What are your memories of childhood? Mine include visiting my grandfather’s allotment, trying to weed my very small ‘garden’ at home and managing to pull up half the flowers, and hyacinths in a glass carafe vase. These would be hidden in the bottom of the wardrobe until roots and shoots began to show, then brought out into the light to bloom and scent the house. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered that my mother enjoyed hyacinths in the garden more than in the house as you could catch drifts of the heady scent without being overpowered. When gifted indoor bulbs, when spent for that year, would would be planted out to brighten and scent a dull corner of the garden in the years to come. One of my mother’s joys in the last few years was to plan and plant pots of tulips and little Tete a Tete daffodils for the brightness and cheer they would bring the following spring. The containers brought bright highlights of colour nearer to the back of the house where she sat and gave her a welcoming display in the pot by the front door.
Trying to follow her example, in past years I have acquired some lovely red tulips which bloom in a shaded passageway by my back door. They make a stunning contrast against the borrowed landscape of my neighbour’s dark brick house wall. They are a lovely elegant tulip that stop me in my tracks to admire the beauty of nature in the midst of mundane tasks. Unfortunately the label has been lost so the variety is unknown.
I have also previously gained leftover bulbs from my mothers planting - multiheaded, sweetly scented narcissi, daffodils, tulips. It was a shared joy for both of us to put them in the ground and watch as they grew and blossomed.
So now to plan and execute it without her. This first year has been hard - I missed sowing the rudbeckias and therefore there was no cheerfully warm and bright late summer display. My cosmos are flowering but are sparse - hers always seemed to have thick foliage and lots of flowers. I am now very aware that I need to do the running, to revamp my pots and plan for some bright spring colour, to pick up where she left off perhaps? I’m hoping not to miss out again next year. So what to choose? Old favourites? Or do I do as
my mother often did - a good go-er and something a bit different ringing the changes over the years?
A favorite for me are scented flowers so what better than to search for some. I am already aware of hyacinths and their heady scent. While they are a reasonably generous flower they tend to get heavy and hang their heads under the weight of the bloom.
The nitty gritty..
Yes the compost needs to be gritty so start with a 50:50 mix of potting compost and grit or perlite. Bulbs need a free draining medium whether they are in the ground or in containers so that the bulbs don’t rot in standing water.
Most bulbs are poisonous - so don’t eat or put your daffodils next to or in with your onions. Some can cause skin irritation when handled - eg daffodils, hyacinths and tulips, so wear some gloves.
There are various ways of using bulbs in the garden:
Natural planting - throw a handful where you want to plant in the garden and plant where they land.
Naturalisation - some bulbs will naturally multiply and overtime fill and area e.g crocus, anemones and bluebells.
Containers. Either with one type of bulb to make a statement. Alternatively use layers of different bulb so that your container provides a long lasting succession of spring flowers. This is often called lasagne planting due to the layers but I think of it more like a trifle. Larger bulbs at the bottom with bulbs getting smaller in size as your layers are nearer the top of the container. The stems lower down will find a way up through any layers of bulbs or foliage planted above them.
Hybrid tulips tend to be taller and showier blooming around May and, although perennial, are short lived and fade away after 2-3 years. These are planted the deepest
Species Tulips are the native tulips, often shorter stemmed and earlier to bloom. Put in the right place they will self seed to produce clumps of perennial flowers that will keep on giving. My mother particularly appreciated species tulips for this reason. What I hadn’t realised is there are tulip varieties that are scented.
Larger varieties of narcissus that are often single trumpet rather than multi-headed. Large bulbs that benefit from deeper planting but will generally flower before the tulips.
Multiheaded daffodil like bulbs. Plants are more delicate than traditional daffs, and may also be shorter stemmed.
Small bulbs for an early display
Iris reticulata - petite blue - a hardy variety that is planted in autumn for a spring display. Crocuses in a variety of colours will naturalise well in the border, Anemones for simple striking blooms and can be shown to advantage in a pot.
Add some winter interest.
The decoration on the top of the trifle! Once your bulbs are planted the top will look somewhat bare until the shoots appear in early spring. My mother loved pansies and violas. I tend to go for wallflowers. Both are available in a wide range of shades and will give winter colour and some a rich scent.There are also evergreens such asl ivies, heathers, cyclamen and cineraria which will give colour and leaf variation over the winter months.
Winter cyclamen such as cyclamen hederifolium or coum are winter hardy and can be planted out in the garden afterwards to, as mum would put it ‘take their chance’. These can provide interesting foliage as well as white, rich red or deep pink flowers.
What ever you choose to make your ‘trifle’ experiment. Add a top dressing of grit and put in a sheltered sunny place and allow nature to do the rest.