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Electrifying bulbs: Monty Don on the bulbs to plant now for a dazzling summer display

Monty revisits one of his classic books, Gardening at Longmeadow, in an occasional series.

Summer-flowering bulbs have mostly evolved to survive winter cold and drought, yet tend to come from parts of the globe where summers are warm and moist. So it is best to plant them in spring as the soil is warming up, in tune with their rhythm. 

Lilies are the most sensuous of all summer bulbs, and many are easy to grow in the garden. Most prefer cool, shady roots and sunshine on their faces, and grow best in slightly acidic soil, although the Madonna lily (Lilium candidum) does best in alkaline conditions. 

Monty Don shares advice on planting bulbs for a dazzling summer flower display. He says that lilies (pictured) are the most sensuous of flowers

Some lilies, such as L. canadense and L. nepalense, are stoloniferous (they spread via creeping stems), so will colonise an area if the soil is loose and fluffy with leaf mould. In fact, leaf mould is the key to lilies – they love the loose root run it encourages. 

L. regale is one of the easiest to grow as it is very hardy and copes equally well with acidic or alkaline soil, but it needs good drainage. I plant the bulbs with a scoop of horticultural grit beneath them so they never sit directly on damp soil. 

However, L. henryi loves the soil of the Damp Garden at Longmeadow, which regularly floods, and its orange flowers in late summer are a joy. Lilies do well in pots as long as you add plenty of leaf mould to the compost. 

Give them enough room – three bulbs to a 5ltr pot – and they will produce masses of flowers over a long period. 


  • There are lots of annual weeds to contend with. Their names read like a litany of amiable rogues: groundsel, chickweed, goosegrass (which is particularly bad in my garden), sowthistle, herb Robert (pictured, far right), petty spurge and shepherd’s purse – among many, many other offenders. 
  •  Dealing with them in the vegetable garden is simple – hoe them and hoe them often. There is an old saying that if you need to hoe, you are not hoeing enough. 
  • Always hoe on a dry day, and in the morning so the weeds will wilt and die in the sun (they can regrow in the wet). 
  • Keep the hoe blade sharp and run it lightly under the surface of the soil in a push-pull action rather than jabbing at individual weeds.

Galtonia, the Cape hyacinth, is a good border bulb if it has plenty of sun and the soil does not dry out. G. candicans grows 90-150cm tall with white bells of up to 30 flowers. 

It is one of the stars of the Damp Garden. G. viridiflora has pale green flowers and is hardier, although it is best to lift the bulbs over winter. 

Cardiocrinum giganteum is superbly dramatic, growing to 4m, with a flower spike of white trumpets. It needs moisture-retentive soil and a damp atmosphere. 

Dry summers do not suit it. The bulbs die after flowering and the offsets take three or four years to flower, so new bulbs should be planted each year.

Although much less exotic, I adore crocosmia. It likes a rich soil with plenty of organic matter and lots of sunshine. 

The fabulous C. ‘Lucifer’ is perhaps the best known, but other good cultivars include the more orange, more delicate and longer lasting C. x crocosmiiflora ‘Emily McKenzie’ and the bright red C. ‘Bressingham Blaze’. 

The secret of growing crocosmia is to plant the tiny corms deep – at least 15cm – so that they do not dry out. 

Finally, eucomis, with its pineapple-like flowerhead, thrives with plenty of moisture and some shade in summer. The dormant bulbs should be lifted and replanted in late spring. 

E. comosa is the most common, but E. bicolor is prettier, with lovely pale green flowers. It works very well with hostas in the Damp Garden.


Monty says that there are two kinds of edible rocket, the Mediterranean rocket (Eruca sativa) and wild rocket (pictured) (Diplotaxis tenuifolia)

Monty says that there are two kinds of edible rocket, the Mediterranean rocket (Eruca sativa) and wild rocket (pictured) (Diplotaxis tenuifolia)

There are two kinds of edible rocket, the Mediterranean salad rocket (Eruca sativa) and wild rocket (Diplotaxis tenuifolia). Salad rocket has rounded leaves with varying degrees of indentation and at best almost melts in the mouth, whereas wild rocket (pictured below) is deeply indented and tougher. 

Both are delicious – but if I could grow only one it would be salad rocket as it is easier to germinate and much faster to grow. It will do just as well in a pot or a window box as in the vegetable garden. 

The crucial thing is to thin boldly and transplant early. I sprinkle two or three seeds per plug, wait until at least two germinate successfully then ruthlessly thin down to one healthy seedling. 

These are grown on and hardened off until they are 5-8cm tall, before planting out at 23cm spacing. You can sow them direct but they will still need fierce thinning. 

Closer spacing does not result in any greater harvest and the widely spaced plants receive lots of nutrition and water, thereby becoming healthier and longer lasting.

Rocket hates hot or dry weather and will run to seed quickly – but rich soil, some shade and plenty of water will delay that process.

Extracted from Gardening At Longmeadow by Monty Don, BBC Books, £26. © Monty Don 2012   

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