The Simple Things
A SUMMER BULB MOMENT
NOW IS THE TIME TO NOT ONLY ENJOY SPRING BULBS IN BLOOM BUT ALSO TO PLANT SUMMER ONES AND WAIT FOR THE FANTASTIC FLOWERS TO COME
As you look out at your plot this month and enjoy the arrival of tulips and daffodils planted last autumn, you can also plan ahead – now is the right time to plant summerflowering bulbs. This diverse, often exotic, collection of plants will introduce colour and interest, extend the seasons and reward you with gorgeous displays in as little as two months.
Although summer bulbs can withstand our winter conditions and, in theory, could be planted earlier, they will fare better if planted now when the weather and ground temperatures are warming up. Make sure the bulbs you buy are fresh and haven’t languished in the garden centre for a few months. Look for firm, mould-free bulbs – the bigger the better as size matters and a large bulb will produce a more sizeable bloom.
Most summer-flowering bulbs originate from warmer climates so a free-draining soil will produce the best results and prevent them from rotting. If you have heavier soil, add horticultural grit or coarse sand to the planting hole to open-up the structure, as well as a generous amount of well-rotted organic matter. If this isn’t feasible or if your soil is a very heavy clay, cut your losses and go for containers, which you can fill with suitable soil. Containers also mean you can care for more tender varieties by moving them to a sheltered spot should conditions turn unfavourable, as well as bring them indoors in the autumn, before the first frosts arrive.
As with most planting schemes, several of one type of bulb creates the most effective display. Repetition looks smart and generous. You could stagger planting times, adding new batches at monthly intervals so you get a long season.
If you’re planting in the ground, you can plant in individual holes, but planting in clusters in trenches is a time-saving,
“Size definitely matters – look for firm, mould-free bulbs, the bigger the better. A large bulb will produce a more sizeable bloom”
and back-saving, alternative. Whether in a container or the ground, use the bulb as a guide, planting about three-times its depth and two or three times its width apart. Check the growing tip is pointing up and cover with soil. Once it has flowered, lift and remove any loose soil. Cut off dead leaves and dry the bulb overnight. Store in paper bags or trays of nearly dry-sand in a frost-free place for replanting next year.
Most summer-flowering bulbs produce structural, statement flowers, so if you’re looking to introduce other types of plants in your display, try soft, frothy grasses which will soften the look and act as a foil. Red-tipped switch grass ( Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’), wispy stipa and the compact, fluffy fountain grass ( Pennisetum setaceum) are great examples. Also, try weaving in compact varieties with masses of smaller flowers, like campanula or phlox as they contrast well and will introduce different texture and forms.
WHEN IS A BULB NOT A BULB?
When it’s a corm, tuber or rhizome. Although we might refer to all bulbous plants as bulbs, botanically speaking there are four variations. All of them include a ‘swollen’ part that contains food, which enables the plant to survive when it’s dormant, but the structures of them are very different.
True bulbs (eg tulips and hyacinths) and corms (crocus, crocosmia and gladiola) can be hard to distinguish. Both have a growing tip at the top, from which the flower stem grows, a flat bottom and a basal plate where the roots develop. However, if you cut them in half, a bulb is made up of a series of layers, a new one appearing each year. Corms, meanwhile, are made from a solid mass of stem tissue which is replaced by a new corm every growing season. Tubers (eg begonia and cyclamen) generally root from the bottom and lack the bulb or corm’s basal plate. They get bigger and bigger each year and make more growing points. It can be tricky to work out which way is up so if in doubt, plant tubers on their side.
Rhizomes (eg lilies and cannas) grow sideways rather than up and run along the surface of the soil, with each new portion developing its own set of roots and shoots.
The genius of planting in pots is that you can plonk them in any parts of the garden that need cheering up