Bulbs, the dull brown things that we plant in autumn, deliver such a lot- colour, form and fragrance. The stars of the spring bulb repertoire are tulips, narcissi and hyacinths.
Dormant for much of the year we can use these bulbs in ways to complement and add to other planting. They are especially valuable in small garden where you can use them to fill unoccupied space in early spring, or interplant them to give late season colour.
Formal and Informal There are different bulbs for different situations and some work well in formal designs; others suit a more informal setting. Tulips and hyacinths have a very structured appearance and are ideal in formal plantings. Use them in bedding out or in a scheme with box edged beds, underplant with pansies or forget-me-not and they are an unforgettable sight.
When planting bulbs, and tulips especially, remember that red, orange, yellow and purple are colours that dominate any design and a little goes a long way. Blocks of colours are more successful than a mixture; that 'riot of colour' can too easily disintegrate into confusion and be overwhelming. Groups of 15 to 20 bulbs will give good block of colour.
You can sometimes buy selected combinations that will give the colour harmonies and contrasts that you want, if you are unsure watch out for these or ask your local plant nursery for help.
Tulips, especially the species, lily flowered and classic solid colour tulips can be quite successful when scattered through planting scheme, or used in against a simple background, as here.
Narcissi, the daffodils immortalised by Wordsworth, are wonderful in a more natural setting. In grass they are superb, in the border they suit mass planting in informal borders with soft lines and curves, intermingled with shrubs and planted under magnolias and cherry trees.
Naturalised In Grass Naturalising is not as easy in our warmer climate as it is in English gardens, longer seasons of grass growth mean that the grass and weeds have started into growth with the bulbs and will grow for longer; in cooler climates with longer winters grass growth only begins as the bulbs go over.
When planting bulbs in grass or in a natural setting scatter them first to avoid a regimented look, if the grass is a bit long you can substitute small potatoes to avoid losing bulbs in the grass. In the first season the flowers may seem a bit sparse but by spreading bulbs out they can increase and clump up, giving the effect you want in a surprisingly short time.
As an alternative try naturalising under a deciduous tree or shrub where grass growth will be limited by the reduced summer light. The bulbs make a pretty picture under trees and shrubs, such as the viburnums, that come into leaf or flower after the bulbs have finished, and the emerging leaves will hide dying bulb foliage.
The smaller daffodil blooms are best in a naturalised setting, 'King Alfred' is a magnificent a toughie but he looks quite unnatural and out of place in grass.
When selecting bulbs for naturalising, remember to match the bulb with the vigour of the grass. Daffodils are the bulbs we most often think of for naturalising, as they don't need an annual lifting and can be left undisturbed. Naturalising frees border space for other plants.
Containers Tulips, narcissi and hyacinths are all wonderful container plants, providing a dramatic splash of colour in spring. Pots can be brought close to a doorway on seating area so that you can appreciate the fragrance and spring colours of the bulbs, which can be planted out or lifted after flowering.
Plant with one colour or variety for real impact, adding some pansies or other annuals to cover the soil is optional. You can plant densely, shoulder-to-shoulder, in a container and even 'layer' the bulbs in a deep pot. Bulbs planted this way will exhaust themselves and only last one season as a container subject, but you can plant them out in the garden.
So Many Bulbs So Many Uses Bulbs are one of the stars of spring and tulips, narcissi and hyacinths contribute immensely to the spring garden. Colour, form and fragrance in formal plantings, natural settings and containers - there are so many different ways to use bulbs in the garden.
Selecting bulbs can be confusing, our Gallery of tulips, narcissi and hyacinths will help you through the maze.