THE SPRING BULBS THAT
Iam a bit of a bulb junkie. I find them amazing and with many of them, all you need to do is add water and they perform, rather like buying a garden in a box. The fascination and excitement of seeing how new stars can dazzle and outshine clichéd old combinations gets the pace going in my garden. This spring the daffodils, tulips and cammasias especially, kept their glamour for ages, the chillier temperatures prolonging their flowers. But as with all garden plants, how you use them makes a vast difference. If you are lucky enough to visit Highgrove in spring, you will see large circular pools of densely planted dark and light purple crocus. Crocus ‘Flower Record’ with voluptuous cups of deepest purple and Crocus ‘Remembrance’, an heirloom Dutch hybrid from 1925, with rounded blooms of paler violet, around the base of the Prince of Wales’s meadow trees, are like striking shadows encircling the trunks, causing you to stop, stare and enjoy. In a shady spot all around an elderly, spreading holm oak, Prince Charles has brightened the shade with Narcissus ‘Jenny’ and ‘February Gold’. Intermingling with purple crocus, these blend in with spectacular yellow benches, which lighten the base of a nearby north side of the yew hedge. I don’t think you can ever have too many bulbs, although physically shoehorning them into tight borders is tricky work. Some firms, such as Gee Tee bulbs (gee-tee.co.uk) sell mainly a 10/11 size tulip (indicating the circumference of the bulb and about the diameter of a 50p piece); others will sell larger, 11/12. Both sizes will flower the next spring and you would probably only notice the difference in foliage and vigour if you put them side by side. The smaller can be better value. Gee Tee is a wholesale company, although with the internet it has started to sell to the public, but for smaller quantities it has to raise its prices a bit due to their extra handling costs. Gee Tee does not have as wide a range as the specialists, such as Jacques Amand (jacquesamandintl.com), but it offers stunning value. It is often the rarer, more unusual bulbs that are expensive, but if you just want a hundred Allium aflatunense or A. ‘Purple Sensation’ to raise your spirits they are great value at £20 plus VAT, many tulips such as ‘Queen of the Night’ or ‘Negrita’ are around £30 for 250. If you want to be different though Allium ‘Spider’ or A. ‘Red Mohican’ (with bordeaux red heads and tufted tops) are both excellent and stunning, Christine Skelmersdale from Broadleigh Bulbs (broadleighbulbs.co.uk) points out that the deeper a bulb goes the better, as they endure fewer temperature swings and rain downpours. The climate is more equable at deeper levels, so they grow better and slower and are less likely to split into small bulbs. The bulb that flowers dies after flowering but produces smaller bulbs. If it produces just one or two (instead of five or so) they are more likely to flower the next year as they are larger. They also need a dry, dormant summer to initiate a flower the following year, so if you have applied irrigation then they are unlikely to flower. In one of Christine’s borders ‘Olympic Flame’, ‘Purissima’, ‘Groenland’ and ‘Spring Green’ have performed well for some years, only gradually getting smaller. They were all planted 8in deep and are sheltered by herbaceous perennials. She does not irrigate, other bulbs she tops up and “most others do two seasons”. In other areas for display – her parterre has 300 ‘White Triumphator’ and Telegraph Gardening readers can buy 100 allium bulbs for only £19.99 (TCA11846). Collection includes 16 aflatunense, 10 ‘Purple Sensation’, 24 sphaerocephalon, and 50 caeruleum. Dispatched from October. Subject to availability. Call 0844 573 6015 for credit/debit card orders quoting ref TET50 or available online at gardenshop.telegraph.co.uk/ offers. Delivery to all UK addresses only.