Summer is nearly over and canny gardeners will now be stealing a march on spring by ordering their bulbs for autumn planting, or visiting local garden centres to see what’s on offer.
There’s a wealth of choice, with growers coming up with new ranges every year, but here are some which may be worth seeking out:
:: For those who prefer subtle hues and prolific blooms, check out Narcissus ‘Obdam’, a pretty double-flowered variety which flowers in March and April, growing to 30-40cm. It is highly fragrant with soft double creamy-white flowers. (10 bulbs, £6.99, www.suttons.co.uk)
:: Lavish ruffles of peachy-pink petals form eye-catching flowers up to 10cm (4in) across in the gorgeous variety N. ‘Replete Improved’. Undemanding and easy to grow, they are ideal for borders, rockeries and containers, or grow them in bold drifts naturalised in grass. They grow to 45cm (18in). (10 bulbs, £14.99, www.thompson-morgan.com)
:: Among the best bicoloured scented daffodil is N. ‘Galactic Star’, which has sturdy stems topped with large, frilly white cups which start out pale yellow, backed by yellow petals with an unusual white base. (10 bulbs, £9.99, www.suttons.co.uk)
:: Try the vibrant Darwin hybrid Tulipa ‘World’s Fire’, which has large, single scarlet flowers with a faint golden pinstripe edging. Growing from 45-60cm (18-24in), it’s a strong and reliable performer and one to plant in drifts to make a bold statement, blooming from mid-April and into May. (10 bulbs, £6.95, www.mr-fothergills.co.uk)
:: Another sizzling spring tulip is Tulip ‘Fire Wings’, with pointed, winged petals that open out in a vibrant clash of red and yellow, adding fire and heat to your spring bulb displays. Easy to grow, with good weather resistance, it should return year after year, providing seasonal colour in borders and containers, growing to 60cm (24in). (16 bulbs, £11.99, www.thompson-morgan.com)
:: For a more blousy type, try the double early Tulipa ‘La Belle Epoque’, which is reminiscent of a peony and blends coffee into apricot and pink. It grows to 50cm, flowering in May. (10 bulbs, £8.99, www.suttons.co.uk)
:: These pint-sized beauties are among the first to herald spring and are often naturalised in lawns and woodland areas. While Dutch crocus boast the biggest blooms, there are some other more unusual varieties including the botanical crocus, Versicolour picturatus, with diamond white petals and delicate purple stripes. (15 bulbs, £9.99, www.suttons.co.uk)
:: Grape hyacinths look fantastic planted in single colours in terracotta pots, in swathes of blue or white. A particularly vivid variety is M. armeniacum. (10 bulbs, £2.95, www.organiccatalogue.com)
:: For a late-blooming variety, try Allium Summer Drummer. One of the last alliums to flower, blooming through July and into August, it has tightly packed flower heads which are lavender gradually fading to white. Growing to 120cm (4ft), it’s a superb border specimen and is wonderful for cutting. (3 bulbs, £9.95, www.mr-fothergills.co.uk).
The Organic Gardening Catalogue, the UK’s only distributor of EcoBulbs from the Netherlands, claims organically grown bulbs have been shown to significantly outlast those produced using chemicals, providing gardeners with longer-lasting flowers year after year.
Its managing director, Michael Hedges, says: “Talk within the gardening community is showing significant disdain for the use of neo-nicotinoids and their negative effects on the eco system, and feedback from gardeners, and my own experience of growing EcoBulbs, suggests organically grown tulips and daffodils perform better in this regard.”
However, Guy Barter, head of the RHS advisory service, is sceptical: “I’d like to see the evidence. It’s unproven as far as I know. I would suggest that there aren’t that many chemicals allowed for bulbs and that what are used will result in the stock being cleaner.”
Sally Cunningham, of Garden Organic Advisory Service, adds: “Sadly there isn’t much information about the performance of organic bulbs because there are so few suppliers, but on an observational level, here at Ryton Gardens we planted some organic bulbs - tulips and antique daffodil varieties - about three years ago in the exotic garden and they have lasted extremely well. The tulips in particular have been surprisingly floriferous for successive years.”
BEST OF THE BUNCH - Dahlias
These showy blooms offer rich colour in late summer in shades ranging from deep purple and vibrant orange to shocking pink, cream and white, in a range of shapes from neat pompoms to spiky cactus forms. The immensely popular ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ looks great in an exotic border with cannas and red hot pokers, while the bronze orange ‘David Howard’ or the white ‘Gallery Art Fair’, which has a touch of lime green, are perfect for containers. Dahlias come in all shapes and sizes, from pint-sized types which are only 15cm tall to giant-leaved tree dahlias which are 2m tall. Originating in Central and South America, many don’t need staking and if you live in a mild, dry climate you can leave the tubers in the ground over winter with a good layer of mulch. When growing in containers, use rich, good quality multi-purpose compost and add water-retaining crystals, as well as feeding regularly.