This week: time to start think­ing about your gar­den in the spring

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - RETAIL THERAPY - HAN­NAH STEPHEN­SON

THE weather has taken a turn which pro­vides a wake-up call to start plant­ing spring bulbs to brighten up bor­ders and pa­tios next year.

Yet the wealth of va­ri­eties on of­fer, from cro­cus and dwarf nar­cissi to fra­grant hy­acinths and ma­jes­tic tulips, can leave many gar­den­ers won­der­ing what to choose.

Sup­pli­ers are con­stantly try­ing to help cus­tomers se­lect the best com­bi­na­tions. Sut­tons (www.sut­tons. co.uk), for in­stance, has a range called ‘Plant-O-Mat’, pre-planted bulbs in­serted in in­di­vid­ual com­part­ments in a biodegrad­able tray. You just dig a hole, put the tray in and cover it with com­post. The range fea­tures a num­ber of com­bi­na­tions, colours and sizes. They also cater for win­dow boxes and con­tain­ers.

If you want some­thing dif­fer­ent that is go­ing to stand the test of time, Gar­den­ing Which?, the Con­sumers’ As­so­ci­a­tion mag­a­zine, has re­cently tri­alled a num­ber of new bulbs to see how they fared.

Re­searchers found that some new va­ri­eties will flower more con­sis­tently and for much longer than many older va­ri­eties.

Last au­tumn, tri­al­lists chose 50 newly bred va­ri­eties of spring-flow­er­ing bulbs and grew them along­side five well-known va­ri­eties for com­par­i­son – daf­fodils ‘Del­nashaugh’ and ‘Dutch Master’, and tulips ‘Bal­le­rina’, ‘Mount Ta­coma’ and ‘Red Rid­ing Hood’.

Bulbs were planted in Oc­to­ber: hy­acinths 15cm deep, nar­cis­sus twice their own depth and tulips at three times their own depth. In spring, the bulbs’ de­vel­op­ment was mon­i­tored: when they flow­ered, how long they lasted and their sizes, colours and scents. In the lat­est batch of test­ing, re­searchers no­ticed a lot of colour-chang­ing va­ri­eties (such as tulip ‘Caribbean Par­rot’) with flow­ers that open in one colour then change to another as they age, adding a new el­e­ment of in­ter­est.

New daf­fodils that came out on top in­cluded ‘Fer­ris Wheel’ (youtulip, www.youtulip.co.uk), a large bright yel­low va­ri­ety which grows to 40cm and pro­duces im­mense trum­pets with a frilly rim, flow­er­ing in April for around three weeks.

A more sub­tle va­ri­ety whose flow­er­ing pe­riod lasted up to 32 days was ‘Beau­ti­ful Eyes’ (J Parker’s, www.jpark­ers.co.uk), which has small, straight stems hold­ing clus­ters of two or three creamy flow­ers with yel­low cen­tres and gives off a heady fra­grance.

Tulips rec­om­mended in­cluded ‘Mis­tress Mys­tic’ (Spald­ing Plant and Bulb Company, www.spald­ing bulb.co.uk), a pink goblet-shaped flower that grows to 60cm and looks ideal in the mid­dle of a bor­der, and the zingy ‘Caribbean Par­rot’ (Thomp­son and Mor­gan, www. thomp­son-mor­gan.com), which lasted much longer than any other par­rot-type tulip in the trial and looked won­der­ful in a pot. Its most im­pres­sive fea­ture, though, was its colour-chang­ing flow­ers, which started mainly yel­low, but deep­ened as they aged, un­til even­tu­ally they were almost com­pletely red.

Among the top-per­form­ing hy­acinths was ‘Pink An­gel’ (Bloms Bulbs, www.bloms­bulbs.com), whose brightly coloured flower spikes were much larger and bet­ter formed than any of the other va­ri­eties, with a fan­tas­ti­cally po­tent scent. Un­like the other hy­acinths grown in the test, they man­aged to stay bolt up­right through­out the trial – es­sen­tial if you’re go­ing to use them in the gar­den, although they looked good in pots too.

Photo: PA/think­stock­pho­tos

Which? mag­a­zine put bulbs on trial

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