Flowering Bulbs

The bulbous plants provide us with some of the loveliest of the garden flowers. Few other plants give such brilliance and profusion of colour for so little effort on the part of the grower. Many connect the word bulb with the spring-flowering kinds and especially the daffodils which hold such a special place in our affections but there are bulbous plants to give colour throughout the year even in the depths of winter and it is a pity that, with the exception of the gladioli, the lilies and the dahlias, the summer and autumn-flowering kinds are so often neglected.

A bulb is an underground storage organ and the term bulbous plants is a general one which embraces other similar structures known as tubers and corms, and sometimes plants with rhizomes are included in this classification. Although there are botanical differences between these structures, these are largely unimportant from the gardener’s point of view as their cultivation is very similar. They are all, with few exceptions, easy to grow and maintain and therefore can be relied upon by the busy gardener.

Flowering Bulbs

The function of a bulbous structure is twofold. It allows the plant to survive adverse weather conditions which may range from severe winter cold to drought and it stores food so that the plant grows rapidly when placed under suitable conditions. During the growing and flowering period of the bulbous plant, food is manufactured by the leaves. This is passed back down to the storage organ and the next year’s leaves and flowers are formed. After flowering the leaves and roots of the present year’s growth gradually die back to leave the swollen storage organ ready to produce the next year’s growth.

Bulbous plants can be found to fit into any setting in the garden. There are kinds which look good in formal bedding schemes, others for mixed beds and borders while many look delightful when naturalized in grass. Some, too, adapt well to growing in window boxes, tubs and other ornamental containers on paved areas and patios.

Formal Beds

The bulbous plants which are most suited for formal plantings are mainly spring-flowering subjects. They include the Early Single, Early Double, Cottage, Broken and Darwin tulips, hyacinths, some of the narcissi, snowdrops, crocuses, muscari, chionodoxas and scillas. Many of these look effective when planted on their own or they can be combined with other spring-bedding plants such as wallflowers, pansies, violas, polyanthus, forget-me-nots, arabis and Alyssum saxatile in very many attractive combinations. For summer there are the tuberous-rooted begonias and dahlias. It is important when planning and planting formal beds to buy bulbs which are guaranteed to grow to a uniform height and colour and to flower at the same time.

Ensure that the drainage is adequate, then dig the bed over to the depth of a spade. The soil texture can be greatly improved by forking in a dressing of horticultural peat at the rate recommended by the supplier. The peat should be well soaked with water before it is worked into the soil. A dressing of bonemeal or hoof and horn, applied while wearing gardening gloves at the rate of 4 oz. to the sq. yd. And forked in with the peat, will prove very beneficial. Never place fresh manure in direct contact with bulbs but it can be most profitably incorporated below planting level.

Planting depths and distances and the times of planting too are dealt with in the list of plants which follows. It is best to plant the bedding plants first, if these are being used, and then to put in the bulbs using a trowel. After their display is over spring-bedding plants are removed to make way for the summer flowers. However, the bulbous plants must be allowed to complete their life cycle naturally. They should, therefore, be moved to a reserve bed in a secluded part of the garden where they can be lined out in shallow trenches and the soil well firmed around them. In dry weather, water the soil. By about late June the foliage should have withered and the bulbs can be lifted with care making sure that they are not damaged by the spade or fork. Dry in a cool airy shed or this time offsets can be removed. Some protection can also be given to the less hardy kinds if they are planted in beds against warm south or south west-facing walls.

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