For real punch, springflowering bulbs need to be planted in large groups. Nobody is going to wax lyrical over a trio of golden daffodils, or a few tulips here and there. However if you don't have space for bulk planting, you can still create a springtime sensation — in a container.
You can't pack many bulbs in a six-inch terracotta pot, so instead, go for a few pots in large sizes. One large trough, or even a large rubber tub trug, will deliver a pool of colour that will have far more impact than a handful of bulbs scattered around the border. It could hold an eyearresting host of golden daffodils, which would look even more charming in the form of deep golden Peeping Tom, with long, narrow trumpet and swept-back petals, or Velocity, which has a contrasting rich orange cup.
You could create a small-scale tulip field with a classic goblet tulip such as deep purple Ronaldo, strike a formal note with lily-flowered White Triumphator or make a thrilling Dutch painting with a mixed bag of flamed Rembrandt tulips. Blue bedding hyacinths look stunning in a large group, especially when set off with sheeny metal or dull zinc containers. Try Delft Blue or, luscious alongside Apricot Beauty tulips, beetroot-coloured Woodstock. For one generous tub or trough, three or four dozen bulbs bedded into potting compost should do nicely, depending on size.
Be even smarter with your use of space, doubling up on it — even tripling it — by planting bulbs in layers so you have a succession of flowers, extending the show by as much as several weeks. It's as easy as planting in a single layer, with the same principles: a base of drainage material, burying the bulbs in potting compost, a covering of grit to make a clean finish and a hand-scrunched cage of chicken wire over the top if marauding mice and squirrels are a problem.
(Above left) Daffodils look best when massed in large groups (Image: Gaph Photos/Jonathan Buckley Design: Carol Klein)
(Above right) Triple the impact by layering bulbs and enjoy a longer and fuller display (Image: RHS)
You can plant bulbs more closely in a container than you do in the ground, so long as they don't touch each other or the sides of the pot. The larger bulbs, such as bedding hyacinths or tulips, go in first, and the smaller, earlier-to-flower bulbs — Anemone blanda, grape hyacinth, crocus, dwarf daffodils, which are more suited to layered planting — go on top, with a couple of inches of potting compost in between them.
You could also make a colourful spring pot with a double layer of tulips, so you have earlier dwarf tulips such as scarlet Red Riding Hood flowering ahead of a taller, later-flowering tulip such as deep maroon Black Hero, waiting in the wings, at the lower level. When I have planted one layer, I mark each bulb's position with a pea stick so I don't position the next layer's bulbs in the same spot directly above them, but even if you do, the shoots will always find a way through, miraculously pushing their way up to daylight.
READER OFFER BULB MASTERCLASS: 11 SEPTEMBER
Learn how to plant bulbs in layers, and discover the best shrubs and perennials for autumn colour, at an exclusive masterclass at Clifton Nurseries, Little Venice, by plant supremo and Clifton's managing director, Matthew Wilson.
The evening is on Thursday September 11 and starts at 6pm with a glass of Prosecco and canapés on arrival. The talk and demo will begin at 6.30pm, and last about an hour, with a Q&A afterwards. You can also buy topgrade bulbs and plants at a 20 per cent discount. Tickets cost £15.
Places are limited, so book early at www.clifton.co.uk or call 020 7432 1852.