Bulbs for spring g
I always dreamed of creating a garden library, a small room to sit and read in, nestled at the bottom of the garden. I’ve never realised this dream, because it would require cutting down a magnolia and despite my ambivalent feelings for it, I can’t justify taking it down for a building. Every year it rejoices at this and spreads its shade a little further.
So instead, this autumn I am going to embrace the bottom of the garden for what it is – a tiny slice of a woodland – and plant all sorts of lovely woodland things; by the time I have finished it will be a place to sit and read, though not in the rain.
Autumn is the time to plant spring bulbs, the mainstay of a woodland garden. I want to indulge in truly gorgeous things. I have plenty of time for daffodils and tulips, but in this corner, I want a bit of magic, something to draw you all the way to the bottom. Top of my list are dog’s tooth violets, erythronium. Their common name refers to the shape of the bulbs, which are easily damaged and often break if disturbed, so they have to be harvested by hand. On top of this they don’t like drying out, so need to be sent in the post damply packed or purchased as a living plant in a pot. All of which puts the price up; expect to pay between £3 and £5 a bulb.
Still they are worth it for their beautiful, nodding star-shaped flowers with curved petals, like a cornette, and delightful marbled foliage. Erythroniums come from temperate parts in the northern hemisphere and are broken down into Eurasian and North American species. Some are picky about their spots, others much easier going.
E. californicum is one of the easier species to grow, and has white flowers and a yellow centre. The cultivar ‘White Beauty’ (pictured top) is all refined elegance. Another delightful white flowering one is the European, E. dens-canis ‘Snowflake’ (centre), which spreads well over time.
Perhaps the easiest to get hold of is E. ‘Pagoda’ (left), a vigorous hybrid with lemon-yellow flowers over bronze foliage. The ratio of leaf to flower is not as elegant as some species, but it will offer trouble-free growing if you want to make a drift.
Erythroniums flower from February to April, dying down by June, so they need to be grown under deciduous trees that leaf out just as they are putting the last of their reserves into their bulbs. They must have summer shade and like fertile, humusrich soil that is neither too wet nor too dry. Leaf mould is their manna and they hate being moved, so wait three years at least before splitting or transplanting