Easy colour option
GROW:Planting a selection of bulbs now will give you a vibrant display in the garden next year
IF THERE’S ONE gardening activity that, along with the annual ritual of sowing seeds, sums up the wonderful magic of gardening, it’s the yearly autumn rite of planting spring bulbs. Placed into cool, brown soil and then left to their own devices, it’s as if a kind of alchemy takes place underground – a miraculous transformation that, come springtime, conjures brightly coloured flowers out of bare earth like a magician pulling pink rabbits out of a battered top hat.
Although they may not look like much when they go into the ground, bulbous plants (a loose category that includes “true” bulbs as well as corms, rhizomes and tubers) can be treated as flowers in storage; nascent plants that come with their very own food supply, all of it neatly gift-wrapped together in one small package.
This makes them remarkably tolerant of neglect in their first season of flowering and thus very easy to grow if treated as annuals.
Given soil, water, light and, most importantly, time (at least three months), they’ll reward even the most inattentive of gardeners with a cheerful display of vivid spring colour.
Keeping them in the garden so that they flower year after year is trickier, and boils down to the individual plants’ preferences in terms of site, soil and growing conditions.
Crocuses, daffodils and snowdrops, for example, will often happily naturalise, but many tulips will not.
But whether you wish to treat them as annuals for a once-off seasonal display of vivid colour or plan to establish them as longer-lived perennials, right now is the time to start planting almost all of these glorious spring-flowering plants, with the exception of tulips, which shouldn’t be planted until late October or early November.
Planted into pots or in the ground, ideally in lasagne-style layers and in as generous quantities as you can afford, they’re bound to bring a smile to your face next spring.
Where to buy them: Most Irish garden centres now have a good selection of spring-flowering bulbs in stock, while some also offer an extensive range online, including the Dublin-based Mr Middleton Garden Shop ( mrmiddleton.com), which offers a great choice of more than 1,000 different varieties. Also check out Beechill Bulbs ( bulbs.ie), distributors of the newly launched Irish tulip Molly Bloom.
Other well-regarded non-Irish specialist online suppliers include Nyssen’s, ( peternyssen.com), Van Tubergen ( vantubergen.co.uk), Broadleigh Bulbs ( broadleighbulbs.co.uk), Avon Bulbs ( avonbulbs.co.uk), Jacques Amand ( jacquesamand.com) and Bloms Bulbs ( blomsbulbs.com). If possible, avoid buying bulbs from unreliable or opportunistic suppliers as they may have been poorly stored or be of inferior quality. Healthy bulbs will be plump, firm, heavy and free of blemishes, bruises and any sign of disease.
Where to plant them: If you are aiming for a once-off seasonal display, don’t worry too much about specific growing conditions although you should still try to avoid especially damp, dry or shady spots and give bulbs fertile, weed-free, free-draining soil. Plant in layers and quite closely, but not touching, with the largest bulbs – daffodils, tulips, larger alliums – towards the bottom, and at a depth of roughly two to three times their height. Cover with a 5cm layer of soil/compost and then follow with layers of smaller bulbs, finishing off with the smallest, such as grape hyacinths, scillas, dwarf irises, chionodoxa and puschkinia.
If you wish the bulbs to properly establish themselves within the garden, then give some more thought as to their preferred growing conditions. Some bulbous plants like well-drained soils and a sunny site (eg many tulips), some prefer moist, rich soils (eg camassias) while others enjoy shade (eg winter aconites). Wherever you plant them, make a written note to remind yourself. No one’s memory is that good.
How to plant them:Dig a hole that’s roughly two to three times the depth of the bulb and then place the bulb in it with the growing point up. If you’re uncertain which is the growing point, search for any sign of a root system, this is not the growing point but the bottom-end of the bulb. Back-cover with soil/compost and gently firm.
What to plant:Think big. There’s nothing more miserly looking than a half-dozen tulips or a few bedraggled crocuses. At the minimum, buy individual varieties (no more than three kinds) by the double dozen, but if budget allows it, quadruple that number. For the biggest bang for your buck, concentrate on larger bulbs such as daffodils, tulips (in particular the later-flowering types) and alliums. If planting in the ground, plant in loose drifts. If subtlety is your thing, consider the smaller, daintier, earlier flowerers (see above).
Decide on a colour scheme (pastel, fiery or contrasting) and stick to it.
For inspiration as regards different plant combinations, take a look at the British gardener Sarah Raven’s website ( sarahraven.com).
Remember that the more ornate, showy flowers, such as parrot tulips or double daffodils, look best in containers, while the converse is true for the simpler, single-flowering types.
Enjoy:Once you’ve finished, sit back and quietly relish the fact that you’ve just planted a present for yourself . Anticipation, as all gardeners know well, is everything.
Dates for the diary
On Saturday, October 6th, there is an autumn gardening seminar at Claregalway Castle, Co Galway (€65). Pre-booking essential, see galwaygardenfestival.comor tel: 087-635 4747.
Next Saturday, September 29th, there’s a Planning the Vegetable and Fruit Garden event at The Garden School, Kilmovee, Co Mayo (€50). See thegardenschool.ie