Bulbs traditionally represent spring, and a bowl of bulbs in flower in the home at Christmas is always a welcome harbinger of the good things to come. In the home they can bring colour and cheer at a time when little else is in bloom, and some, such as hyacinths and Iris danfor-diae, have the merit of fragrance. It would be tragic, however, to consider only spring-flowering subjects, for there are excellent summer and autumn-flowering houseplants that can be grown from bulbs – including the mag-niiicent lilies and vallotas. Another great merit of bulbs as house-plants is their ability to flower under adverse conditions. Colchicums – incorrectly called autumn crocus – as well as the true autumn crocus will bloom even if the corms are loose on the window-sill with no soil or moisture. Obviously this is not to be recommended as a treatment for other bulbs, but once in bloom most

of them can be used to cheer even the dullest corner of a room. Although it is convenient to consider bulbs and corms together – they are usually bought from the same sources and treated in a similar way – their structure is totally different.


Spring-flowering bulbs are traditionally grown in bulb fibre in bowls without drainage holes, and this is perfectly satisfactory if the bulbs are to be discarded after flowering, or planted outdoors for future years. But they will grow equally well in pots, pans or bowls of a loam-based compost such as John Innes No. 2, and this is a preferable method if you intend to grow the bulbs for another year. Obviously, particular care has to be taken to avoid waterlogging when growing bulbs in bowls without any drainage – whether using fibre or soil.

Planting in bulb fibre

Bulb fibre is basically peat with the addition of charcoal and oyster shell -but the right kind of ingredients are important so it is best to buy it ready-mixed. It only needs wetting before use; add sufficient water to make it damp, but not so wet that moisture can be expressed when squeezed in the hand. Half fill a suitable bowl with the fibre, then position the bulbs fairly close together, but not touching each other or the sides of the bowl. Pack more fibre round the bulbs, completely covering small kinds such as miniature narcissi, Iris danfordiae and crocuses, but leaving the top 12-25mm of large bulbs exposed.

Be very careful never to let the fibre dry out while the bulbs are growing.

Planting in potting compost

The technique of planting in potting compost is the same as that for bulb fibre, except that good drainage material must first be placed in the bottom of the container.

If a deep container is used, daffodils can be planted in a double layer. Plant the lower layer about half way up the pot and cover all except the tips with compost, then place the upper layer of the bulbs between the noses of the first layer. and cover in the usual way.

Bulbs in water

The traditional hyacinth glasses seem to have been supplanted by plastic cups. but the fascination remains the same -especially for children. Always choose a large hyacinth bulb – a prepared one will produce the most rapid results – so that it sits snuggly in the neck of the glass. The bottom of the bulb should sit just above the water, not touching.

Crocuses and some narcissi can be grown in water by placing them on pebbles heaped in a dish containing water in the bottom. If growing daffodils this way, choose ‘Cragford’. ‘Paper White’, or ‘Soleil d’Or’ – these have clusters of small flowers instead of one large bloom.

After planting…

All the spring-flowering bulbs should be kept cool and dark for at least seven weeks after planting. A cool cupboard in an unheated bedroom is suitable, or the pots or bowls can be placed in a polythene bag and placed outdoors with a covering of about 10cm (4in) of peat. The bag serves to make the job of cleaning the pots easier when they are brought indoors, and is essential to prevent bowls without drainage holes becoming waterlogged after heavy rain. A temperature of 5 deg C (41 deg F) is ample for root establishment.

Never put a bowl or pot of bulbs away and forget it for a couple of months – the compost and bulb fibre must be kept just moist. Once it dries damage may have been caused to the developing bud and it may not flower, even though the compost is kept moist subsequently. When the shoots have developed sufficiently – about 2.5-5cm (l-2in) in the case of large bulbs such as hyacinths, obviously less with small bulbs – they should be brought into a temperature of about 10 deg C (50 deg F). in a position of good light. Although they can be used to brighten dull corners once they are in flower, poor light during the period of shoot development can be a significant cause of failure.

To produce balanced growth, give the pot or bowl a quarter of a turn every day; the trouble taken will be repaid by a more handsome bowl of bulbs. When the flower buds can be seen the temperature can be increased to 15-21 deg C (60-70 deg F). A higher temperature will rush the bulbs too much, with a consequent loss of quality, or they may even fail to flower properly. Feeding is not necessary unless the bulbs are required for planting out or growing on for another year, in which case they can be fed once a fortnight from when colour is showing in the buds and until the leaves have yellowed and died.

After flowering

It is not normally worth trying to propagate bulbs grown indoors, although the hardy kinds can be planted outdoors where they will probably flower and multiply again over the years. If you intend to plant the bulbs outdoors, continue to water the pots or bowls after flowering has finished, until the leaves turn yellow, then plant them out. If you are unable to plant them outside, do not attempt to force the bulbs another year – it is best to discard them rather than to face probable disappointment. Prepared bulbs lose the effect of treatment after flowering.


Magnificent though some of the summer and autumn bulbs are. it is the winter and spring-flowering types that are inevitably the most widely planted. Prepared hyacinths are naturally high on the list for Christmas (lowering, and dwarf daffodils such as Tete-a-Tete’ can be had in bloom in the New Year with very little heat, and if kept in a cool room will last in (lower for weeks. A succession of unprepared hyacinths, crocuses, daffodils and tulips follows, with some of the charming smaller bulbs such as scillas. muscari and dwarf irises adding variety.


There is no difference between a daffodil and a narcissus. They are two names for the same family; narcissus is the Latin or botanical name, daffodil is the English name.

Trumpet daffodils are inevitably the most popular choice – and the yellow-flowered cultivars the most traditional. If you want a good traditional yellow trumpet try ‘Dutch Master’ or ‘Golden Harvest’. An excellent bicolor for all purposes for pots, bowls, for showing or growing in the garden, is ‘Trousseau’, a white and huffy primrose. More unusual and becoming more popular every year is ‘Spellbinder’, a shining rich lemon with a luminosity further enhanced after a few days by the trumpet becoming paler, almost white inside, leaving a smile of lemon around the lip of the trumpet. For a good white, try ‘Mount Hood’. although the trumpet opens creamy. especially outside, and may take some while to fade to pure white. ‘Empress of Ireland’ is the leading white trumpet readily available.

Large-cup daffodils also make a bold display, and the stalwart ‘Carlton’ is a primrose kind that grows well in pols or bowls. ‘Armada’ is stronger in the stem and has large deep yellow and rich orange flowers.

Later-flowering kinds include the old but useful ‘Carbineer’, which is line in pots and bowls provided it has plenty of light. Later still comes ‘Feeling Lucky’, which unfurls gold and orange flowers towards the end of the season. A departure from the main stream of large-cupped cultivars is ‘Ambergate’. This has a wide crown of deep orange-scarlet surrounded by a perianth of petals that are really golden and thoroughly suffused tangerine as if they had been dyed.

As a contrast to the incandescent brilliance of the cultivars just mentioned, try ‘Binkie’. This opens lemon but then allows its crown to fade to white.

‘Ice Follies’ is an outstanding cultivar and a prolific bloomer. It has wide white petals and wide almost flat crowns of primrose fading to cream. Of the white and orange large-cup types. ‘Royal Orange’ is a leap forward in extrovert flower-power, with an ample perianth of white and large wide somewhat frilled crowns painted a rich shade of orange. If bulbs are to be grown in bowls and then thrown away it is probably best to economize with the older and cheaper ‘flower Record’. Probably more breeding work has gone into the production of pink-crowned daffodils than any other type. ‘Mrs R. 0. Backhouse’ was the first to capture the public eye but has been long superseded. Of the cheaper kinds ‘Pink Beauty’ is neat with a longish crown. Outstanding inside and captivating outside is ‘Passionale’, a flower destined to be one of the few listed in catalogues for many years. Silky snow-white petals lie without the suggestion of a crease, behind an exactly proportioned crown of pure dog-rose pink.

.Small-cupped daffodils tend to live under the dominant shadow of the large-cupped kinds, but many of them are

most lovely flowers. ‘Birma’ is a yellow and orange that can hold its own against many of the large cups. ‘Altruist’ is something quite different – its petals are smooth as porcelain but their colour is a creamy yellow that is lost under an even. pinky-orange rouging. The neat little cup is a distillation of orange-red. The opening pure white petals of ‘Air-castle’ unfurl as large circles of glistening quality with a flat crown lightly shaded in lemon. After a few days the petals take on a lemon cast, an unusual and attractive metamorphosis. If you prefer your white flowers to stay white. ‘Verona’ is one that does this. Double daffodils often arouse strong feelings. but if the idea of double daffodils does not appeal, try to view them just as flowers. Few cannot enjoy the Falstaf-lian good humour oi the early double ‘Van Sion’, whose doubled trumpets may or may not belch out to form a rather tousled rose-like form. This has been known in Britain since the early 1600s.

Doubles grown indoors need a little more care with their watering and the heat given them. Avoid extremes otherwise the buds may fail to open. The new doubles are altogether better plants. Most colours are now to be found. ‘White Lion’ is white and primrose and is a reliable kind.

Smaller daffodils should not be ignored. and the N. cyclamineus hybrids are some of the most worthwhile of all the family. ‘February Gold’ grows to 25cm (10in) and as its name suggests normally blooms early, even outdoors. Tete-a-Tele’ is even smaller and earlier, and perhaps the longest in bloom of any daffodil: its 13cm (5in) stems carry one. two or sometimes three neat golden blooms. It is lovely in bowls or pots. Several multillowered cullivars are good for indoor work. ‘Soleil d’Or’ is the narcissus with lots of smallish yellow and orange, scented flowers that starts appearing in florists before Christmas. ‘Bridal Crown’ is white and cream and like an improved ‘Cheerfulness’.


Indoors, the huge tulips sometimes grown in the garden are difficult to manage, but it is worth trying some of the double earlies. Three or live bulbs in a 15cm (6in) bowl or pot can make a pleasing early spot of colour. They should bloom indoors from the second week in January to the middle of February. depending on cultivar. Because differentcultivars may flower at different limes always plant just a single colour in the one pot.

Darwin hybrids are really bold tulips. and ‘Apeldoorn’ is forced in millions for early flower. It is a deep scarlet, but sports now include ‘Beauty oi Apeldoorn’ (golden yellow suffused red). ‘Golde Apeldoorn’, and ‘Striped Apeldoorn’ (a jazzy mixture of scarlet with yellow streaks and flashes outside but inside predominantly yellow striped with red). There are other lovely cultivars. but most of them are less suitable for indoor cultivation. Some of the dwarf tulips usually associated with the rock garden also make good pot plants, provided they are grown in pots of sandy soil, and are kept in good light and not allowed to become too dry. The most popular dwarf tulips are Kaufmanniana and Creigii cultivars. Of all T. greigii hybrids the most success-lid is ‘Red Riding Hood’, a brilliant scarlet flower black-based and with beautifully marked leaves. The purple-striped foliage together with its name helps to make this an easy plant to remember.


Hyacinths look as though they should be tender – their form is so perfect, the fragrance so heady, and the colours so rich. They would be welcome house-plants at any time, and flowering as they do from December to April, they are one of the finest bulbs for the home.

The secret of a succession of bloom lies in a careful choice of cullivars and planting over a period of time. Plant prepared bulbs for December and January flowering and use unprepared bulbs to follow on. Not all cultivars are suitable for forcing. Plant early kinds in September for (lowering at Christmas and in January, and later cultivars in October to bloom in February or March. If a choice of bulb size is available. always select the largest for growing in glasses, but the second size will be adequate for bowls. Either size is suitable for growing in pots.

Multillora hyacinths, which have several sprays of small but elegant flowers. are attractive when planted one bulb to a pot or three to a bowl, but secondary flower stems should be removed from the large-flowered kinds. If two or more spikes or sideshoots are produced, cut them off at the lowest point. If a secondary stem arises from the centre of the bulb it is best to pull it out forcibly. No matter how tempting the idea may seem, never plant a mixed bowl of hyacinths – keep to one cultivar. otherwise it is probable that they will flower at different times.


The large-flowered hippeastrum hybrids. popularly known as amaryllis. are striking by any standards, and are constantly gaining in popularity. Given sufficient warmth, they are fascinating plants to grow, the flowering stem ex-lending from the massive bulb at an amazing rate once growth starts – and rewarding with massive lily-like flowers. The flowering season can be spread from Christmas day to late spring by starting the bulbs into growth at different times. For early flowering specially-prepared bulbs should be planted as soon as purchased in the second half of October. and L8 deg C (65 deg F) maintained day and night. Timing and temperature is not so critical if the plants do not have to be in bloom so early, but 13 deg C (55 deg F) is really the minimum temperature these bulbs will be happy with: bottom heat is especially important. particularly during root formation before the shoot begins to develop.

Hippeastrums should be grown singly in a 15cm (6in) pot filled with John Innes polling compost No. 2. Half the bulb is left exposed.

Place the pots in a warm place – above a radiator is ideal – and keep the compost moist but not too wet until the bud can be seen. A warm, light place should then be provided until the flowers open, when a cooler spot can be found to prolong the flowers.

After blooming, keep the bulb growing strongly in a sunny spot, watering regularly and applying a liquid fertilizer every fortnight.

By June or July the pot can be placed outside and the growth kept active by watering. Only begin to withhold water gradually in August, when the pot can be brought indoors and the period of rest started. Cease watering by September. allow the leaves to die down, then cut them off. Keep the bulb, still in its pot. at about 10 deg C (50 deg F) until ready to start into growth again. The compost can be completely replaced each season or just the lop half scraped away and replaced before starting the bulb into growth.

Small-flowered spring bulbs Spectacular though the large-flowered bulbs can be. many of the smaller kinds have a charm of their own. Indeed, it is often when they can be viewed at close quarters in pots or bowls indoors that their full beauty can be most appreciated.

Chionodoxas have the common name glory of the snow – and this gives some indication of their charm. Outdoors the cheerful blue-on-white stars are among the lirst flowers to appear towards the end of winter, and indoors they are no less attractive. The bulbs are inexpensive so try six to ten in a 10cm (4in) bowl. Crocuses are traditional indoor bulbs. and there are almost no poor kinds. Only the large yellow Dutch hybrid type need to be treated with caution indoors – all the others can be planted with confidence. Any failures of the large-flowered cultivars can usually be ascribed to the compost drying out. too little time being given to root formation before being brought into warmth, or too much heat. Always hasten slowly: they flower early


The wild crocus species usually flower early. Crocus chrysanthus naturally blooms in February, and although the flowers are smaller than those of the Dutch hybrids there are many varied colours.

Most gardeners tend to associate irises with large border or waterside plants. but there are a ’cw charming dwarf bulbous kinds that are superb in the home. Two of the best are Iris reticulata and I. danfordiae. The lirst is purple-blue with golden marks, and the second is vivid yellow. Both flower naturally in February, are about 13cm (5 in.) high. and delicately fragrant. These small irises are excellent in pots or bowls if grown with plenty of light and without too much forcing. Such bulbs are very rewarding, and should not be neglected because they are small.


To regard the end of the spring-llowering bulbs as the end of the bulb season would be to miss some of our most spectacular bulbous plants. Lilies are frequently admired as garden flowers, but are all too seldom grown as houseplants. Yet the right kinds respond readily to pot culture. The bulbs should be planted well down in 15 cm (6in) pots, in a mixture of two-parts John Innes No. 3 to one-third peal. They are covered with 5-7.5cm (2-3in) of compost, and started in cool conditions – about 10 deg C (50 deg F). Once the shoots are about 7.5cm (3in) high the pots can be placed in an unheated greenhouse or a cool room, and watered sparingly. Once the buds are fully developed. bring into a warm room – 18 deg C (65 deg F) is ideal. Keep shaded from direct sunlight, and you will have a flowering pot plant to equal any. It is best to start with easy kinds, such as l.ilium regale, L. ‘Enchantment’, or /.. ‘Golden Splendour’. L. regale comes into bloom with white trumpets flushed pink or purple on the outside: ‘Enchantment’ has upright bunches of brilliant orange wide-open flowers decorated with a modicum of very dark spots: ‘Golden Splendour’ has wide-open trumpets of shining yellow. Ltiium auratum also makes a spectacular pot plant. Two excellent hybrids are ‘Destiny’, a pure lemon-yellow with minute brown spots, and ‘Fire King’, brilliant orange. After flowering, the pots should be placed in a shady spot outdoors or in a cool room until the growth dies down naturally. Never let the soil dry out completely, even when resting. The Scarborough lily (vallota) is another wonderful houseplant. but this time it is not a true lily. It produces long, strap-shaped leaves and a stout stem, about 45cm ( ½ ft) high, topped with two or three, sometimes more, scarlet flowers. The blooms appear between July and September, but the bulbs should be planted the previous August or September in pots of John Innes potting compost No. 1. Plant the bulbs singly. using 7.5cm (3in) pots for small bulbs. but 15cm (6in) pots for larger bulbs of 5cm (2 in) or more across. The tips of the bulbs should protrude from the compost. Keep well watered, but allow to dry gradually once the leaves have died. The large bulbs should not be allowed to have all the glory. The colchicums. or autumn crocuses, are fun corms to flower indoors without soil. The large corms can be placed on a window-sill and the large, crocus-like blooms will appear in August and September. C. autumnale and C. specioswii are two widely used.

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