Flowering bulbs aren’t just the domain of the spring garden. Several flower in winter too.
Even as the cooler weather takes hold, there are several tough winter-flowering bulbs that come to the fore. For best displays, plant them en masse, and your winter patch will be transformed from drab to fab.
Just as anemones are a must-have winter bulb (see below), so too are ranunculus, also known as Persian buttercups. A whole bed of these perfectly formed flowers is enough to rouse the interest of even non-gardeners. They are the most beautiful flowers, with hundreds of overlapping gossamer petals up to 10cm across. Colours run from snow white and salmon to bright orange, yellow and shocking pink, and deep purple and mahogany. They are often grown alongside anemones as the two plants have similar requirements.
Pick flowers for the vase when they are just showing colour, before they open. If stems flop due to a heavy head, insert a piece of florist wire into the hollow stems until it pierces the bottom of the head. The vase water should be changed every other day for maximum vase life, up to 10 days.
EARLY– FLOWERING BULBS
Winter aconite ( Eranthis hyemalis) is a bright beacon in the winter garden, with its buttercup blooms appearing from July to early August. They have only short stems, but if you wish to pick them, they can be displayed in a shallow dish. Or plant them in containers with snowdrops, which flower at the same time, and bring the pot inside to use as a dinner table centrepiece.
Or coax your hyacinths to flower early indoors. Place a bulb in the neck of a hyacinth vase and fill the vase with water to just below the bulb. Add a quarter of a teaspoon of flower food to provide nutrients as the bulb grows. Place the vase in a cool dark spot for two months. The bulbs must be kept cool to allow development of the bud inside the bulb or it won't flower. Check weekly to ensure the water level remains just below the base of the bulb to encourage root growth. After two months, bring the vase out into a dimly lit place. Then slowly (over about three weeks) bring the vase into stronger light and a warm position (not more than 18˚C). Four to six weeks after bringing the vase out of its dark spot, your flower will be in full bloom. Keep out of full sun.
Anemone coronaria are so elegant and delicate looking you'd think a blast of cold air would knock them for six. But these hardy plants will bloom continuously from midwinter with regular feeding, watering and deadheading. Anemones may be single- or doubleflowered and come in an array of colours from red, hot pink, burgundy and deep purple to white and paler shades.
The tubers can be planted any time from February to May; stagger the planting and you'll have flowers in bloom from winter through to late spring. When it comes to bulbs, anemones are the best value for money – and blooming beautiful to boot. Plant the tubers with the pointy tip downwards, in moist, free-draining soil. Seed can also be sown from January to late February. While anemones flower best in full sun, they will also grow in light shade.
Poppy anemones are superb cut flowers, lasting up to a week in the vase. Pick the flowers when the petals (actually sepals) start to separate from the centre for the longest vase life. 'Mona Lisa' hybrids have the longest stems and biggest flowers of all the anemones; their vase life is longer too.
While anemones are perennials, they are best treated as annuals for a prolific flowering display each year.
LOOKING AFTER CUT BULBS
• While most cut flowers should be placed in tepid water, bulbs are best in cold water.
• The nutrients in flower preservatives do nothing for bulbs, but they do stop bacteria growing. Any bacteria will clog the pores in stems, slowing the uptake of water.
• Change the water every two days – don't just top it up. This is the single most effective thing you can do to keep your flowers looking fresh.
• Give daffodils their own vase. Their stems give off a compound that is toxic to other flowers.
• The cooler the spot in which your flowers are placed, the longer they will last. Keep them out of direct sunlight and away from heaters.