Our gardening columnist Conrad McCormick offers tips on planting spring bulbs…
When the evenings are closing in and the weather begins to take a turn for the worse in autumn, I get to thinking about planting spring bulbs. I see them as an investment in the future, helping to remind me that spring isn’t so far away and brighter longer days lie ahead. With a bit of forwarding planning, it’s easy to ensure a succession of blooms from January or February right through until May.
Snowdrops are one of the first flowers to put in an appearance early in the year. Their delicate-looking nodding white bells belie their tough constitution. Unperturbed by icy winter winds and frost, their green snouts push through the soil surface by new Year and, depending on the type, can be in bloom within weeks. There are many named forms that can fetch eye-watering sums of money as fanatics search out subtle differences in their green markings. For me though, the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis is as beautiful as any, especially when creating carpets of white blooms in borders or when established in short grass. If you know someone with established clumps in their garden now’s the perfect time to subtly suggest that theirs may need splitting and that you’d be only too happy to take some off their hands. replant immediately in clumps of at least three or five in a spot where they’ll be shaded by other plants in summer.
Flowering alongside the snowdrops is hardy little Cyclamen coum, their rounded, often silvered leaves topped with backswept little blooms in shades from white through to vibrant and deep pinks. I tend to choose pot grown plants as dried tubers can be slow to establish in the garden and it also gives me the opportunity to pick those with the best leaves, always snapping up those with silver and pewter markings over plain green foliage. They’ll slowly spread over the years, gradually carpeting the ground under shrubs in shady areas.
Daffodils are one of the most cheerful sights in spring, their yellow blooms are a sign that the year’s heading in the right direction. If I could ask one thing, is that you please bypass the enormous rubber duck yellow-flowered monsters with leaves like leaks that die disgracefully for weeks on end. Instead choose those of shorter stature, with smaller blooms in softer colours, if they’re scented, then all the better. narcissus ‘Tête-à-tête’ is an incredibly popular dwarf daffodil. Growing to only 15cm high, its small stature makes it ideal for planting at the front of the border or in containers, its small yellow flowers will brighten up your front door or patio. similar but with an orange trumpet ‘Jetfire’ is equally good, blazing its way through the spring garden. There are a couple that I grow that are real standouts in the olfactory department. ‘avalanche’ produces, as the name would suggest, a multitude of blooms, easily ten to fifteen per stem, and the scent is the most powerful of any I know. Though, if I could grow only one narcissus, it would be three to four nodding flowers per stem that pump out a beautifully sweet fragrance that drifts across the garden on warm spring days. They’re all vigorous and long-lived, multiplying over time to form generous clumps and taking little care to keep them happy.