Diarmuid Gavin: Go potty planting up beautiful bulbs to brighten next spring
Claus Dalby is a Danish gardener who specialises in magnificent floral and foliage displays... in pots. I came across pictures of his creations on Pinterest and Instagram and was inspired to try something different at home this year. Outside his premises, against the railings, he fashions 'steps' made from a series of low tables stacked on three levels. And on these tables he creates a theatre of colour, channelling each season in displays which may be all white and creams, or psychedelic colour. Look him up on social media.
But first to garden bulbs because I can't abandon that work in progress! This planting season, I'm adding to my collection of anemones that appear each March under the birch trees. I'm planting 'Pink Star', integrated with the existing white and blue varieties. I'll give the bulbs a soak in water the night before to ensure they are well-hydrated, before planting 2in deep into the well-drained, humus-rich soil beneath the trees. Undisturbed, these will form clumps, then a carpet. I'm planting up some pots with early-flowering iris using a gritty free-draining compost. 'Lady Beatrix Stanley' is my choice, a rich-blue variety, smelling of violets.
In April and May, inspired by Claus, there will be multiple pots of tulips! I've bought 50 of each variety for maximum impact. 'Greenstar' are vase-shaped flowers with white petals that have a dramatic green stripe. This will contrast well with 'Black Parrot', a dark maroon tulip with frilly edges (left). 'Prinses Irene' comes with a flash of orange and then lots more purple with 'Negrita' and the deep purple-black 'Queen of the Night'. There'll be lots of pink too - 'Angelique' is a very delicate shell-like pink, a really divine double late tulip, otherwise known as a peony tulip. 'Sanne' is a delicate apricot pink.
When planting bulbs in pots, ensure there are drainage holes and layer pebbles or bits of broken terracotta at the bottom; bulbs do not want to be sitting in soggy, cold soil. Next, put a layer of compost about 5in deep so bulbs have adequate depth to root into. Place bulbs fairly closely together, at a depth three to four times their height, so you may need to layer more compost. Water in and, if squirrels are a problem, cover with wire mesh until spring.
Tulips are beautiful but short-lived so I want plenty to look forward to after them. Bring on the alliums - I just love their pom-pom heads popping up around the garden. I'm planting Allium cristophii ('Star of Persia'), which has lots of small star-shaped, metallic-tinged purple flowers, and 'Mount Everest' - big and white, as the name suggests! For something different, I'll use the Sicilian honey garlic, Nectaroscordum siculum, which has small cream and purple bell-shaped flowers, plus 'Purple Sensation', the staple of every Chelsea Flower Show. Plant alliums in full sun and well-drained soil.
In June, I'm looking forward to the Madonna lily: big, white flowers and gorgeous fragrance. These like to be planted shallow so the sun can bake them. They'll be followed by deep-red martagon lilies ('Claude Shride'); plant these 6in deep in rich soil, in sun/partial shade.
Finally, the paperwhite daffodils are for indoors. They take eight-to-10 weeks to flower from planting so they'll be ready for Christmas and make a wonderful gift. Plant shallowly in bowls with bulbs nearly touching, somewhere bright but cool - a conservatory is ideal.
Planting lilies is not a good idea if you have cats because all parts of the plant are pretty toxic for them. Instead, try other beautiful early summer-flowering bulbs such as camassia and Star of Bethlehem.