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Blue Daisy Garden Diary - June/July 23

Spotlight On Spring Bulbs by Nicki Jackson

It may seem like only two minutes since we bid farewell to this year’s display of spring bulbs but now is the perfect time to be thinking about next year. Whilst many of us have them in our gardens we’ve found that very few people we talk to consider their spring bulbs to be an integral part of their planting scheme; indeed, many people seem to make their bulb choices purely on the basis of a desire to see a splash of colour – any colour – to break the drabness of winter. But, with some design planning and bulbs’ vast variety of shapes and sizes, colours and flowering periods, spring bulbs have the potential to be so much more than just that splash of colour – they could be the show stopping stars of your spring garden design.

As with all planting designs environmental factors such as aspect, light levels and ground conditions will all have a bearing on the success of any scheme. ‘Right plant, right place’ works just as well for bulbs as for any other garden plant and planting depth of bulbs can also influence the flowering success of them later. For instance, if you plant bulbs too deep you risk getting more foliage at the expense of flowers, and some might flower late or not at all. Plant them too shallow and they might emerge too soon making them vulnerable to frost. If you don’t have a label to check, a good rule of thumb is to plant bulbs 2 to 3 times their size. So, if a bulb is 5cm high, plant it 10-15cm deep and 10-15cm away from the next bulb. Since bulbs themselves are all different sizes, this allows you to plant lasagne-style with larger bulbs deeper, mid-size bulbs in a layer above and small bulbs planted on a top layer. This method works particularly well in pots but can be used just as well in borders too allowing for the maximisation of space and impact.

One of the tricks of designing with bulbs, of course, is blending them with existing plants – for most of us, bulbs are an addition to an already existing scheme so the height, texture, colour and form of surrounding plants will play a key role in choosing bulbs for maximum visual effect. Most of us tend to leave our bulbs in the ground once planted but it has to be said too that once a bulb has ‘gone over’ it isn’t the prettiest plant in the garden but leaving its yellowing leaves is a crucial part of the bulb’s life cycle so those surrounding plants can also play an important role in hiding those nourishing but not too aesthetic leaves. Alternatively, planting bulbs in pots allows us to move them out of sight after flowering so can be a great choice for areas with few ‘hiding potential’ surrounding plants.

If you’re considering planting bulbs in a small space, then it’s a good plan to stick with a single colour – mixing colours tends to make a small area look smaller whereas a hit of a single colour increases impact and makes a space look bigger too. Larger spaces can accommodate more colour, of course, but limiting to 2 or 3 blended colours and planting groups of 2 or 3 varieties of bulbs in single colour clusters can look stunning. White or cream bulbs can help blend other colours together and when used alone are brilliant for brightening dark corners.

Bulbs can be functional too; for instance, we have some quick collections that are perfect for pollinators; bulbs in this scheme not only look good but have a high nectar content that will encourage biodiversity in your garden. We also have them to help naturalise areas or to bring a fresh spring woodland look to a garden or to make a statement with bold swathes of colour. If you don’t feel confident to design yourself and don’t want a bespoke design, collections are a quick and easy way to choose bulbs. We order for our clients in August/September – both collections and bespoke designs – so whether you’re doing it yourself or working with a designer, planning now is key for next year’s spectacular spring bulb display.

© Nicki Jackson, Blue Daisy Gardens 2023