Monday 16 September 2019

The joy of bright spring bulbs

A garden cannot have too many spring bulbs, writes Gerry Daly

Colourful show: Gardens of any size benefit enormously from the flowering presence of bulbs
Colourful show: Gardens of any size benefit enormously from the flowering presence of bulbs

Despite wind and rain, sleet and snow, in recent weeks as one storm after another buffeted rooftiles and windows, spring bulbs have managed a good show of colour. At times flattened to the ground by cold, windy, wet weather, over and over again, these wonderful flowers show amazing resilience in the face of harsh conditions.

The show of flowers from all kinds of spring bulbs has been good and is the result of a late spring last year, the perfect mixture of sunshine and showers into early summer and then a perfect ripening of the buds in the summer drought.

Practically all kinds of spring bulb originated in zones of wet winters and baking, dry summers. Their evolution of a bulbous stem base is the evidence. Plants never waste resources and if a plant has evolved the capacity to invest scarce resources, it is certain to have been for good reason. A bulb is a form of storage organ in which food is stored in early summer to keep the plant alive and safe below soil. Shade is a challenge for many plants.

Spring bulbs open their flowers from the end of winter with bare branches until the new green leaves have opened, bridging the bleakness of winter to the lush growth of summer. At the beginning of the period, the spring bulbs are almost alone in creating colour and exuberant life. Later, they are joined by spring shrubs and the early perennial flowers. By the time they are gone, with late tulips in May, the panoply of the garden's summer riches lies ahead.

Any garden not reasonably furnished with spring bulbs will struggle for interest at this time of year. If you find that your garden is dull, rather lifeless, the key missing ingredient are flowering bulbs, as good in containers as they are in the open ground. The snowdrops have done their bit; crocuses are still in evidence; daffodils have come early; tulips will not be far behind.

But there are other smaller bulbs that can make a big impact, such as the lovely blue, daisy-flowered Anemone blanda, chionodoxa, scilla, wood anemone and cyclamen.

Gardens of any size benefit enormously from the flowering presence of bulbs. Big gardens can have lots of shrubs and trees with swathes of daffodils. Tiny town gardens can have a few small pockets of the little spring jewels. Just enough colour in each case to hold the eye and let the remainder of the garden appear as background to the seasonal show. And by mid-summer, the spring bulbs, foliage included, are gone for their summer rest.

Spring bulbs generally must be planted in autumn, although garden centres now sell bulbs in pots for spring display.

Many gardens have some spring bulbs, but there is often room for more, or the creation a longer sequence of flowering using more kinds. Their beauty and freshness are the perfect affirmation of the new growing season.

Some kinds, such as daffodils, snowdrops, some crocuses and Greek anemones, tend to increase readily in numbers, while tulips, alliums and hyacinths tended to fade out over time unless conditions are perfect, and due to snail attacks.

These days, there are examples of the value of spring bulbs in gardens on practically every street and road in the country, often due to municipal and commercial planting in the landscape.

No group of flowering plants has the same potential to enliven its surroundings. Remember, a garden cannot have too many spring bulbs.


Cream of the crop

  • Looking for a Mother's Day outing? Enjoy a little pomp and ceremony with a Devonshire cream tea served by the Duke of Devonshire's butler at Lismore Castle on March 31. Then walk it off with a garden tour led by the head gardener. Tea and tours, 11.30am, 12.40pm, 1.50pm, 3pm and 4.10pm, €25; tickets (058) 53803/ 54975, or

Getting the goat

  • Epimedium or goat weed or barrenwort, is in flower at the moment with bright yellow blooms like daffodils - intriguing because they aren't part of the same plant family. Epimedium's leaves are evergreen, which show their link with berberis, and there are lovely pink and white forms too. Epimedium grows well in shade and is tenacious when established.

Good enough to Eat

  • If you fancy growing your own food, tune into the second series of 'GROW COOK EAT' presented by Michael Kelly, founder of Grow It Yourself (GIY), and Karen O'Donohoe, the GIY head of community development. Look out for the lowdown on how to plant and grow onions, pumpkins, sweetcorn, courgettes, kale, beans and chillies for all garden or container shapes and sizes; Wednesdays, 8.30pm on RTE1; visit

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