Not just the same old bulbs

Don’t just plant the same old familiar bulbs; it’s time for something a little different for your garden

Words: Graham Rice

It’s easy just to pop along to the garden centre, pick up a bag of daffodils or tulips, pop them in and you have a guaranteed spring display. But then, of course, you’ll see the same sorts of bulbs – and sometimes exactly the same selections – in other local gardens and maybe even planted by the council on your local roundabouts. So don’t just plant the same old bulbs, it’s time for something a little different.
Daffodils now come in an extraordinary range of sizes and shapes and colours – the days of choosing only between yellow trumpet daffodils or “narcissus” are long gone. There are varieties with pink or orange trumpets, with double flowers or with boldly flared trumpets (technically known as a “split corona”). Dramatic ‘Orangery’, for example, features a flat, ruffled orange trumpet set against white petals.
Tulips also come in some unexpectedly different styles, including multiheaded types, some with variegated foliage (Tulipa praestans ‘Unicum’ combines the two), and some such as ‘Carnaval de Nice’ (pictured above) with brightly striped flowers.
There are few variegated bulbs, but those there are provide foliage interest from the moment they peep through until topped by flowers. Camassia quamash ‘Blue Melody’ has creamy edges to the leaves with the usual spikes of starry deep blue flowers in May and June. It’s happiest in sun, and in soil which is moist in spring. Tulips seem to boast the most variegated forms but there are also variegated clivias, crinums, agapanthus and bletilla.
Fragrance is something well worth looking for in spring bulbs and while many daffodils are well scented, and all hyacinths, there are one or two with an unexpected fragrance. Grape hyacinth Muscari macrocarpum ‘Golden Fragrance’ has a banana scent and also features flowers in a surprising colour - yellow. It likes good drainage and is ideal in a clay pot by the door.
Talking of unexpected colours, how about the pale-flowered winter aconite, Eranthis hyemalis ‘Schwefelglanz’, which opens in apricot and fades through primrose to sandy white? Such a welcome pastel shade and just as easy to grow as the usual bright yellow form.
This is just a selection of slightly out of the ordinary bulbs, any good mail order catalogue or website will reveal many more. You’ll be intrigued and your visitors will take away some great ideas.

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