co.uk
Flowering Time: March-May
Where: pots, beds and borders
Tulips are surely the crowning glory of spring-flowering bulbs; with their delicate tightly-cupped petals and rainbow colour scale they are stunning when grown in swathes. Whether used in formal beds or small borders, tulips are brilliant bedding plants when combined with annual or biennial planting. Tulips also grow well in containers and can be naturalised in grass. Preferring fertile, well-drained soil neutral-alkaline soil and a sheltered sunny spot, tulips do not like wet conditions so efforts should be taken to protect them. Some gardeners plant their tulip bulbs as late as November as this can help reduce the potential for fungal diseases such as tulip fire which produces unsightly brown spots and withers the leaves. Tulips should be planted at least twice the bulb’s width apart and at a depth of two or three times the bulbs height. Most bedding tulips should be replaced each year as they are unlikely to re-flower after their first year. The alternative to discarding old bulbs and replacing with new ones is to lift and dry the tulip bulbs after flowering. Always wait until foliage turns yellow before lifting (about six weeks after flowering), but if you need to lift them any earlier, place the plants in trays until the leaves become yellow and straw-like. Store the bulbs in trays or net bags in a dark, well-ventilated area around 18-20°C before replanting in the autumn.
Best In Show...
Scent: Few tulips are scented, save for the Tulipa Ballerina. This lily-flowered tulip is a late spring-flowering variety with soft tangerine orange flowers and a heady scent when warmed in the sun.
Structure: One of Peter Shotton’s tried and trusted tulip species is the Tarda variety which is a hybrid dwarf variety that’s perfect for bulking up your collection.
Colour: The Tulipa Orange Princess is an award-winning tulip variety which has rich orange petals that blend into a garnet red, yellow and brown.
For expert information and advice on growing tulips visit www.tulipsociety.co.uk