FEND OFF THE WINTER BLUES! With wildlife in mind, you need to take extra care when hedge-cutting — start too soon in summer or too late in winter and you could disturb nesting birds
- Garden centres are already stocked up with tulips, daffodils and hyacinths
- Autumn brings colchicums, crocuses and even a tiny scilla native to Britain
- Nigel Colborn advises to plant small bulbs in the right environment to increase
Never underestimate the value of little bulbs. Though small, they pack a hefty punch. A few might even flower before Christmas. But the main show runs from January to May.
Garden centres are already stocked up with tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. All are lovely and the planting season is upon us. But weight for weight, little bulbs also provide a surprisingly large show. They flower sooner, some appearing in early December.
We all love snowdrops, especially when blended with yellow aconites. But crocuses, scillas and dwarf iris are just as pretty. Autumn brings colchicums, crocuses and even a tiny scilla native to Britain.
For spring, there are tulips for pots or a border front. One I love, Tulipa pulchella Little Beauty has plummy red petals with opalescent violet centres.
Garden centres are already stocked up with tulips, daffodils and hyacinthsy. Autumn brings colchicums, crocuses and even a tiny scilla native to Britain
Crocuses range from large Dutch, striped or plain in purples, white or yellow.
Smaller, prettier varieties come in a wider colour range with stripes and other petal markings. All multiply naturally.
Some little bulbs are extra special. You can nurture them in shallow pots, rock gardens or perhaps an Alpine trough. The best are beautifully marked with a wide colour range. Small bulbs have been close to my heart since childhood. Plant each in the right environment and the bulbs will steadily increase.
DIVIDE AND RULE
You can propagate most by dividing clumps, re-planting the single bulbs. Do that soon after flowering, but take care not to damage the roots.
Many will spread naturally too, some from seed, others — such as Crocus tommasinianus — from wandering underground stems. Many spring bulbs come from arid regions with hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters.
Some, such as snowdrops can grow almost anywhere provided the soil is moderately fertile and drains freely. Yellow winter aconites enjoy similar conditions.
In February, varieties of Iris reticulata have massive garden value. Their colours, shades of blue or purple have contrasting yellow marks and dark leopard spots. They’re easy to grow but only multiply if deeply planted. In our garden’s wild grassy areas, I’ve pepped up the planting with autumn-flowering Crocus speciosus. Blue Anemone blanda follows in spring, flowering among budding cowslips and snakeshead fritillaries.
Though lovely in large numbers, little bulbs are just as pretty in small clumps in containers.
The best little bulbs have two main virtues: longevity and productivity. A daffodil planted this autumn becomes a clump by spring 2024.
Snowdrop clumps expand more quickly. Fertile varieties often self-seed, too. The same goes for winter aconites.
Crocus corms bulk up even faster. Fertile varieties self-seed, and some also spread by horizontal, underground roots. If you plant 100 mixed crocus corms in grass this autumn, a carpet of gentle colours will follow every spring.
When shopping for bulbs, take care to check for quality. Small bulbs deteriorate rapidly when out of the ground. So plant small varieties first. Plant deeply — too deep is better than too shallow.
For potting special little bulbs, terracotta Alpine pans are most suitable. A loam-based, peat-free growing medium is best and the pans must drain freely.