If you are confined to a terrace space, here’s how to get that flower bed effect by planting bulbs in a container in layers
Last week, I wrote about smaller bulbs that can be used in window boxes or containers for those who have less room to garden in, such as patios, terraces and balconies. There’s another space-saving method to enjoy lots of bulbs... all in the one pot. This is sometimes known as a bulb lasagne, where instead of pasta sheets, meat and sauce, you layer different bulbs on top of each other in a pot, covering each tier with compost and thereby maximising the display from each pot.
So, if you’ve been tempted by all the lovely packets of bulbs on show in the garden centres and supermarkets at the moment and can’t choose which to plump for, here’s a method for enjoying a few different varieties in the one pot and extending seasonal flowering interest as long as possible.
Any size pot or container will do as long as it has some drainage. Without drainage, your bulbs will end up a pile of soggy mush by next spring. The bigger the container, the more interest you can pack in and ensure that you have bulbs that start flowering in January and February, such as crocus and iris, and will keep going until the end of May. It’s exciting because there is always something new about to arrive.
Use multi-purpose, peat-free compost, but really, any growing medium is fine as bulbs are not too fussy. You can put a layer of grit at the bottom to aid drainage. Now throw a couple of handfuls of compost onto the bottom.
Start with your largest bulbs at the bottom. A good option here would be alliums as they are easy to grow and will come into flower in May. ‘Purple Sensation’ is a popular and dependable variety with rich deep plum spherical flower heads. Place these on compost — as many as you can without them touching each other. Check bulbs before planting. If they are at all mouldy or squishy to the touch, they are only good for the bin.
Now cover this layer with some compost so the bulbs are no longer visible and start your next layer. Some daffodils would be good — again they are easy and reliable. I recommend Narcissus ‘Fortune’ which is a large, cupped daffodil with yellow petals and deep orange corona.
Now pop another layer of compost and another layer of bulbs. For this layer, you could use tulips. Keep building up the layers — the amount you can fit in will depend on your pot size. You’ll start to use smaller bulbs here, for example Fritillaria meleagris (the snake’s head fritillary) or maybe miniature daffs such as Tête-à-tête. For the final layer, something small like Scilla siberica (the Siberian squill), which has dainty blue nodding bell-shaped flowers.
Cover the last layer of bulbs with a layer of compost. It doesn’t have to be precision perfect, and bulbs planted on top of each other will still find a route through to the light, even if they have to make a detour around the one on top. Even bulbs planted upside down will usually find their way to the light.
To make it look good until the bulbs emerge next year, you can plant a layer of seasonal bedding on top. For example, cheerful primulas, winter pansies, Bellis perennis, or even some white or red cyclamens, as it would be pretty boring to look at bare soil until next spring.
Water your display and place where you will be able to enjoy the succession of flowers next spring.
Aconitum carmichaelii ‘Arendsii’
Monkshood has elegant spires of deep violet hooded flowers, a wonderful back of the border stately plant. This particular variety flowers in early autumn and looks good paired with white flowering Japanese anemones and ferns. A little bit of shade is ideal but more importantly it likes moisture retentive soil so don’t let it dry out. It is very poisonous so use gloves when handling and definitely keep kids and pets away from this one.
My Jersey lily bulbs have flowered for the first time and they are lovely but my problem is what do I do after flowering. Do I leave to die back or do I cut them down? They are in a big pot.
The Jersey lily, Amaryllis belladonna, is a native of South Africa and the vivid pink flowers are a very cheerful sight in late summer. After flowering, I would simply remove the flower head as you don’t want the plant to put energy into producing seeds — just letting the stalk die back which will feed the bulb.
Submit your gardening questions to Diarmuid via his Instagram @diarmuidgavin using the hashtag #weekendgarden