Life Gardens

Sunday 18 February 2018

Diarmuid Gavin: Bright bulbs

Cook up some stunning garden displays for spring with my recipes for delectable pots

You can create wonderful displays by layering bulbs in pots
You can create wonderful displays by layering bulbs in pots

Diarmuid Gavin

Have you been tempted yet by the colourful displays of bulbs for sale in garden centres and supermarkets? It's that time of year again - time for bulb purchasing and planting. This week I'm going to tell you how to make a bulb lasagne! Don't worry, I'm not swapping my gardening gloves for a chef's hat; instead I'm taking inspiration from the kitchen to create wonderful displays by layering bulbs in pots, just as the Italians layer pasta.

This allows you to grow great combinations of bulbs in the one pot, or to have a succession of bulbs that commence flowering in February and continue through to May.

Let's start with your container: the bigger the pot, the better. If it's terra- cotta, it needs to be frost-proof, as there's nothing more disheartening than finding your creation in bits on a frosty morning. Drainage is always important with bulbs; soggy soil can cause them to rot. Adding some gravel or even bits of broken old pots to the bottom will help. Compost needs to be free-draining but capable of holding moisture. You won't need to add feed, as the new bulbs will have all they need to grow.

Next, the ingredients: a selection of bulbs that will flower at different times. When shopping, inspect bulbs before purchase. You wouldn't buy an onion bulb that was withered or diseased and the same goes for your garden bulbs - they should be firm and healthy-looking.

And, finally, the method. You put the largest and latest-flowering bulbs at the bottom layer - for example, alliums and tulips. Don't pack them in too tightly; instead give them an inch or two to themselves. Now, cover with a layer of compost and plant the next layer of bulbs, which will flower before the previous layer - for example, daffodils.

You might stop at two layers, in which case cover with a good helping of compost. Or you can go for a third layer of smaller, earlier-flowering bulbs, such as dwarf daffodil and Iris reticulata. Don't worry about planting bulbs straight on top of each other, they will always find a route through - even if they have to bend their stems around bulbs. Bulbs planted the wrong way round will usually find their way to the light as well. Water them in and leave to chill for winter.

Have fun experimenting with different ideas, or here are a few recipe combinations you could try in your pots:

Tulip charm

Try an early tulip, such as the orange and fragrant Tulipa 'Prinses Irene', and top with a sprinkling of purple crocus for a zingy combination.

Blue and white delight

Plant Tulipa 'White Parrot' at the bottom for a frilly white display in May, combined with blue hyacinth in the middle, with a mix of muscari or scilla on top.

Daffodil surprise

Dwarf Narcissus 'Tête-à-Tête' is great for pots and will usually be your top layer. But buried beneath can be some fritillaria bulbs, which are pretty big and will be a great follow-on surprise in early summer.

Pink and purple confection

Place Allium hollandicum 'Purple Sensation' at the bottom, sandwich Tulipa 'Queen of the Night' in the middle, and a sprinkling of Anemone blanda 'Pink Star' on top.

The best bulbs for borders

Along with the potted displays, I've also been considering a few magnificent bulbs to use in beds and borders. Hyacinths are wonderful and if, like me, you favour intense colours, look out for Hyacinthus orientalis 'Dark Dimension', with blooms so purple they're nearly black, and 'Woodstock', with rich wine-purple bells.

With fritillaria, F. persica 'Adiyaman' is a magnificent border plant growing to 90cm high, producing lots of dark plum bell-shaped flowers in April and May.

The daffodil Narcissus 'Lemon Beauty' is very striking: its ivory blooms have a star-shaped lemon centre and the flowers of 'Mondragon' are a rich egg-yolk yellow.

For some extra-special tulips, why not try a very exuberant double called Tulipa 'Vaya Con Dios', which starts life as mainly yellow, gaining apricot, orange and red hues as it matures. 'Victoria's Secret' has deep purplish-blue flowers, with a touch of lavender and violet running through it, and the centre of the flower is an attractive royal blue. I also love parrot tulips with their fringed edges. 'Parrot Sweet' has bright pink flowers, suffused with white and a greenish yellow, which flowers in May. 'Copper Image' is also a delightful double late - large double flowers of a copper colour flushed with salmon, also flowering in May.

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