Bulbs are the flowers most often associated with spring. All the favourite and familiar flowers that we associate with the end of winter, Daffodils, Hyacinth and Tulips to name just a few are grown from bulbs. Most bulbs are planted in the year before flowering from August onwards depending on the flowers chosen. When buying bulbs is it important to buy from suppliers who do not collect from wild sources (particularly snowdrops and bluebells offered "in the green") but rather cultivate their own stocks. For the organic gardener, it is now possible to obtain organic bulbs.
AlliumAppearance: There are about 500 different species of Allium which come in many colours. They are all propagated from bulbs and they all have an onion or garlic smell in varying strengths.
Propagation: Allium prefer a light, well drained soil in a sunny position. However some species including Allium Moly are quite happy in slightly shady conditions. The gardener's Allium stock can be increased by division in early spring but most of the species spread quite readily by offsets.
- Allium beesiannum which grows to 18 inches in height and flowers bright blue in July.
- Allium moly which blooms in May and grows to 12 inches in height. It is yellow in colour.
- Allium oreophilum astrowskianum with it's dark red bloom in May growing to a height of 9 inches.
- Allium flavum minor which flowers yellow in early summer and is small enough to go in a rock garden.
- Allium Rosenbachianum which grows to 3 feet in height and flowers in June with a rose-purple coloured bloom.
AnemoneAppearance: There are about 500 different species of Allium which come in many colours. They are all propagated from bulbs and they all have an onion or garlic smell in varying strengths.
Propagation: Most anemones prefer a lime rich soil. It is advisable to dig some well-rotted compost into the bed before planting. This should ensure the best possible blooms. Anemones can be planted between October and April which produces blooms from March to July. In frosty weather the foliage should be protected with fleece. In the right soil conditions anemones will naturalise. It may be advisable, especially if the soil is poor, to lift the tubers every second year after the foliage has died down and then repeat at the usual time. Anemone tubers need to be kept very dry although soaking them in water for 48 hours prior to planting can help germination. Most anemones are propagated by division in spring or autumn.
- Anemone hyperhensis (japonica) flowers in late summer growing to a height of 3 feet.
- Anemone pulsatilla (vulgaris) also known as pasque flower is a bell shaped purple flower growing to about 6 inches in height.
- Anemone curanaria or poppy flowered anemone are usually sold as St. Brigid and De Caen which are both very good for cutting.
- Anemone fulgens likes a sunny position and is scarlet in colour.
English BluebellsAppearance: The common English bluebell (Scilla nutans or hyacinthoides non scripta) has beautiful blue or occasionally white or pink flowers. They bloom in May and occur naturally throughout the British Isles in beech woods or shady meadows. The flower is bell-shaped and shows no distinction between the calyx and the corolla. It is called a perianth, consisting of six floral leaves joined at their bases. Six yellow anthers are revealed as the floral leaves curl back. The flower stalk can be up to one foot in length and bears a terminal one-sided raceme of drooping flowers. The effect of a carpet of bluebells beneath trees is breathtaking.
Propagation: The bulbs should be planted in the autumn at a depth of six inches. They will then flower the following May. Bluebells can also be planted "in the green" just after flowering. These bluebells will also flower the following spring.
Camassia (or Quamash)Appearance: Starry blossoms on spiky foliage.
Propagation: Camassia prefers a sunny position in average soil. The bulbs should be planted in autumn 1 foot apart and 3 inches deep. Camassia can be increased by division after the leaves have withered. Camassia thrives in town gardens and naturalises well in short grass.
- Camassia cusickii growing to about 4 feet in height flowering pale lavender in May.
- Camassia esculenta with a rich blue flower blossoming in late May or early June and growing to 2.5 feet in height. This species is very good for cutting.
Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snow)Propagation: These bulbs emerge and bloom in very early spring. They should be planted 6 inches deep in early autumn in ordinary soil. When the bulbs multiply and the plants appear overcrowded they should be divided.
- Chionodoxa sardensis - gentian blue flowering in March.
- Chionodoxa Luciliae - vivid blue.
Some other species are pink and these are also Chionodoxa which bloom with a white flower.
CrocusAppearance: Brightly coloured bud-shaped spring flowers.
Propagation: Crocus bulbs should be planted from September to November in a rich loamy soil. The Crocus bulbs should be planted 3 inches deep. The bulbs can be lifted and divided every third year after the leaves have withered.
Large Dutch Crocuses: These should be planted in September or October at a depth of 3 inches, spacing each bulb 2 inches apart. If the Crocus bulbs are to be planted for indoor display they should be planted about 1 inch apart and about 2 inches deep.
Amethyst - amethyst blue.
Enchantress - mauve-lilac
Gladstone - deep purple.
Mikado - silver grey with purple stripes.
Snow Storm - white.
Striped Beauty - ash grey with mauve stripes.
These Crocuses are very easy to grow and require the same conditions as the larger Crocuses. There are Species Crocuses that flower in autumn, winter or early spring. As long as they are planted near some form of shelter they will withstand most weather conditions. They are also ideal for tubs and window boxes.
Crocus tomasinianus will increase rapidly by means of self-sown seedlings.
These Crocuses need to be planted in August for autumn flowering.
Daffodils & NarcissiAppearance: The flower is trumpet-shaped surrounded by a halo of smaller petals. Daffodils range in colour from a deep yellow to pure white. The leaves are long and slender and of a fairly pale green. The plant can grow to about 14" depending on variety.
Propagation: Daffodils grow from bulbs which should be planted between late August and early October. The earlier they are planted the more chance they have to grow strong roots before the winter. The bulbs should be planted 6" apart and not too shallowly. Cover the bulb with soil 1.5 - 2 times the length of the bulb. In a very light soil increase this to 2 - 2.5 times.
After flowering do not tie the leave in knots but remove them as soon as they come away easily in the hand. Fill up any channel down to the bulb with soil to prevent the Narcissus fly from laying eggs. Most varieties are lifted every 3 - 4 years unless the blooms are still good and there is no sign of overcrowding. Lift the bulbs in late June or early July once the leaves can be easily pulled away. Separate any new bulbs from the old and replant immediately. Alternatively all the bulbs can be stored in a cool dry place until the end of August/beginning of September.
Eranthis (Winter Aconite):Appearance: Buttercup-like yellow flowers growing to a height of about 4 inches. Blooms January or February. Eranthis has a frill of leaves just below the petals.
Propagation: Plant Eranthis bulbs in August in a cool area in moist soil. Eranthis naturalises well under trees or hedges.
- Eranthis hyemallis: as described above
- Eranthis alliciae: bronze coloured leaves, shorter stems and broader petals than Eranthis hyemallis. This species of Eranthis blooms later and is more difficult to establish.
- Eranthis tubergeniana: this Eranthis has large deep yellow, fragrant flowers. The flowers are sterile and stay in bloom for longer than the other species.
Erythronium (Dog's Tooth Violet):Appearance: Erythronium does not look at all like the violet. It blooms in early spring with one, two or three cyclamen-like flowers on slim stalks. The attractive foliage is variegated. The colour of the flowers ranges between white, lemon, pink and reddish violet.
Propagation: Erythronium should be planted in September 3 inches deep (or 1 inch deeper in light soil) and 8 inches apart. Erythronium appreciates soil which has had leaf mould and peat dug into it but they dislike being kept out of the ground for long periods of time. Established clumps of Erythronium can be divided in September and replanted immediately. If given ideal conditions the plant may propagate by self-sown seedling.
- Erythronium revolutum. White Beauty is a variety which is very good for cutting.
- Erythronium tuolemnense has buttercup yellow flowers on long stems with an attractive yellow/green foliage.
Hyacinths:Appearance: A spring flower with a single spike of bloom. Highly scented. Often grown indoors.
Propagation: Hyacinths prefer a warm loamy soil and do not do very well in cold heavy soils. They should be planted outside in mid-October 2-3" deep and 8" apart. The bulbs should be lifted after flowering, put in a cool dry shed to dry off and then stored in boxes until mid-October.
Hyacinths should not be grown in the same place for 2 years running and the bed should be well dug with plenty of moisture retaining peat or hop manure.
It is usual to plant top-size bulb in pots for indoors and second-size bulbs outside as they tend to be less top heavy. Blooms should be removed as soon as they begin to turn brown. Leave the stalk and leaves to die back so that the bulb can be used again.
Indoor bulbs should be planted in bowls in peat or leaf mould and put in a dark place, a cellar, cupboard or plunge bed. They should then be brought out to flower sometime in January depending on the variety. Some are specially prepared to flower at Christmas. Hyacinthus can also be grown indoors in a special container using just water.
Leucojum (Snowflake):Appearance: Leucojum looks a little like the Snowdrop. The earliest flowering species, Leucojum vernum bears bell-shaped white flowers in March.
Propagation: Plant 2 inches deep and 3 inches apart in autumn except for Leucojum autumnale which should be planted in early August. All varieties can be propagated by division at planting time.
Leucojum vernum; Plant in autumn. This species flowers in March with white, bell-shaped blooms. The petals are tipped with green or yellow and the plant grows to 7 inches in height. it will happily naturalise in grass.
Leucojum aestivum Gravetye. This species is also white but grows to 18 inches tall. it prefers the shade and is good for cutting.
Leucojum autumnale Grows to 6 inches in height and bears white, pink-tipped flowers in October. Plant in early August.
Oxalis (Wood Sorrel):Appearance: There are several species of Oxalis which vary quite a lot in appearance and habit. Oxalis adenophylla has a funnel-shaped flower which blooms during May and June. The attractive foliage has a crinkled appearance and is grey in colour. Oxalis adenophylla likes a sunny position and a well-drained, light soil. It can tolerate fairly dry conditions. After flowering the leaves disappear. Increase by division in the spring.
Oxalis crysantha has bell-shaped, buttercup-yellow flowers which bloom through the whole summer. Increase by division.
Oxalis enneaphylla Cup-shaped flowers of pure white which bloom in early summer. It is also available in pink and is scented.
Oxalis rosea (floribunda) has rose-pink flowers all summer and grows to about 1 foot in height. It can tolerate quite dry conditions. Increase by division in spring.
Tulip:Appearance: Slender heads of upwardly cupped petals. Some species have a more open head and some have ruffled petals. Tulips come in many colours ranging from white to very dark purple.
Propagation: Tulip bulbs should be planted in October or early November. Any fertile well drained soil is suitable. They should be planted 4" deep and 5" in an especially light soil. Tulips should be lifted every year to reduce the chance of disease. This said, however some cottage tulips will happily naturalise in grassy areas and can be left undisturbed for several years.
Aphids can attack tulips possibly infecting them with viral diseases. There is also a fungal disease called "tulip fire" which is evident by grey-brown spots on the foliage, stems and blossom. This can strike when the weather is cold and damp.
Tulips can be divided into several groups:
- Early Single Tulips: 12 -16 inches in height e.g. Apricot Beauty, Christmas Marvel, Princess Irene.
- Early Double Tulips: about 1 foot in height. These need to be forced very slowly if they are for indoors and need some shelter if planted outside e.g. Abba, Electra, Monte Carlo.
- Mendel Tulips: these tulips flower at the end of April. They are between 16 - 20 inches in height. Most Mendel Tulips can be forced into bloom in January.
- Triumph: flowers at the end of April. Many varieties of Triumph can be forced from mid February onwards. They can grow up to 24 inches high with large, strong blooms which stand up well to wind and rain e.g. Abu Hassan, Athleet, Blenda.
- Darwin: these tulips grow up to 30 inches tall and bloom in May. They cannot be forced earlier than February. Darwin Tulips have long stems, cut well and last a long time in water. Because they have long stems Darwins are best planted in a slightly spot.
- Hybrid Darwin Tulips: these flower earlier than the Darwin Tulip. They have very large blooms but do not last long and must be planted on their own. Examples include Apeldoorn, Big Chief, Ivory Floradale.
- Cottage Tulips: these Tulips do not need yearly lifting and will come up for several years if left undisturbed.
- Lily flowering Tulips: these Tulips flower in May. They grow up to a height of up to 24 inches. Examples include Aladdin, China Pink, Lilac Time.
- Fringed, Parrot or Dragon Tulips: these Tulips flower in May. Once cut they last well in water and have beautiful blooms with ragged petals. Examples Arma, Burgundy Lace, Swan Wings, Apricot Parrot, Flaming Parrot.
- Breeder Tulips: Breeder Tulips can be up to 3 feet in height and are extremely good for cutting. They have colours ranging from bronze and copper through to purple which are unusual colours in the Darwins or Cottage Tulips. They should be planted in an open, sunny position.
- Double Late or Paeony-Flowered: these Tulips are very good for cutting and are best grown in full sunlight. Examples include Allegretto, Carnival de Nice, Up Star.
- Bybloen, Bizarre and Rembrandt Tulips: these three varieties of Tulip have variegations such as stripes and blobs of colour permanently bred into the blooms.
- Tulip Species: these Tulips are very useful for rockeries. Species Tulips should be planted in a sunny position in rich, light soil. They do not need to be lifted at all. Species Tulips bloom in March and April e.g. Kaufmanniana.
ps. When you say above 'dry off and store in boxes'; does this mean in soil or just an empty box?