For a sizzling flower show next spring, pack bulbs into pots now. You can plant them closely for maximum flower power, whereas in the ground, bulbs need more space. You can nurture them, giving them optimum growing conditions and know for sure you are not going to accidentally spear one with a garden fork or lose it to waterlogged ground.
© Gap Photos/Elke Borkowski
Best of all, you can build up a whole bulb border by pushing the pots together and lining them along the edge of a bed, down the front path, in the porch or on the patio, shifting them around as flowers peak and fade.
You don’t need exceptional bulbs to put on a drop-dead display. What you do need is lots of them. If one bowl of grape hyacinth looks pretty, imagine the impact of five more, one on each garden step, making a stream of azure blue. Now picture each one partnered with a potful of dwarf daffodils such as sunny, several-headed Tête-à-tête — you wouldn’t want to rush past such a glorious colour splash.
You don’t need green fingers but you do need a planting plan
It’s a lot easier than planning a border. Gather together your roomiest containers and, if you need more, buy terracotta machine-moulded flowerpots; if inspiration fails, five or six in a row, planted with identical bulbs, is a can’t-fail showstopper.
To guarantee action from early spring to early summer, pick up Iris reticulata and crocus; hyacinth, both chunky and grape varieties; dwarf daffodils such as Jetfire and Jack Snipe; short, stocky tulips such as fiery Orange Nassau and early-flowering, soft pink Ancilla.
Avoid tall daffodils that take up too much space and will keel over, and keep long-stemmed tulips for high, roomy pots and troughs.
© GAP Photos/Elke Borkowski
Be sure to include the later-flowering parrot or viridiflora tulips such as raspberry and white Carnaval de Nice; although their flamboyant, feathered appearance makes them impossible to place in the border, they look sensational solo.
Work out a colour scheme
Plant one type of bulb per pot, all the same colour, so you can pull your stash of containers close together to create your chosen palette. The most basic bulbs make cheery paintbox-bright colour combos; daffodils and scarlet tulips such as Red Riding Hood are the acceptable face of red and yellow in the garden. Hyacinth Ostara, which has an RHS Award of Garden Merit, brings a strong, rich blue to the mix; daintier grape hyacinth Valerie Finnis will add a softer shade of sky blue.
For something more subtle, consider a peachy display of creams and apricots, courtesy of pink-cupped dwarf daffodil Kaydee, peach-shaded hyacinth Gipsy Queen and tulips Apricot Impression or Apricot Beauty. Hyacinths Purple Passion and Woodstock together with dark, sultry Queen of Night or rich orange Princes Irene will make the mixture truly sumptuous.
© Gap Photos/Juliette Wade
‘When flowers fade, move the pots into the wings so you don’t need to face looking at messy foliage for weeks’
For more inspiration, look at the colour-co-ordinated bulb collections at Avon Bulbs; Currant and Plum Stirabout with Crushed Meringue Topping provides five varieties of tulip, including Blue Diamond, that all have deep, velvety shades of wine and garnet. For elegance, Avon’s Orange and Lemon Sorbet tulip pairing is hard to beat: lime-streaked Orange Emperor and primrose-streaked white Purissima.
Use bricks or upturned flowerpots to make plant stands so you can adjust the flower heights. When flowers fade, move the pots into the wings so that you don’t have to face looking at messy foliage for weeks.
Either treat the bulbs as bedding to live another season, when you can repot them in fresh compost, or bury them into bare patches of soil, where they will spring up next year. Protect potted bulbs over winter with a thick mulch of grit. If squirrels are a problem, add a crown of chicken-wire netting or an inverted metal hanging basket, attached firmly.
Be sure to include Crocus tommasinanus Ruby Giant, a purple-flowering early spring star which has been voted 2008 Spring Flowering Bulb of the Year by the International Flower Bulb Centre. The IFBC’s concise how-to-plant tips includes the following: “Plant bulbs pointy end up…” For lashings of colour next spring, it really is that simple.
© Gap Photos/Elke Borkowski
Best of the catalogues
* Avon Bulbs: 01460 242177; www.avonbulbs.co.uk
* Jacques Amand: 01736 335851; www.jacquesamand.com
* Sarah Raven’s Kitchen & Garden: 0844 884 6474; www.sarahraven.com