Shining a light on bulbs

Planning this year’s autumn planting is already well under way

Although it might seem early to some, we’ve already started to plan and choose our bulbs for this year’s autumn planting; I can’t believe it’s that time already!

I love it when the first catalogue arrives (in May!). The colours are so overwhelming you feel like a small child in front of a pick-and-mix sweetie stall for the first time. High on the list are alliums and Allium cristophii, in particular, has been grabbing visitors' attention with its huge globe-like heads of silvery-mauve star-shaped flowers that continue to impress even when they fade; producing big round seed heads a bit like giant sparklers.

Country of origin

When I choose bulbs (particularly species ones), I always like to look up where they come from and one of my favourite books for doing this is Bulbs by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix. It has lots of photos of bulbous plants growing in their natural habitat giving you an insight of the conditions they like. A. cristophii likes a position that’s as sunny as on the wild rocky slopes of Northern Iran through to central Asia where they come from.

Plan for additional planting

Here at RHS Garden Harlow Carr we grow them in the south-facing borders and as they start to fade, now is a good time to take note of what areas need additional planting. It’s a good idea to do this at home, too. A walk along the borders with a notebook and some bamboo canes mean you can mark and record where bulbs need to be placed in the autumn. Editing in this way is important in any planting scheme but particularly in new ones. Things don’t always turn out the way you expect! Keeping a record of what works and what doesn’t allows you to take out and replace at a time of year when some plants are difficult to locate, particularly bulbs. It also allows you to build up a picture of the seasons so you can introduce succession into your planting scheme. 

We don’t often think so much of extending the seasons with bulbs as we do with other plants, and I’m not sure why that is. With the right selection, autumn/winter bulbs can promise to be just as colourful.

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