Mix and match your spring colours with care
It's best not to overdo things preparing for the new season, writes Gerry Daly
Daffodils and tulips are the most popular spring bulbs, but there are lots of others to choose from. Some are big, such as crown imperial and camassia - both late spring flowering - and others are small, such as crocus and scilla, which are early.
Some like moist soil, including snowflakes and eranthis, and some like dry soil, such as cyclamen and tulips. Daffodils tolerate light shade, while tulips must have sunshine. There are bulbs suitable for every situation but the conditions must match.
Apart from the range of garden conditions in which they can grow, bulbs can be used in a various decorative ways. They can be planted in the open soil, quite formally, in beds or very informally, as naturalised bulbs, and they can be planted in pots. Tulips and hyacinths are often used as temporary bedding plants, while daffodils, crocuses, snowdrops, scillas, muscari and fritillaria are more permanent types. Many of this last group can be used in naturalised, or semi-wild, settings in the garden and allowed to grow as though wild, and are often self-sowing.
If bulbs are to be naturalised in grass or under trees and shrubs, try to make the planting look as natural as possible. Do not, for instance, plant rings or rows of bulbs around trees. That might be all right in a formal public park, but it is generally not a great idea in a country garden. Try to plant clumps of bulbs in uneven sizes and spread quite randomly, with a few set apart a little. Do not mix kinds or colours too much. Use perhaps two or three kinds only and choose them to succeed each other and do not mix colours of daffodils very much. Again, have perhaps two or three colours and kinds. Double-flowering kinds are best in a formal flower bed as they look out of place in an informal setting, and they hang their heads when wet.
In any garden, big or small, spring bulbs planted in pots can be magnificent. Being in pots, it is possible to place them where they will be most easily seen and best appreciated. For instance, pots filled with flowering bulbs can be placed near doorways and entrances and on paved areas where they will be visible.
When they begin to go over, they can be moved out of sight. In containers, small bulbs are best, or at least small versions of larger bulbs. For instance, use the small early-flowering tulips and the miniature daffodils, and different kinds can be layered in the same pot to flower in succession.
The large daffodil and narcissi varieties look wrong in pots, but tall tulips can be very elegant, as long as they are planted in shallow bowls or pots. Crocuses are great in pots, as some kinds give several flowers per corm and they flower in succession. Plant a couple of dozen crocus corms in a shallow bowl-shaped pot, or pots.
Indoor bulbs include hyacinths and some kinds of narcissi, such as the lovely 'Paper White' that flowers in as little as six weeks, and crocuses and small tulips can be started off outdoors and brought in to flower. Bulbs already contain the flower buds that open in just a few weeks. Most kinds are very easy to grow in ordinary soil that is reasonably light and not likely to get waterlogged. In pots, use compost or soil and compost mixed. Plant large bulbs about 10 centimetres deep, small bulbs at about half that depth. And finally, however tempting it is to run riot, limit your choice of kinds and colours.
Read it: Now the evenings are longer and the garden is slowing down, it's time to enjoy a little inspiration. Gardens of the Alhambra is a good place to start. Spain's most visited attraction is documented from the 14th Century up to today with photos, plans and previously unpublished archive material showing its courtyards, water features and series of green spaces. Written by former director Maria del Mar Villafranca, and head of Granada University's architecture department Professor Juan Santos, it is out October 18 (White Lion, approx. €40).
Plant it: Japanese maple is the stand-out plant in many a garden these days. Its show of autumn leaf colour is unmatched by any other garden tree. There are various kinds with yellow, orange or red colouring and various mature sizes and, although they colour better on acidic soil, they grow well on limy soil too.
Learn all about it: Fans of the Burren's unique flora may want to put the date of the 35th Alpine Garden Society Weekend in the diary. As well as expert talks, plant sales, and seed sharing, there will be a lot of sharing of plant-related info.
It's at An Grianan, Termonfeckin, Co Louth, from November 16-18; alpinegardensociety.ie