Tips before buying spring flowering bulbs

 

Spring flowering bulbs will soon be in the shops. With flower borders in full growth at the moment it is difficult to see where they can be planted. This is where photos taken earlier in the year after the spring tidy but before the herbaceous perennials and deciduous shrubs leaf up are invaluable. See A Talk by Fergus Garrett of Great Dixter.

A small deviation: spring corms and tubers are also available with bulbs.  They are all swollen food storage organs. Very simply a bulb such as daffodil or tulip consists outwardly of the plant’s leaves waiting to emerge. A Corm such as crocus or cyclamen are stems waiting to emerge and a tuber, such as trillium are swollen roots.  Some plants such as anemones can depending on species arise from a corm such as Anemone nemorosa   or a tuber as with Anemone blanda.

That said onto my tips. Buy the bulbs early rather than waiting for them to come down in price. This has two benefits; first you can get them in the ground sooner, giving them time to root and reduce the chances of them rotting off. Second after a while in the dry atmosphere of the shop many bulbs die and buying cheap dead bulbs is false economy. Always check the firmness of bulbs by squeezing them through their packaging and if they feel soft- reject.

Bulbs from specialists such as Avon, Taylors or Parkers bulbs give a wider choice of cultivars and their bulbs are usually older and slightly larger giving bigger flowering plants when they emerge. Bulb specialists can easily be found on- line.

I always recommend dwarf daffodils over the larger ones, (commonly found as value packs in shops) for display purposes their flowers are equally noticeable but the foliage is less untidy after flowering. As the great gardener  Edward Augustus Bowles (of Erysimum ‛Bowles’ Mauve’ ,  Bowles golden sedge and Viola ‛Bowles Black’ etc. fame ) said the smaller ones are more practical until you find you need stronger spectacles to see them- then the larger ones are useful.

Most hybrid tulips prefer warm dry summers and many produce poor or no flowers in the second  and subsequent years,  many failing even to emerge and need topping up every year to keep a display going. Look out for kaufmanniana,  Gregii  and fosteriana   species as they are generally longer lived and can even increase in number in sunny, dry positions.

Crocuses and Irises do well in Scotland although there are not many sunny dry days for them to open fully. I like the purple and blue shades of   Iris reticula cultivars, they do well in my garden and when the flowers fade their foliage is not too noticeable, dying down quickly. Unlike the tall English bluebell Scilla non-scripta which once established is a rampant spreader and the dying foliage is unsightly. Do not confuse with the Scottish bluebell which is a campanula.

Finally the best place to plant bulbs is under deciduous shrubs or low ground cover plants where they can emerge extending the interest of a plant display. It also reduces the risk of them being accidently dug up.

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