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Garden bulbs -Using for colour all year round

Bulbs are often the first plants to herald the end of winter and the start of the spring. Few people can fail to be cheered by the sight of a snowdrop in January, or the first daffodils in February. Carefully chosen, bulbs can keep the garden supplied with changing colour from January to December.

 

Spring

Plant tubers of anemones in the woodland garden. These will reliably spread once they are established. Another coloniser is the Snow Glory (Chionodoxa forbesii), which spreads by seed when planted beneath deciduous trees and shrubs. Many of the crocuses will naturalise themselves readily in lawns, or the border. The Dog’s tooth violet (Erythronium dens-canis) is easily grown in the rock garden or the border, where it can start to spread by seed. One of the most impressive of the spring-flowering bulbs is the Crown Imperial (Fritillaria imperialis), which can make 4 feet, with its nodding bronzy, rusty heads. Clumps will develop in fertile soils. Daffodils and tulips gently flow into each other through the spring, and make a happy combination, enjoying the open, sunny border or naturalising in the lawn. For the cool border, try Ipheion uniflorum "Wisley Blue’, with single violet/blue flowers on onion scented, narrow leaves. For a really electric blue, above attractively divided foliage, Corydalis solida takes a lot of beating.

 

Summer

Summer is the season when many of the more robust bulbs come into their own. There are any number of ornamental onions varying from a few inches high (Allium moly) to over a metre (Allium giganteum). They also have the added interest of decorative seed heads. However, a cautionary note needs to be added here, as they can become very invasive plants if left to seed. The Peruvian Lily is another example of a slightly thuggish plant that will force its way up between cracks in the pavement and by walls, but has a wide range of colours amongst the varieties. A familiar plant in the southwest and Ireland, Monbretia, originally from South Africa, has made itself at home in the UK. A justifiably popular garden plant, it comes in creamy yellows to eye-burning reds (Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’). Dahlias are starting to regain popularity, and although they are a little more demanding, requiring staking and the tubers lifted in the autumn, they offer the greatest range of shape and form of almost all bulbous plants. An unusual corm, almost grasslike in appearance is the wand flower (Dierama pulcherrimum). Drooping pink bell-shaped flowers top the arching stems.

This is also the season when the Lily’s are at their best. Again, they are available in a huge range of colours, from soft whites, through creamy yellows to robust oranges and reds. Many have strong scents, such as the Regal Lily (Lilium regale), with its clustered flowerheads, striped yellow down the trumpets. An unusual member of the Lily family, and one demanding much patience by the gardener is the Giant Lily (Cardiocrinum giganticum), a woodland species, standing up to 8 feet tall, with a delicious, heady aroma. They take seven years from seed to flower, but are definitely worth the wait.

For a touch of the exotic, there are a number of African bulbs that are able to tolerate the damper climate of the British Isles. The Cape Lily (Crinum x powellii) has lush green leaves, topped by large, succulent trumpet flowers. A number of Watsonia’s are hardy enough to produce tubular pink flowers, above sword-shaped leaves. The very tropical looking Arum Lily (Zantadeschia aethiopica ‘Crowborough’) demands a damp situation in order to produce the pure white spathes it’s famous for. Other plants from the southern hemisphere that are hugely popular are Gladioli’s, which also require staking and feed annually to boost the corms.

 

Autumn

Whilst much of the garden is starting to slow down for winter, there are a large number of bulbs in their prime. These include many of the Cyclamen’s, which shine out like spotlights as the evenings start to close in. Amongst the best is Cyclamen hedarifolium ‘Album’, the white form of the ivy leaved cyclamen. The autumn crocus, or more exotically named Naked Lady (Colchicum speciosum) has many varieties widely available, a particular favourite being ‘Waterlily’, a pink double form. Continuing the African theme, the delicate Nerine’s (Nerine bowdenii) with their divided pink flowers are best grown against a conservatory or sunny wall. Similarly, the Kaffir Lily (Schitzostylis coccinea) is as happy in the same place, with smaller flowers, but a wider range of colours available. The tall, glossy leaved Autumn Snowflake (Leucojum autumnale) has white flowers, tinged pink at the base. In the warmer counties, or in very sheltered areas, it is worth trying plants such as the Pineapple Lily (Eucomis bicolor). This unusual plant has basal leaves with a crinkly edge and a flower that emerges on a tall, often spotted stem. The flower sits on top, with purple-edged petals. Sternbergia lutea from the Mediterranean has bright yellow star shaped flowers that light up a late summer, autumn border.

 

Winter

This is the season of the snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) and its many cultivars. Happy to spread in grass, it is found in all areas of the UK, preferring a woodland location or style of gardening. The hardy cyclamen (Cyclamen coum ‘Album’), with its interestingly marked leaves are topped by pale white flowers with reflexed petals that have a hint of pink to them. The native winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) has cup-shaped golden globes of flowers above divided green leaves. The tubers will eventually spread, allowing this plant to form a carpet in time. In February, the first of the daffodils are in flower, the bets variety being ‘February Gold’, whose bulbs last for a long time, and can colonise a site fairly rapidly.