Drifts of daffodils and tulips look glorious in the large garden, but for small borders, nothing beats going big. Bypass the bulbs that only look good in a crowd and instead go for majornplayers, the show stoppers that only need be planted in twos or threes to make a huge impact. These are the bulbs to plant over the coming weeks that will give your garden petal power next spring and summer.
Fritillaria meleagris, the dainty checkerboard fritillary, is beautiful in close-up, but Fritillaria imperialis, the spring-flowering crown imperial in sulphur yellow, scarlet and trafficlight orange, probably could stop traffic. On a straight, sturdy stem of at least three feet, the big, bunched hanging flowers beneath a tuft of spiky green leaves resemble a colourful cockatoo. Plant the bulb at least six inches deep, on its side to help prevent rotting, and if your soil is heavy, give it a base of grit. Crown imperials will even grow in the shade and if happy, will settle and spread.
Fritillaria persica Adiyaman is stunning in a different way. Masses of bellflowers in a dusky chocolate appear along the three-foot green stems in April. Plant this dark beauty in a sunny spot, perhaps between euphorbias, for a luscious contrast with the latter’s chartreuse cupped flowers. Ivory Bells, a luxurious creamy-white version, will stand out in a crowd as well as on a grey day.
Alliums fill the late spring to early summer gap, but if you plant just three bulbs of Allium giganteum, you can fill a broad border gap, too, with a trio of knockout, sheeny purple flower heads, up to six inches across, on strong, 42in-high stems. The spectacular pinky-lilac flower of Allium schubertii can only be described as a visual explosion — its only drawback is the short, 15in stem, so plant several at the front of the border where they will look like a series of fireworks in freeze-frame.
The third heart stopper of the allium family is cristophii, which has huge, perfect round, silvery-lilac heads tightly packed with fine, star-shaped flowers that are a favourite subject of metalwork sculptors. As a bonus, all three varieties form seedheads that are almost as fabulous as the flowers.
The sheltered town garden is ideal for eremurus, the magnificent foxtail lilies that produce huge, fuzzy spikes, some five feet tall, each containing several hundred flowers. You can find varieties in luscious sorbet shades of lemon, ice pink, peach and orange as well as pure white. Plant the tuberous roots, crown upwards, on a raised bed of gravel to provide the drainage they need to stop them rotting in winter.
Give summer lilies a head start by planting them this autumn in deep black plastic pots, so you can drop them into the border next summer. They are so easy to grow but watch out for the lacquer-red lily beetle early in the year, which can demolish the flowers. It is easy enough to pick off, but check the underside of leaves, too.
My three head turners, renowned as much for their intoxicating fragrance as their fabulous blooms, are rich apricot, trumpet-flowered African Queen, which holds the RHS Award of Garden Merit; the divine Muscadet, with plum speckles on huge, white, wavy-edged open flowers, and Pink Perfection, which can produce up to 30 deep rose trumpet flowers on just one five-foot stem, each one pumping out opulent perfume. Now that’s what I call drama.
Sarah Raven: 0845 092 0283
Peter Nyssen: 0161 747 4000
Jacques Amand: 01962 840 038