AUTUMN BULB PLANTING
As the long hot summer becomes a distant memory, (well, you have to dream a wee bit) and temperatures begin to drop, the first signs of autumn appear as maples and birch trees begin to colour up. Instead of contemplating the onset of yet another serious winter, we leap ahead to next spring as we anticipate the garden in all its glory as the spring bulbs we are about to plant come into flower. It is the masses of spring flowers starting with the snowdrops and aconites then one type after another as the days warm up that keeps our spirits and hopes high. This year will be the good one and maybe we will get more than just four continuous days of really good weather.
I will have to rely on my bulb planting for my main spring displays as the wallflowers are very poor this year and my Forget me nots, Myosotis, got devoured by slugs at the seedling stage.
The garden is already packed with bulbs, but there is always room for a few more, or to replace losses. The mice have been digging up my snowdrops and crocus, and the daffodils are getting eaten away with narcissus fly maggots.
Bulbs can be planted underneath deciduous shrubs, in flower beds, tubs, window boxes, in between herbaceous border plants, and rock gardens. They can also be grown in pots, some forced to flower early for displays in the house, then once they have finished, planted in the garden to flower another day.
Flower beds and tubs
Spring flowering wallflowers, pansies, polyanthus, myosotis and daisies are always enhanced when interplanted with suitable bulbs. The bulbs need to flower at the same time as the bedding plants and grow to the right height. Tulips are the favourite, though hyacinths are also perfect in tubs, window boxes and beds close to entrances and windows where their perfume can be enjoyed.
Choose tulips carefully with the taller Darwin hybrids eg. Apeldoorn, for wallflower, but use single early types, eg. Bellona or Couleur Cardinal, or dwarf doubles eg. Peach Blossom, Carnaval De Nice or Red Riding Hood with low growing bedding plants such as pansies or polyanthus.
The Fosteriana group are quite early and Red Emperor and Purissima are large headed and very showy.
Many other types such as the triumphs, lily flowered, parrot, fringed, and paeony are very attractive but may be too late to go with bedding plants. These are perfect on their own in borders.
Crocus hybrids can be used in tubs and borders with low growing spring bedding, but will provide a display before the bedding plants flower. After they flower, if the leaves begin to obscure the bedding they can be removed and replanted elsewhere in the garden.
There is bulbs suited to every situation from rock garden to shrub border, sun to shade and some like it dry and others happy in a bog garden.
I tend to go by the season then plant each type in the most suitable location.
The first bulbs to flower are my snowdrops then aconites. These may come in early February in a mild winter. At that time of year it is nice to view the garden from the warm comfort of the house, so I like to have these bulbs planted in front of my patio window so I can enjoy them when I take a break from the easel or the computer chair.
Snowdrops are very accommodating and are happy in full sun or shade. They are excellent in deciduous woodland where they can flower, then grow, mature and die down for the summer as the woodland canopy closes in. It is best to divide and split up overcrowded drifts immediately after flowering as they transplant readily at a time of year when there is plenty moisture in the ground.
Crocus can also be planted under trees, but need sun to open up the flowers. The crocus species tend to be about a week earlier and have smaller flowers, but they naturalise easily and soon form large impressive drifts. Cream Beauty and Blue Pearl are my two favourites.
Narcissus February Gold usually flowers in March in Dundee unless we get a very mild winter, Then other narcissi have their show before the large trumpet Golden Harvest, King Alfred, and Ice Follies have their display. These taller bold flowers will mix well with the Fosteriana type of Tulip such as Red Emperor which flowers at the same time and is a similar height.
Blue is very popular in spring with Anemone blanda, the grape hyacinth Muscari and the bluebells as well as the Chionodoxa, commonly known as Glory of the Snows.
Most spring flowering bulbs start to grow after flowering then die down to have a period of dormancy over the summer months. However there is always a few that buck the trend.
Autumn crocus, also called Naked Ladies as it flowers in September and October when there are no leaves around, is really a Colchicum and quite a different plant family from the crocus. Although a very attractive garden plant be very careful as every part of it is extremely poisonous. Many deaths have occurred when people have mistaken the bulbs for garlic and used them for cooking.
Some crocus species do however flower in autumn and the most significant one is crocus sativus grown for the production of saffron using the gold coloured flower stigmas.
Most bulbs are not too fussy with soil as long as it does not suffer water logging. I give my drifts in shrub borders a thin mulch of well rotted compost in autumn then let the winter rains and worms mix it into the surface. You are unable to cultivate deeply as most bulbs are near the surface.
After flowering collect and spread any seed as this will grow and help the drifts to naturalise.
The flowering season can be brought forward with hyacinths, daffodils, tulips and crocus by planting them in pots in September, keeping them in a cool dark place for about ten weeks or so then slowly introducing them to the light. Once they start to green up and grow keep them cool but frost free and only give them some warmth just before flowering when they are then ready to be brought indoors. Best keep the mid day sun off them or they may go over too quickly.