Spring is springing


It has been a winter so mild that daffodils were appearing before New Year. The snowdrops and other delights at Avon Bulbs are so early, that the owners are heartily glad they are not exhibiting at Chelsea Flower Show this year (nor did they last year, with little effect on sales…large RHS shows take note and review your stand prices?)

It is the wrong time of year to plant dry spring bulbs, although if you have a net of tulips that did not quite make it into a pot last November, bung them in now and they will still flower in late April / early May, but with shorter stems. You can order some bulbs like snowdrops, aconites and wild daffodils as plants in March – just Google “bulbs in the green”. Usually dispatched just after flowering, they will establish very quickly.

A happy early bulb in the right place for moisture and sunshine is the prettiest and most low maintenance element of the spring garden. They are all coming out from now to May, so keep your beady eyes peeled for whatever takes your fancy. If you have no idea what kind of gorgeous flower what you are looking at, take a photo with your mobile phone and put it on one of the internet plant identification sites and you will have answers in minutes – the joys of social media. You may even get some correct answers, certainly the genus, and a confident stab at the variety.

With that in mind, keep a record of your favourites and review them in August when the new bulbs are in stock. Rather than looking at pretty pictures on packets of 10 bulbs in garden centres, look at the same bulbs on wholesale websites and order some in 50’s and 100’s – bulbs usually look better for being massed, and the tiniest of gardens will take more than you might think.

Here are some of my favourites, my Top 10 Early Spring Bulbs

  1. Galanthus ‘S.Arnott’. Bigger in all its part than wild snowdrops, this variety is scented and good of increase and much cheaper than some of the very expensive rare ones…if you want simultaneous excitement and shock to bring on a heart attack, just look up our Somerset supplier on line….https://www.avonbulbs.co.uk/spring-planted-bulbs-and-snowdrops/galanthus-snowdrops
  2. Galanthus viridipice. This variety has now become a lot cheaper since it was introduced, the green-tipped petals its main feature. If you love these two snowdrops, you may start an addiction for snowdrops. I have one. It’s not harming me…I can kick it any time….
  3. Crocus tommasinianus ‘Whitewell Purple’. A dainty form of early crocus, a rich purple that shows up even on a day too cold for it to open, but not as coarse as the Dutch hybrids that follow a few weeks later. Plant a thousand under a group of Cornus Midwinter Fire to make going outside in February a treat.
  4. Narcissus ‘February Gold’. Tete a Tete is offered from the end of January as a potted plant to bring some early cheer indoors. It is too squat and confused to mass outside – I prefer something dainty but 12 inches tall. Sold as ‘rockery daffodils’, this one will look much better in the verge, back of a perennial border or edge of a woodland.
  5. Narcissus ‘February Silver’. As above, but white petals and a cream trumpet. Both reliable with a long season of flowering.
  6. Muscari ‘Valerie Finnis’. Unlike the royal blue muscari, or grape hyacinth, which shows its leaves in autumn and is a spreading nuisance, this one does not spread much at all and sometimes disappears completely. A pity, as it is a ravishing clear pale blue – I just have to buy some more.
  7. Chiondoxa forbesii ‘Pink Giant’. Not many early bulbs are available in pink until the tulips arrive. I was ruthless in my diktat that chionodoxa looked wrong in any colour but traditional blue, until I saw these pink ones flowering around roses, just as their bright crimson shoots were expanding.
  8. Hyacinth ‘Delft Blue’. I am seldom organised enough to force hyacinths in time for Christmas, but bulbs bought late and haphazardly forced in the back bedroom are flowering now, and just as welcome. Once over, they can be planted in the garden, perhaps by a forsythia.
  9. Cyclamen coum. Flowering at the same time as snowdrops and enjoying much the same conditions, I have never tired of their pink and white display together in 40 years. The pink varies in intensity as do the patterns on the leaves, and there are also white flowered and silver leaved forms. Plant shallow and in semi-shade, but not where you are likely to dig over the ground in autumn and throw their corms away, mistaking them from brown pebbles.
  10. Iris unguicularis ‘Mary Barnard’. Ordinary I. unguicularis is a scruffy beast, its welcome January flowers peering through a forest of much taller foliage. Mary Barnard has shorter finer foliage and darker flowers. Picking a few flowers for a tiny vase cheers me up in January. Buy as an offset in autumn, plant it in a well-drained but not bone dry position in an unobtrusive corner and you won’t have to touch it for years.