f you don’t read the daily newspapers you might not realise it is bulb-planting time again, because for the last few weeks we have been enticed to buy bulbs of all sorts, by full-page colour adverts – nearly every day.
You may intend to use bulbs for your spring bedding schemes in beds, borders, tubs and troughs.
On the other hand, you may have a mind to “naturalise” some in borders or in grassed areas. If you were ever in doubt, let me suggest this is definitely the time to roll your sleeves up and get cracking.
To digress slightly, and thinking back to last spring, some people commented on the fact there was a significant overlap in the flowering time of daffodils and tulips.
It was generally agreed this was due to the weather patterns – early sunshine to speed up growth followed by a week or two of cold, wet weather to slow down development.
Whether that’s right or wrong is no longer relevant, the question is will it happen again, and is it going to be a more regular pattern because of climate change?
I raise the point for a reason. If you are trying to create a planting scheme for spring display, the favourite ground cover plants are wallflower, polyanthus, pansies and violas.
Some may flower sporadically over the winter months, but the “blaze of colour” is anticipated to be at its best in late April and all of May, to then be replaced with summer flowering selections.
Whatever the ground cover, in my view the best bulb subject to interplant is the tulip. Some colleagues may argue that daffodils are also suitable, but I disagree, and my opinion was formed in the 1950s.
As some of you will know, my dad was a public parks man, ending his career as superintendent of parks and open spaces in Helensburgh and district.
He was a master at choosing bedding scheme combinations. From early winter, there was a huge drawing board in his office as he planned every bed, every colour scheme for summer displays.
Likewise, he planned the spring bedding, starting about Easter for the following year and never once did I see him use daffodils in the mix for formal spring bedding. Why? Because he reckoned the daffs would be going over before the wallflower, etc., were at their best. Tulips, on the other hand, are so versatile in size, shape, colour and flowering time. They were his favourites, and mine too.
Conversely, I would not choose to naturalise tulips, though I accept that some of the alpine types will thrive perfectly well in a rock garden setting.
By naturalising, I think we all understand that means planting in areas that are not cultivated regularly, like lawns and natural grassy areas that are allowed to grow wild.
The crucial point to stress relates to the flowering time of the bulbs AND the period after flowering when they must be left intact to Spring flowers growing in a ‘naturalised’ area finish their annual growth cycle. Apart from daffodils, crocus, snowdrop, scilla and fritillaria are among the most favourite kinds for this purpose.
Just last week, wearing my Rotary hat, with colleagues and local schoolchildren, we were planting crocus corms in amenity grass areas around Inverurie – like the grounds of the local hospital – to mark World Polio Day.
Rotary International, with the Bill Gates Foundation, has been instrumental in all but abolishing polio from planet. We are nearly there.
We are planting crocuses and they will all be purple flowered. Why, did I hear you ask? Answer – when children are immunised, they stick a finger in purple dye to indicate they have been treated, saving a lot of paperwork!
Back to my point, you may remember we featured this element on a Beechgrove programme – if you choose to plant bulbs in part of your lawn, plant in patches, and at mowing time, until the bulb leaves die naturally, mow round the patches, leaving little islands of uncut grass. It looks very attractive.
When the bulb leaves have withered, raise the height of cut on the mower for a time or two to tidy these areas. Don’t, for goodness sake, whack it down in a oner, because then you will be left with unsightly greeny yellow patches.
Final thought before I get back to emptying tubs. Do I remove all the soil/compost from these containers? No, I don’t; the tubs will be topped up with fresh potting soil and thoroughly mixed through the existing stuff. What about fertiliser?
There will be enough in the new compost to last until late February/early March, when I will sprinkle and lightly fork in some general fertiliser.
The sun is out, but for how long? Snowdrops are a familiar sight during early spring
BLOOMING SPECTACULAR: A blaze of multi-coloured spring flowers at the Keukenhof garden in the Netherlands
A garden area filled with crocuses