Diarmuid Gavin: Spring into action... Bulbs full of promise for the warmer seasons ahead
One of the pleasures of an Indian summer is the warmth that lingers in the soil and the sunshine which beckons us out to continue enjoying the garden. In most places the last few weeks have been a real gift with colour still lingering in the borders. So it might seem an odd time for planning, hopping a season and anticipating spring 2020 but that's what you need to do if you want a flush of spring bulbs to add the earliest colour!
Bulbs are full of promise, gifts wrapped up waiting to spring their cheery surprise. Too often we forget about an integrated approach to planting and maybe this year is the time to grasp the notion of creating a symphony of colour, not just a couple of rows of tulips and daffodils.
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When buying bulbs, they come in all different sizes - some such as the giant allium and Crown Imperial are huge, others such as Scilla are small. But you plant them all the same way - in good, fertile, well-drained soil. Dig a hole twice the depth of the bulbs, sprinkling around some slow release fertiliser; drop them in and cover them over with a blanket of soil which will protect from frost. Tulips will benefit from some extra drainage so sprinkle a bit of horticultural grit when planting.
So it's easy to physically plant but the trick is all in the placing. Most bulbs are going to look best when they are spread in a naturalistic fashion. By this I mean drifts. To achieve this I fill flower pots or even crockery bowls with my bulbs. I bring them out and I place them in the border amongst planting. I begin to imagine how they will look, what colour they will be, what height they will be and when they will flower. And then I dribble them out of the bowls.
Just imagine you are feeding chickens with some grain - sprinkle them like that and wherever they land plant them. Some will almost be touching their neighbour, others will be a few inches apart. It may seem strange and unordered but it will look fantastic.
Try to achieve a good succession of colour so that as early as possible next year the garden will signal hope for a new spring season. Plan for flowers from January to May. First up are snowdrops and eranthis but don't plant them yet. Both of these bulbs are best planted in the green - i.e. when they are in leaf and flower and placed in the ground. They just don't like getting dried out as many of them will be if you purchase now. Also making an early appearance will be Iris reticulata - these are small enough for windowboxes and containers and are a very vibrant blue.
February will see the arrival of crocus - Remembrance is a large flowering crocus in deep violet and will look wonderful as it starts to naturalise over the coming years. Or try the giant white crocus 'Jeanne d'Arc' which has gorgeous pure white petals with bright yellow stamens. These little bulbs are so easy to plant - just press them down a couple of inches under the soil.
Anemone blanda spreads very easily to form a carpet of pretty daisy flowers. It's a good idea to soak the bulbs for a couple of hours or even overnight before planting for best results.
March is daffodil season and if you've only room for pots, try the miniature varieties such as Tete a Tete. Accompany with Scilla siberica, their glorious sky blue contrasting with the yellow daffs.
April and May will be brightened by the appearance of tulips and Crown Imperial Fritallaria imperialis, a majestic tall bulb with nodding yellow, bell-shaped flowers. And last up will be the delicate camassias and the giant alliums. Allium. 'Mount Everest' has a big white globe of flower and it's, to my mind, the best large white allium. For a pop of white in May and June hovering over your borders, this architectural three-footer will delight not just you but bees on the hunt for nectar.
At this stage the herbaceous plants will be getting into their stride and by June the bulbs will pack up their bags for another year.
So here's to next spring!