Cook up a ‘bulb lasagne’ to serve in spring

The Daily Telegraph - Gardening - - Container Gardening -

Alice Vin­cent learns the art of con­tainer plant lay­er­ing, to add a suc­ces­sion of colour to her bal­cony in six months’ time

In Maida Vale, west Lon­don, is a gar­den cen­tre that looks like a wed­ding venue. Clifton Nurs­eries has swoon-in­duc­ing green­houses brim­ming with house plants of a size suit­able only for very large houses. Out­side, neat pa­rades of an­nu­als lead to a chic café. Need­less to say, it’s a bit smarter than my usual hang-out. How­ever, I was on a mis­sion: to learn the dark art of plant­ing con­tain­ers that, come spring, are fit to burst with metic­u­lously or­ches­trated patches of dif­fer­ent kinds of bulbs. I’ve been plant­ing bulbs in con­tain­ers for the past three years now, but have had mea­sured suc­cess in spring.

While my ef­forts lead to the oc­ca­sional sur­prise cro­cus or half a dozen hardy tulips, the bulb lasagne (the process of plant­ing a se­ries of bulbs that bloom at dif­fer­ent times to get the most out of one con­tainer) has al­ways ended up as more of a ready meal than a ban­quet.

So it was down to Paul Todd, one of Clifton’s gar­den­ers, to take pity and show me how it’s done.

The first thing Paul pre­sented me with was a piece of pa­per with a di­a­gram of what we were plant­ing where. Rather than the deep con­tain­ers I usu­ally rely on, we were plant­ing up a beau­ti­ful wide and rel­a­tively shal­low dish with six dif­fer­ent types of bulbs, di­vided into two dif­fer­ent lay­ers ac­cord­ing to how long they would take to bloom.

Paul had marked out the two dif­fer­ent plant­ing depths on the in­side of the con­tainer to clearly show where to plant the bulbs. Al­ready, these two steps showed me where I had been go­ing wrong: if you want pre­cise re­sults from bulbs, you have to be pre­cise from the out­set – es­pe­cially in a con­tained space.

Next it was time for drainage, bor­ing but es­sen­tial for get­ting the best out of plants that have to bloom af­ter the wettest, cold­est part of the year. The con­tainer we were plant­ing up had a hole in the bot­tom but we added crocks and then a solid inch or so of Hy­droleca – light­weight clay peb­bles bor­rowed from the house plant sec­tion to aid drainage (a hand­ful of large-grade gravel or more crocks would also work). Then it was in with nor­mal mul­ti­pur­pose com­post up to the first marker.

Be­fore we started plant­ing, Paul rec­om­mended we throw in some sea-kelp-based plant food. This, he ex­plained, was a bet­ter op­tion than bone­meal for ur­ban gar­den­ers, as it’s less invit­ing to the foxes that scout around out­door spa­ces (al­beit not four storeys up on the bal­cony), dig­ging up plants. We used Maxi­crop or­ganic plant Cal-Sea-Feed fer­tiliser, and put in a small hand­ful across the soil.

First to go in were cro­cus, ‘Tête-àtête’ daf­fodils, blue­bells and frit­il­laria,

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