Grow a paintbox for spring

Bury a barrowful of bulbs now - plenty of anemones, irises and, of course, tulips - and enjoy dazzling colours next spring.
Start the season as early as January with miniature iris in ravishing shades of blue and violet, spiked with gold. Clear cobalt Harmony, deep purple histrioides George and azure Katharine Hodgkin are just three such beauties.
 
Plant the bulbs in wide, shallow bowls and place them on the patio table to tempt you outdoors so that you can admire their exquisite markings and enjoy their sweet scent.
 
You could push bulbs of early flowering short daffodil Tête-à-Tête into a window box of compost for multi-headed, butter-yellow blooms that will brighten your house façade come February, or plant random groups of taller February Gold, one of the best narcissi for settling down and spreading, to deliver splashes of sunshine down the garden path.
 
You might pepper the lawn with the lilac flowers of self-seeding Crocus tommasinianus, using a long-handled bulb planter, or slice and lift the turf, scattering bulbs of a showy crocus such as crimson-flamed Orange Monarch, to create a pool of vibrant colour.
 
Anemone blanda, the pretty woodland flower in an enchanting shade of lavender blue, is the bulb — tuber, to be precise — to plant in difficult shady spots or around the base of shrubs, but the simple, perfect daisy flowers can also be showcased in a pot, set off by a mulch of cream shingle.
 
As a sharp contrast, and flowering later, from April until early summer, Anemone coronaria thrives in full sun and, if you buy a mixed bunch such as variety De Caen, has delightful flowers of bright paintbox shades with sooty centres that look as if they’re straight out of a child’s colouring book.
 
For welcome early splashes of colour in containers, you have to include hyacinths in your bulb stash. Woodstock is a fabulous shade of deep beetroot that makes a great foil for apricot Gipsy Queen, while Crystal Palace is a spectacular, double-flowered deep blue.

 
 
A minimalist courtyard is the perfect place for alternating clean-cut fibreglass pots of snow-white Carnegie with the sensational new black hyacinth Midnight Mystic.
 
Tulips are the glamour girls of spring-flowering bulbs. For window boxes, early flowering dwarf tulip Red Riding Hood, with perky fire-engine red flowers offset by smoky-green leaves mottled with carmine, is bettered only by offspring Double Red Riding Hood, which has flowers jam-packed with petals.
 
Glorious parrot tulips, fringed and flamboyant, merit a solo showing in a large container. Try velvet red and flamed green Rococo, massed in a large zinc bucket, or Apricot Parrot, a luscious peach, cream and yellow confection, perfect in a roomy terracotta pot.
 
For maximum impact, contrast shapes as well as colours together in containers and borders, teaming, for example, bright orange lily-flowered tulip Ballerina with deep maroon Queen of Night or her fuller-flowered offspring, the stunning Black Hero.

Alliums take over where tulips leave off, adding shots of mauve and purple through the garden with their playful pom-pom heads on straight, sturdy stems. The classic fuzzy-flowered Allium hollandicum and its richer-coloured relative, Purple Sensation, both reaching 90cm, are the indispensable varieties that look great popping up among absolutely everything in the early summer garden.
 
Both shorter but worth growing, Allium atropurpureum has smaller, starry-flowered heads in a sharp shade of rich blackcurrant, and those of Allium caeruleum are a dreamy sky blue.
 
Later on in summer, it is the turn of Allium sphaerocephalon, the smaller, slimmer drumsticks topped with tight lozenge-shaped heads that start out lime green and gradually turn a rich claret. You can never have enough of these to add ribbons of colour through the late summer borders, so, as with all bulbs, plant generously.
 
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