Bulb secrets for selecting and grouping.


A house with daffodils in it is a house lit up, whether or no the sun be shining outside. A.A. Milne, (English author 1882-1956)

Yes, the time is upon us for spring bulb planting. Over the coming weeks you will have opportunities between rain showers to introduce spring blooming bulbs to your garden soil. Beauties such as wind flower (Anemone), Crocus, Snowdrop (Galanthus), Hyacinth, daffodil (Narcissus), bluebell (Scillia), and Tulip.

The sooner you get these bulbs into the ground the better. Left too late they will deteriorate through long-term exposure to air, and bruising caused by excessive handling whilst on display. Get them in quick, settle them safe, and they will grow away steadily for you.

Now to guide you through the planting process there are usually concise instructions printed on the bulbs packaging. These are usually sufficient, detailing such rules as planting depths of twice to three times the bulbs height, and facing the pointy top or nose of the bulb upwards. You will often also be recommended to add a shake of slow release organic fertiliser combined with sharp sand to the loosened soil beneath your bulbs.

However what I will reveal to you here today are a series of tips that you will not find printed on any bulb packets. Learned the hard way, through trial and error, here are a few of my bulb secrets...

(1) Bulb watch.

What bulbs grow with ease in your locality? Think back to last spring, what did you see in impressive quantities? If you are an amateur bulb grower then planting what you've seen to thrive previously will be a step in the right direction.

Yes, on occasion it may be just daffodils and snowdrops, but healthy specimens of these are a damn sight better than struggling exotic bulbs drowning in the wet of the Irish spring. You can ask your neighbours what grew well for them if you can't remember yourself. Just be realistic, and if you need to grow some exotics then grow them in containers, allowing you complete control over their watering and location.

(2) Avoid the queues.

George Mikes the Hungarian-born author most famous for his humorous commentaries on various countries once wrote, "An Englishman, even if he is alone, forms an orderly queue of one." His point was that the English mastered the idea of the queue like no other country, using it when and wherever they can. Now From my observations of Irish queuing, I can safely say it is more of a massed grouping than a well-spaced line.

But where am I going with this waffle, and how does it relate to bulb planting? Well I would encourage you to follow the Irish model of the queue when planting bulbs rather than the English one.

For example, I shudder every time I see a row of daffodil "soldiers" lining out on parade either side of a driveway. Bulbs by the nature of their growth habit are wild looking; rarely lending themselves well to row planting. I always plant in massed groupings, roughly round, oval, or softly triangular.

One gardener I know stands with his back to where he wants to plant his bulbs and throws them over his shoulder. Wherever they land that's where he plants them. I have to agree with him when he says they look much more natural this way rather than trying to arrange them randomly.

(3) Bulbs and wet soil.

Now waterlogged soil will rot most bulbs, no doubt. This is a situation where all the spaces between soil crumbs are filled with water rather than a balance of water and air. Literally saturated with water

Even constantly damp soil like Ireland seems to get for most of the year is too much for many bulbs. But there are a few types that will put up with constantly damp soil (not waterlogged mind).

From experience, you will be safe enough planting the following three...

Bluebells (Scillia). Forest bulbs, bluebells are happy in dappled shade and moist soil. You are not just stuck with blue flowers, as there are also pink and white varieties available.

Spring Snowflake (Leucojum). White bells with greenish yellow dots at the petal tips help to distinguish this flower from our common snowdrop. Leucojum tolerates damp shade well.

Snake's Head Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris). This is a stunning flowering bulb with a bloom whose pattern is reminiscent of a snakes skin. This chequered pattern can be purple, reddish-brown, grey, or white. In the wild the plant is commonly found growing in the damp soils of river meadows, so it suits our climate well.

Enjoy your bulb planting!

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Client comment

"James, thanks for the garden layout. With your help we finally have flourishing planting in our shady back garden."

- C McDermott, Galway City
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