Biennials for bedding
For a spring show that’s as good as it can possibly be, don’t restrict yourself to bulbs. Make colour combinations with spring bedding. Wallflowers are a traditional favourite for underplanting tulips and daffodils and can look marvellous. Keep the colour of wallflower the same, don’t use a mix, and find a range of bulbs to pick out – or purposely contrast with – the colours on one wallflower stem.
For harmony, plant the wallflower ‘White Dame’ with tulip ‘Spring Green’ growing through it, or at the other end of the tonal scale, combine the dark wallflower ‘Blood Red’ with the similar coloured tulip ‘Jan Reus’. If you prefer the idea of contrast to harmony, drop an orange tulip such as ‘Ballerina’, or the super-early ‘Orange Emperor’ through wallflower ‘Blood Red’, or have the pink wallflower ‘Giant Pink’ as your base and the orange and coral tulip ‘Annie Schilder’ growing with it (see left).
You can buy wallflowers easily at this time of year. Get them in as quickly as possible so their roots settle in well before the truly cold, wet weather sets in. Otherwise, you end up with wimpy plants, which create a splotchy look, rather than merging into a proper carpet.
Honesty is another good biennial to plant with spring bulbs. It’s hard to beat the very long-flowering tulip ‘Ballerina’ backed by a drift of purple honesty, and the white honesty (Lunaria annua ‘Alba’) is good with the pale parrot tulip ‘Green Wave’ and the green-fleshed ‘Spring Green’. Put annuals to work This spring, we also had great success with some autumn-sown hardy annuals as bulb partners. In the south, we can usually get away with overwintering varieties such as Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’ outside in the garden. This looks beautiful with large-flowered Anemone coronaria ‘Vinato Mistral’ and ‘Blue Mistral’ (see below). The feathery foliage of Nigella damascena and ‘Black Parrot’ tulips also work well together. In the north, I’d still use these combinations, but sow the hardy annuals inside and keep them there until spring, or sow in mid-February and plant out a month later.
My latest discovery is the tall, single colour varieties of the toadflax family, the linarias, which are excellent in the garden with hyacinths, Anemone coronaria and tulips. We had Linaria maroccana ‘Lucila Azure’ growing with cerinthe and the blue hyacinth ‘Peter Stuyvesant’. It looked good and made a great arrangement with the odd stem of Helleborus corsicus.
Hardy annuals don’t have to be flowery. Some of the best combinations are mixes of bulbs with salads. Any of the hardy winter lettuce, such as ‘Green Salad Bowl’, cos ‘Freckles’ or the dark-leaved ‘Solix’,
Shade lover: tulips and Solomon’s seal
Annual mix: anemones with cerinthe