Bulb purchasing and planting is an autumn task, but it involves thinking back to last spring and forward to next. A lot of gardening and garden design, if not most, is about planning the future and bulbs epitomise that aspect of gardening.
So, when faced with packets of bulbs with a close up picture of a tulip on the front what are you thinking? When flicking through bulb catalogues, what are you planning? Unless you have a large garden or lots of different areas to fill with bulbs, your main thought is probably how many spring flowering bulbs can you fit into your pots and borders. Or it should be. Be tempted by colour and from when you know how many you need.
Take the time before you buy to plan. Some questions you may like to ask yourself: are you planting in borders, containers, naturalising in grass? How many containers and how big are they? If in the borders, let’s be practical, consider how many bulbs you have the time to plant. Oh yes, and is there currently room in the border where you’d like to plant or do you still have late flowering Helenium and dahlias in full bloom?
Let’s find some answers. If your borders are still full and looking lovely, then congratulate yourself on a having a fine late display of colour. Make a note to look for and buy later flowering tulips and narcissus (daffodils). These could be planted when your Heleniums have gone over and still flower when they should next year. Another option is to buy the early flowering varieties you covet but plant them in pots. A further choice is to accept that they are likely to flower a bit later as you’ve planted them later.
At Plews we don’t generally plant too many bulbs at one go. Planting hundreds in one day is a chore we leave to friends who work in National Trust gardens. However, we do offer bulb planning and planting as part of our service to regular clients, as well as part of an overall design. Designing and planting containers whether for seasonal variation or a special occasion is one of those tasks which is pleasant to add into a regular routine maintenance schedule.
Planting bulbs in the border requires thought as to what else will be on show at that time of year when the bulbs are flowering and also when the foliage is dying down. When designing a border to include bulbs, where the client’s brief is for easy maintenance, the bulbs are part of a long term planting scheme, so we will often plant herbaceous perennials for the bulbs to grow through. These won’t have much if any foliage the bulbs are in flower, but will help distract the eye from the bulbs’ foliage after flowering. They will live quite happily together for some years.
Alternatively, the bulbs can be treated as annuals, and dug up after flowering and composted if virus free. Where the space utilised is edged or framed with evergreens this is a good, if more labour intensive option. Hardy and half hardy annuals can fill the same space as the bulbs but at a later time.
Thinking back to the previous spring; this is an opportunity to review what worked and what didn’t in your garden. Taking photos helps with the process, which is why I tell my students to take photos of their own gardens on a regular basis. Perhaps you visited gardens in the spring and were inspired by their bulb displays, or combinations of colours? Much of that can be tweaked to fit your own garden.