September sees the start of the bulb-planting season, as well as a trugful of new beauties. Which are likely to be the new classics?
Aegean-blue Muscari latifolium has always been considered the best grape hyacinth, but that could change with the arrival of Muscari Peppermint, in palest blush blue, just four to six inches tall, ideal for adding a fresh spring note to evergreen containers. Taller White Magic (right), also at Jacques Amand, offers the purest white flowers.
Imperial fritillaries are the show-stoppers of the bulb world, producing on tall, sturdy stems, bright orange or yellow-tufted flowers that resemble startled cockatoos. Despite their exotic looks they spring up reliably year after year, but Sarah Raven claims that new variety William Rex, with its soft red-brick colouring, offers more flowers, stronger growth and an even longer garden life.
For a rather subtler colour - palest mint green - and that similar striking silhouette, seek out Fritillaria raddeana, a novel newcomer both at Sarah Raven and crocus.co.uk. Hyacinth Woodstock, in a sumptuous deep crimson, has been the chunky bedding hyacinth of choice for the last few years but could be superseded by perfumed upstart Miss Saigon, which boasts a livelier, lighter shade of pearlescent purple.
Other newcomers at Jacques Amand include rose-pink Prince of Love, primrose-yellow Gypsy Princess and, most tempting of all, deep violet-blue Minos, which would make a great contrast with dwarf narcissi.
Is there a worthy successor to container king Narcissus Tête-à-Tête, the long-flowering dwarf daffodil with several heads per stem? Baby Boomer, a pretty, butter-yellow jonquil narcissus, eight inches tall, sounds a likely contender; one bulb normally produces three stems, each carrying up to seven fragrant flowers.
Other narcissi newcomers from Jacques Amand include gorgeous Lorikeet, with rounded lemon petals and an apricot-pink trumpet; Swallow, a cyclamineus hybrid of pale yellow with glamorous swept-back petals, and Precocious, a flamboyant number with a big white flower and frilly, deep pink trumpet.
© GAP Photos/Visions Premium
Peony-flowered tulips often have heads too heavy for their stems, so are in danger of breaking, but in its September issue Which? Gardening has trialled new Drumline, with luscious raspberry-ripple double flowers, 55cm tall, and reports that only five per cent of their tested flowers broke when other varieties suffered more.
For those who like their tulips dark and sultry, Black Stallion takes some beating: double blooms of the deepest purple-black flowers. A terrific standalone for pots, Zurel has beetroot-purple feathering on an ivory white cup, like red wine spilt on white taffeta. Both bulbs are at Jacques Amand.
New at Sarah Raven, Purple Dream is simple, smart, stylish: a lily-flowered tulip in a shimmering pinky-violet. Even though it only flowered in full bloom for a scant two weeks in its trial last spring, Which? Gardening deemed Cairo to be such a beauty that it is a recommended tulip: a perfect bowl-shaped flower in orange, finely licked with scarlet flames. Double early tulips are weatherproof, suitably compact for containers, plus those full, packed multi-blooms deliver more petal power.
Royal Acres is a stunning, deep blue-purple double early from Jacques Amand, and Bearing Point is one of the new dazzlers at crocus.co.uk - a ravishing, deep peonypink bloom streaked with mint green on the outside.
Another crocus winner is Très Chic, a pure white, lily-flowered tulip with an even more nipped-in waist than White Triumphator - a must-have for the timeless green-and-white urban garden.
Best for bulbs
* crocus.co.uk (0844 557 2233)
* Jacques Amand: livingcolourbulbs.com (01962 840038)
* Sarah Raven's Kitchen & Garden: sarahraven.com (0845 092 0283)
* Bloms bulbs: blomsbulbs.com (01234 709099)
Keep up-to-date with the latest gardening news by following Pattie Barron's blog at homesandproperty.co.uk/blogs.
Gardening problems? Email our RHS expert at: email@example.com.