Gardening: Plant now for a colourful spring garden
WHEN Tulipmania was at its peak in Holland in 1637, a single tulip bulb could cost as much as 20 times the annual salary of a skilled tradesman.
Fortunately, those crazy prices are a thing of the past and bulbs are now a real option for gardeners on even limited budgets.
If you want to enjoy daffodils, jonquils, freesias and tulips in spring, you need to plant them in the next month or so, ideally before the end of May.
It's a good idea to buy the bulbs a few weeks before you intend to plant and give them a week or two in the fridge to simulate a longer, colder winter.
Jonquils, daffodils and freesias will all multiply in the ground and flower year after year. Tulips, ranunculus and anemones may not repeat flower, but they are still worth growing because they are so beautiful, easy to grow, and inexpensive.
Some of the lesser-known bulbs are also highly suitable for our climate. Try ixias, from South Africa, which produce slender stems of many flowers in different shades of cream, yellow, pink and scarlet. They multiply freely and, like the sparaxis harlequins, are waterwise and particularly suited to warm coastal areas.
Freesias are a great performer, flowering freely year after year and naturalising beautifully beneath deciduous trees, in the lawn or in garden beds. The fragrance is exquisite.
Jonquils are also fragrant, and there are white ones as well as many different creams and yellows. One of my favourite bulbs is daffodil Ehrlicheer, with heads of six to eight smallish, waxy cream flowers that are heavily perfumed.
Select an open sunny position with well-drained soil and enrich it with some well-rotted animal manure or compost. As a general rule, bulbs should be planted at a depth which is twice the height of the bulbs, and the same distance apart. They look best when planted in informal drifts or clumps rather than in straight lines. Areas beneath deciduous trees are especially suitable.
Most bulbs need to be planted with the point facing upwards, although anemone and ranunculus should be planted with their little claws pointing down.
Once the green shoots emerge, protect them from snails and slugs and feed them with a well-balanced complete plant food.
If you're planting in pots, plant them closer together and in a couple of layers to produce that lovely full effect. Use premium potting mix or a special bulb potting mix if you can get hold of it.
Daffodil Tete-a-Tete is a dwarf variety that is particularly suited to growing in pots as each bulb produces several flower stems.
There are other dwarf daffodils and some tulips especially suitable for potting, too. You could add some low-growing flowering annuals such as alyssum, lobelia, violas or pansies to provide interest while you're waiting for the bulbs to flower.
When the flowers finish, feed the bulbs with a complete plant food and allow the leaves to die down naturally. This will enable the bulbs to replenish themselves.
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