Article by Pattie Barron
For drop-dead glamour in the garden, bulbs are unbeatable – and you don’t need much outdoor space to enjoy them. Most springtime bulbs will thrive in containers and in these controlled environments, rather than the variables of growing in the ground, success is guaranteed; no green fingers required. The hardest part is deciding which to grow because the choice is dazzling, especially in the case of tulips. You might, for instance, find yourself drawn to the deliciously dark side, seduced by the flamboyant multi-petals of Black Parrot, the wine red peony-flowers of Uncle Tom or perhaps the frilly, velvety red blooms of parrot tulip, Rococo. However there is also the temptation of the pretty sorbet shades such as simple Apricot Beauty, sugar pink Angelique and fresh apple green and white viridiflora, Spring Green. Contrasting colours and shapes work well together, so consider pairing the fringed flowers of Negrita Parrot with tangerine orange Ballerina, which has sharply-defined, fragrant lily flowers, or perhaps teaming sunset-shaded Orange Princess with the deep plum, full blooms of Black Hero. Windowboxes merit smaller varieties, so seek out Red Riding Hood, with grey-green leaves streaked in crimson, red-and-yellow Stresa or early-flowering Tulipa praestans Fusilier, which gives great bang for buck with up to six fire-engine red flowers on each stem.
Given a deep, roomy container, dynamic allium bulbs will produce firework flowers from late spring onwards. Showcase alliums schubertii and cristophii are great for pots because they’re short in height but big on spectacle, resembling huge silvery-mauve sparklers caught in freeze frame; just two or three needed per pot. You can create equal drama, though, by mass planting the classic Allium Purple Sensation so that they create a group of fat, fuzzy globe flowers on strong drumstick stems, taking over neatly from the tulips. The mauves and purples of alliums contrast beautifully with fresh green foliage, so it’s a good idea to display the pots amongst your herb containers.
Hyacinths are invaluable for bringing colour and perfume into the home early in the year, but they also look wonderful massed in pots outside; be sure to buy hyacinth bulbs that aren’t forced for indoor flowering. White is a lovely and safe bet, but way-out Woodstock offers flower spikes the shade of beetroot, while Blue Jacket is a sublime deep cobalt.
Daffodils, with their bright, cheery flowers, are compulsory to brighten doorsteps and patios early in the year, as well as to encourage us that spring is on the way. Besides the highly scented Paperwhites to grow indoors, pick up a few bags of narcissi for outdoor containers, too. Best for pots and windowboxes are dwarf varieties that won’t get flattened by spring gales. Pick of the bunch are Tete a Tete, an egg-yolk yellow miniature version of the classic daffodil; Minnow, which has rounded lemon flowers surrounding a flat yellow cup, and Hawera, with the prettiest primrose yellow flowers that flower a little later. These last two also have the bonus of being sweetly scented.
If you only have a few containers, make the most of them by layering bulbs in the compost. That way you can enjoy gradually unfolding colour for several weeks, all from one pot. Making a bulb lasagne is simple: Place fattest and last-to-flower bulbs at the bottom, cover with compost, and follow with smaller bulbs on top, covering once more with compost. Tulips or alliums first, then either another layer of tulips or narcissi, and if the pot is deep enough, a final layer of the early-flowering bulbs, crocus or grape hyacinth. That’s one-pot planting at its finest.
* Use large, deep pots: bulbs need to be planted at least three times their depth
* Containers must have drainage holes: cover them with a piece of pot or packing chips
* Use peat-free multipurpose compost mixed with a little grit to ensure free drainage
* Add a compost base of at least 5cms
* Place bulbs one bulb’s distance apart
* Finish with a firm 10cm layer of compost
* Mulch pots with grit to give them a good finish and protect from slugs and snails
* Water well after planting
* If squirrels are a problem, give the pot a protective cage of chickenwire until shoots emerge
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