spring bulbs in the garden

Daffodils and other spring bulbs are late flowering this year. In fact my local radio is keeping a ‘daffodil watch’ asking listeners to telephone in with their spotting’s. In the past couple of days these sightings have become more frequent. It would appear that spring is at last arrived.

My daffodils are not yet flowering, although they look as though they might be in the next day or three. However, I have a number of tete-a-tete daffodils

narcissus tete a tete

These suddenly started to flower yesterday. I didn’t notice them advancing – they were just suddenly there. I like tete-a-tete daffodils, they are just like Carlton daffodils but in miniature and they are reliably earlier to flower than any others. They are great in pots or on the rockery or like mine, just dotted around the garden. Like most bulbs, they increase in number every year. Most daffodils, if left long enough will eventually become overcrowded and need digging up and thinning out. You know when this is needed, they stop flowering.

In spite of the weather, I have had one miniature kaufman tulip in flower for a month. I hadn’t realised that part of the garden was particularly sheltered but it must be. It faces south and there is a side of a shed painted black next to it. The other dozen or so tulip bulbs which are planted around this one flower started flowering two days ago. They look great.

I think most people love spring bulbs, they are so welcome after the dark and dull months of winter. They lift your heart and make you realise that sun and warmth are just around the corner. They are also so easy to grow with very little maintenance. Just plant them to the required depth (which is usually twice the size of the bulb i.e. the hole needs to be three times as deep as the bulb) then leave them to do their thing. Don’t cut back the leaves until six weeks after they have finished flowering, this will ensure that all the godness goes back into the bulbs meaning that they will enlarge and give you a good display the following year.

There are a surprising number of flowers out at the moment, despite the inclement weather – crocus are now looking their best and the snowdrops and celendines are still flowering. I have had primulas in flower all winter and they are still giving their best, other primroses are also starting to flower.

The miniature iris are also out in flower now. These are one of the few bulbs which are unlikely to flower next year. They come from Mexico and they need their bulbs baked during the summer in order to flower the following year. English summer’s are just not hot enough to do this and the second year they just produce a a few leaves before giving up altogether. You should treat them like annuals although they are a bit expensive for that. This year I am going to dig mine up and put them in my greenhouse and hope that they will get baked enough to produce flowers next year. I’ve got nothing to lose trying. Watch this space for the results.

There are a number of companies which specialise in bulbs,  and there are a surprising number of flower forms and colours which are now available. They are being added to every year and there is now no reason why you shouldn’t have bulbs in flower (of one sort or another) from January to November. It’s an easy and relatively inexpensive way of producing bright colour in your garden.

Tulips

Tulips are such a good spring flower. There are so many forms and colours  and the different varieties means the flowering season is very long indeed.

This year the tulips will look particularly good. Many bulbs which do not often flower will do so this year. This is because tulip bulbs need to be frozen in order to force them to flower. Because the winter has been so cold and prolonged, the soil has frozen deeper than usual and any tulip bulbs which have been planted a little too deep have still been frozen, thus you will see more flowers than usual.

Tulips require a sunny position in a well drained soil. They like a summer baking. However, if your soil is cool and wet, you can lift them when the leaves have died back and replant in autumn.

My personnal favourire are the Kaufmanniana hybrids. These have mottled or striped leaves making them attractive even before and after they flower. They have single flowers which are usually bi-coloured (although not always- I have some which are bright red) and which open out flat in the bright sunlight. They flower in early spring. Another bonus!

Apart from these and, of course, the single early which are the traditional shaped tulips every child draws as flowers, there are 15 other horticulturally different groups of tulips. On top of that, there are many hybrids which add different colours and shapes to the mix. Add to that, there are now a range of heights, what more could you ask of a group of flowers.

Generally speaking, the names of the groups of tulips are descriptive of the way they look. Single early; single late (they flower late spring to early summer) Double early and double late are self explanitary.Others need a bit more investigation: Rembrandt comprises mainly of very old cultivars similar to lily flowered tulips but  their flower colours are often broken into stripes or feathered patterns – they look like they have had paint splashed on them – thus the name.

The Darwin hybrids are now very poppular. They have large, single flowers or variable shape on strong stems. They stand up well even in bad weather and always make me think of soldiers. I presume they arre called Darwin because they are the strongest.

Everyone knows of the parrot tulips – the flowers are fringed and usually twisted; Fringed tulips are similar although they are narroiw waisted.

This is just a summary of some of the tulips. If you are looking for colour in your garden for the spring, you could not do better. Take a look at what is on offer!

Early spring plants

My snowdrops are out in flower!
Despite the weather,( it’s still really cold here in Lincolnshire and has been snowing and hailing today, )the small white flower has put on a great display to remind me that spring is not too far away. If only the weather would take some notice!

There are a number of plants which will flower through the winter but I always feel that early spring flowers are among the best there are, both for theit looks and their perfume.

Some of the flowers do not smell very much – Crown Imperials are among these. You can get them in red and yellow and they grow from bulbs in most soils. Planted with dafoldils and narcissi, they reliably flower giving a display to rival almost any other.

Lower to the ground, Aubretia and primulas will look great. They will both grow in most soils, in the case of aubretia in very little soil and  they do not mind not being in full sunshine. Aubretia is such a useful plant, covering banks and in rock gardens. They come in a variety of colours ranging through reds and purples. Some of my primulas have flowered all winter, whilst the more colourful ones will start to flower imminently. Primulas have been hybridised to provide such a wide range of colours they will fit into any flower scheme.

If you are looking for scent in your spring flowers, then you cannot do better than to grow hyacinths. They have an intense fragrance and will grow in most soils, they do like a sunny position though. Honeysuckle is another spring flowering plant which will give you good fragrance. They are naturally a rampant evergreen climber which is useful to mask areas of garden from each other. The larger hybrids grow up to 30 ft (9metres) although this can be kept controlled by regular pruning. There is now a new hybrid (labelled as a patio flower) which is supposed only to grow up to 3 ft (1 metre). It is designed to grow in pots on the patio and trained up wigwams of stakes. I have it in my garden and so far it has treached 5 ft!

If you have acid soil, clematis is a wonderful shrub. It looks very exotic but is fully hardy. Don’t plant it where it gets full early morning sun though, it does not like full sunshine on its frosty leaves. Camelias grow up to 6ft and will spread up to 11 ft. in good conditions, but like most shrubs can be pruned to the shape and size you want.

If, like me, you enjoy loking at spring flowers, there are a number of gardens which are open to the public. Among these are special walks for snowdrops as well as gardens created to especially enjoy spring. Many of these gardens are opened to help charities and this is known as NGS (National garden scheme).

They have a book devoted to the gardens giving details of opening times, descriptions of the garden and maps of how to get to them, in fact everything you need to know. The book is called ‘The yellow book’ and for anybody looking for inspiration for their garden, or who just enjoys looking at gardens, it is worth getting a copy.

Snowdrops – a great winter flower

I love snowdrops. They are the first flowers to show whilst winter has still got its grip on us and reminds us that spring is on its way.

snowdrops

Snowdrops are very easy to grow, although they can sometimes seem tricky at first. You must realise that snowdrois do not like being moved and will not grow from bulbs the way other flowers such as daffodils do. You must buy them ‘in the green’. This means that they must still have leaves on them.This means that they will be much more expensive to buy at first than other bulbs, but once you have planted them, they will multiply in much the same way. Remember, though, if you want to thin them out, or move them, you must do so whilst they are still green.

Plant snowdrops in much the same way you would any other bulb, at twice the depth of the size of the bulb. You will be able to tell how deep the snowdrop plants have been by the leaves, maintain that depth.

No bulb likes being in wet, heavy soil. Bulbs are soft and fleshy and if left in wet conditions, they will rot. So if your soil  is like this, prepare it well before planting. Dig a hole larger and deeper than the area of bulbs you want to plant. put grit in the bottom of the hole and place the bulbs on that, then cover with soil. Of course, if you have bought more than one snowdrop bulb in a pot, you can seperate them to plant them in the garden.

I have my snowdrops in an area of grass. The first year they were there, they only showed leaves (difficult to see since they look very like grass) but the next year they started flowering and have not looked back since. I leave cutting this area of grass until I am sure the leaves have died off (about six weeks after they have finished flowering). Like all bulbs, you need to leave the foliage on them until it is really dead so that all the goodness in the leaves goes back into the bulb to feed it for the following year. If you do not do this, the bulb will get weaker and will eventually just give up.

As snowdrops do not like to be moved, they are not really suitable to grow in pots (you can do so but you are likely to lose your bulbs by doing to). However, they look great in grass, or why not try them under deciduous shrubs. That way, when the snowdrops start to look scrufy, the shrubs start to shot and will hide them.

There is now a great range of hybrids available, including double snowdrops and a large range of large flowered varieties. If you want to see the range, you can check them out by visiting a garden  or nursery which specialises in them. Apart from giving you ideas about which varieties you like, its a good way to get gentle excercise on a clement winter day.

Daffoldils

One of my favourite flowers are daffodils. Although I like most narcissi, I prefer the deep yellow daffodils. Unless I want a particular variety, I leave buying bulbs until December or January. The garden centres are then getting desperate to sell them and many really good bargains may be had. You can buy 5 kilo bags for a pound or two. Its O.K. to plant daffodil bulbs up until January, as long as your soil is not frozen. They will flower this year, although they may be a bit late. Then they will continue to flower at the normal time in following years.

When planting Daffodils, particularly for naturalising, you should remember that they are going to be staying there for some time. The method of planting will be slightly different depending upon your soil. If you have light, fertile soil, then all you need to do is make a hole, put your bulb in and cover it up.If your soil isvery heavy and tends  to be waterlogged, then you need to make a larger hole and put drainage in the bottom, either in the form of grit mixed with compost or just plain compost. Similarly if your soil tends to be poor in nutrients, then you should add organic matter first.

The golden rule for planting all bulbs is that they should have twice the depth of soil above them as the size of the bulb. Therefore, for daffodil bulbs which are, say, four inches in depth, then you make a hole which is 12 ins, put your bulb in and cover with 8 ins of soil.

I have planted about 100 daffodil bulbs on a bank in the front of  my garden. Because the soil is so good, I just cut a slit with a spade and put daffodil bulbs in each end. That way, they are close enough to make a good show but have enough room to expand in future years. Be sure that the bottom of the bulb always touches the soil, otherwise it will not grow.You can then leave the bulbs in the ground for up to 10 years or so, until they get too crowded. You know when this is happening because the daffodils will produce leaves but no flowers. That is the time to thin them out. At this point, it is worth digging all of them out and replanting as you wish. Give them extra organic matter if you are re-planting in the same place. You will find you have upwards of ten times as many bulbs as you planted in the first place.

You should always dead head daffodils, that way they do not put there energy into making seeds but will grow their bulbs instead. You can grow daffodils from seed, but it is a very long process (about three years or more). Leave the leaves on the plants for six weeks after they have finished flowering. There is a lot of nourishment in them which will go back into the bulb to help feed it for next years flowers. Do not tie up the leaves as this prevents the goodness going back down.