Get Set For Spring
Expert gardener John Stoa is already planting bulbs for a dazzling show next year . . .
AS we move into autumn, the summer flowers start to fade, the leaves begin to fall, hot summer temperatures are a distant memory, and we know winter is not too far away. So we turn our attention to spring flowers and how we can enhance them.
My own garden has hundreds of spring bulbs planted over the years and should be fully stocked, though we still manage to find space for a few more. Tubs, hanging baskets and flower borders always need fresh bulbs each year.
Towards the end of each springs s I do an assessment on the success of my spring flowers to see if any mprovements are needed f for the following year.
Sometimes I have tried out new varieties of bulbs, and if they have turned out to be outstanding, I’ll buy n more to enhance the d display.
The first bulbs to flower are nearly always the snowdrops, followed by aconites. With global warming affecting our weather, mild winters have been quite common.
So the snowdrops which previously began to flower in late February can now appear from mid December onwards, especially if planted in a sheltered border.
In winter it is nice to enjoy garden flowers from the comfort of your home, so plant snowdrops and aconites where they can be seen from living-room and kitchen windows.
Make the most of other areas that might not at first be obvious. Deciduous trees and shrubs are perfect for establishing drifts of snowdrops, aconites, daffodils, wood anemones, bluebells and many other flowering bulbs.
I also use dwarf early tulips amongst my roses as they provide a great display of colour in the spring, when the roses are just breaking bud. Then, as the tulip leaves begin to fade, the roses start to put on growth.
Once the bulbs are dormant in early summer, the bed belongs to the roses, unaffected by the bulbs amongst their roots.
Herbaceous borders are another area where bare soil can be improved by planting spring bulbs in between plant groups.
There is usually plenty of time for these bulbs to flower, produce leaves, then die down before the herbaceous plants need the room.
Hyacinths, grape hyacinths, chionodoxa and anemone blanda are all perfect here, but keep the grape hyacinths under control as they can be very successful and end up being a bit invasive.
Narcissus and daffodils follow on after the crocus show, and often before the tulip display. It is easy to find spots to plant in.
Many of them have strong scents, such as the jonquils and Cheerfulness group, so keep them near patios and access points where their perfume can be appreciated.
It is also a good idea to plant tulips alongside other garden plants flowering in spring. Pulmonaria with blue flowers can have early red Abba and yellow Bellona tulips planted amongst it. The yellow daisy-flowered Doronicum Little Leo is perfect for red Abba and purple Negrita early tulips.
If these are in a border, add Phlox subulata in red or pink at the front as it flowers at the same time.
Start off the season in March when the yellow saxifrage is in bloom by planting some red tulips, Scarlet Baby, which will flower at the same time in a normal season.
Another idea worth exploring is to plant part of a border with several bulbs at different depths and each one flowering at a different time.
I am trying this idea with mixed crocus to flower in March, followed by grape hyacinths in April. Then tulips and narcissus take over, keeping the border in flower into May.
However, once these all die down, my oriental lilies emerge from below, growing strongly up to four or five feet tall and opening their huge scented flowers in summer. I am using lily Casablanca, Stargazer, Chelsea, Brasilia and Golden Splendour.
Most of these lilies can be ordered in autumn for planting in October or November, though some may be a spring delivery.
I have another border dedicated to these highly perfumed oriental lilies, but as their main display is in midsummer, I add the tall Darwin Hybrid tulips, red Apeldoorn and Golden Apeldoorn for a spring display.
Their growth needs are in different months so there is no problem keeping them together, and if the soil underneath the lilies is a bit bare in summer, sow down some quick-growing Californian poppies. These will naturalise if left to seed and return every year.
Bluebells are a favourite under deciduous trees, but they can be invasive, so it may be necessary to remove seed heads after flowering to control their spread.
Most bulbs like normal soil that drains well, especially lilies. Sun or dappled shade is fine, but crocuses need sun to open up the flowers.
As a general rule, plant in holes twice as deep as the bulb size and space bulbs about four to six inches apart for snowdrops, aconites and other small bulbs. But go to nine to twelve inches apart for tulips and daffodils. Lilies will need one or two feet apart depending on size.
You can leave on seed heads wherever you want drifts to increase, but it is best to remove them to conserve energy for building up a strong bulb to flower the next year.
A golden lily.
Blue-flowered anemone blanda.