First Signs Of Hope: Early Flowering Bulbs by Martin Blow

Two of our favourite late winter flowering bulbs are starting to push through the cold earth ready for a fine display. Crocuses and Snowdrops both flower early in the year but they need different conditions so they can provide a fine display in different parts of the garden.

Spring Crocuses bloom from February with goblet-shaped flowers in a range of colours. There are autumn flowering types as well, so check which they are before buying. The best time to plant the bulbs is in early autumn when the soil starts to cool but well before heavy frosts arrive. They need a warm, sunny, well-drained spot and should be planted about 3in / 7.5cm deep, pointy end up. If growing in the border space them about 3-4in / 7.5-10cm apart. Some varieties like C. tommasinianus are ideal for naturalising in grass. In this case scatter them in small patches and then plant to create a more natural effect. Crocuses can be planted amongst shrubs that lose their leaves in winter as they won’t mind being shaded later by shrubs’ leaves.

If like me you discover a few shrivelled bulbs in spring in the potting shed you forgot to plant, with Crocuses it’s still worth planting them as they often recover although they may not flower so well the first time.

There are two types of early flowering Crocus: The winter flowering ones (February and March) are smaller and more suited to a rockery or for edging a narrow border. The Dutch Hybrids (March and April) are larger and showier and suitable for the flower border.

The leaves will continue to grow after flowering has finished and they shouldn’t be cut back or mowed for a month or so.  Feed the clumps in autumn with a balanced fertiliser like Growmore.

Snowdrops are one of the first flowers of the year, traditionally putting on a show for Candlemas, (2nd February) and they symbolise Hope, which has special significance this year. Climate change is now seeing Snowdrops flower earlier and earlier.

Unlike Crocuses, Snowdrops flower well in moist shade, although they too don’t like waterlogging. The bulbs notoriously dry out rapidly out of the soil so it’s best to plant them when growing and flowering. Pot-grown plants can be planted at any time. Many nurseries sell them “in the green”; as bunches of leafy bulbs freshly dug from the soil just after flowering has finished. Dry bulbs rarely succeed. Add compost or leaf mould to the soil and plant about 4in / 10cm deep. Snowdrops can be confused with Snowflakes (Leucojum) some of which also flower in spring, others in summer. These can be planted from dry bulbs more successfully. The spring flowering ones are varieties of L. vernum; the summer ones tend to be a lot taller.

There are now many hundreds of varieties of Snowdrop and collectors, known as Galanthophiles, pay big money for rare and new varieties. For the less smitten gardener there are plenty of common varieties at reasonable prices; the choice is for single or double flowers and green or yellow markings.

There are other less common early flowering bulbs to discover: take a look at the alpine nursery stalls at your local plant fair for some new little gems to plant.

Janet & I organise Plant Hunters’ Fairs, specialist plant fairs at wonderful locations. Please see www.planthuntersfairs.co.uk for a full list of all our 2021 plant fairs. (PLEASE CHECK WEBSITE FOR TICKETING INFO AND ALL THE LATEST UPDATES BEFORE TRAVELLING). Local Plant Fair Dates For Your Diary 2021: Middleton Hall, Nr Tamworth, B78 2AE on Sunday 21st March and Saturday 8th May, entry to Gardens & Plant Fair only £3 (which is half the normal entry price). 1620’s House and Garden, Nr Coalville, LE67 2FW on Sunday 23rd May, entry to Garden & Plant Fair £1.