The Use of Bulbs in the Modern Garden

Modern times have brought a new intimacy to our gardening; we are now compelled to tend our gardens ourselves. In consequence our gardens have become smaller or have been allowed to return to a more natural state and this is where the bulb comes in and more especially the small flowering bulbs which are so valuable for naturalizing. The garden that, to save time and labour must be mostly lawn, orchard or shrubbery, needs masses of bulbs, many of them needed for planting in positions of partial shade.

Again, for the small formal town garden, even for tubs and window-boxes, a selection made from the enormous range of bulbs will give joy not only in the springtime but all the year round.

Is there anything more delightful than a small orchard filled with snowdrops and grape hyacinths and daffodils, selected so that they will provide a splash of colour from Christmas until early summer? But do not just plant the February-flowering snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, plant also G. Byzantinus fromGalanthus nivalis Greece which bears its large pure white flowers at Christmas, and the long-stemmed G. Imperati which reached Britain from Naples in 1870 and which blooms in profusion midst the snow and frost of January. Most of the less familiar bulbs too, are far more inexpensive than those we know so well. March and April will see the bulb display at its brightest, but do not neglect May. True, there will be a wide range of daffodils and narcissi to give colour in house and garden during the early part of the month, but try planting in long grass, one or two of the rich red and mauve Darwin tulips which look so attractive used in this manner at the back of Trinity College, Cambridge, planted with the white-cupped narcissi. Then for June, the Summer Snowflake, Leucojum aestivum is a delight and plant with it the Peruvian Bluebell, Scilla Peruviana, which produces its rich indigo-blue lily-like flowers throughout early summer. For July, try Brodiaea coccinea, the Californian hyacinth. This species bears flowers of a brilliant scarlet hue, the petals being tipped with green. It is one of the most outstanding of all summer plants and easy too. To carry the display into August, the lovely hardy Cyclamen Europaeum, with its delicate perfume and dainty crimson blooms is happiest when planted in short grass or on the rockery. And so oa the whole year round bulbs can provide colour in the garden and cut bloom for the home or for market.

Naturalizing Bulbs

The question of naturalizing calls for some consideration in planning one’s bulb garden. It is obviously not a good idea to plant the early autumn-flowering crocus on the front lawn, for this would prevent the grass from being cut after July. The place for such bulbs would be in the shrubbery or under tall trees where they could be left to bloom at will. Likewise the orchard planted with daffodils and scillas could not be cut until the end of June until the foliage of the bulbs had been allowed to die back and replace the energy of the bulbs. An orchard is best left uncut from then until the fruit has been gathered in autumn, when I bring out the scythe in early December and leave it tidy for the winter; and the spring-flowering bulbs for the new season’s grass will not make much growth before the end of May. Of course those who circle their trees may plant them with bulbs to flower at any period and the shrubbery too may be lightly forked over in November and be left to take care of itself for the rest of the year, the bulbs being allowed to bloom undisturbed.

There is something, too, for the rock garden, and for pots for the cold greenhouse or for the home, and many delightful little plants so shamefully neglected. We all know the lovely grape hyacinth, Muscari Heavenly Blue, but how many know the tiny species, moschatum flavum, which posesses the true musk perfume. Its bloom is most inconspicuous but plant in pans, grow them quite cool, give very little water, and throughout February and March the whole house will be permeated with fragrance. And by way of a change plant the dainty Hoop-petticoat daffodils in pots; and Erythronium dens-canis, the Dog’s Tooth Violet, will give you a charming surprise. Almost all the varieties and species mentioned on this site are inexpensive and all of them may be obtained with just a little effort in sending for catalogues or browsing online for bulbs.

I have heard it said that several species of the hardy Cyclamen, priced at half a crown each, are too expensive for modern gardeners, yet two such corms equal in value twenty-five cigarettes and will provide charm and pleasure for years to come, multiplying in abundance with each year when once they are established. If a few pounds could be put on one side each year for the purchase of bulbs, what a magnificent display there would be in only a few years’ time Like antiques, bulbs carefully selected for a continuity of flowering are an investment rather than a luxury. They are a never-ending source of delight and will generously give of their stored-up charm come what may. Even the garden left derelict for years will come alive in springtime through its bulbs when almost all other plant life has been choked out of existence. This is the great value of bulbs, they may be planted and allowed to take care of themselves and though they will respond like all plants to the loving care of their owners, they will continue to put up a brave show even if entirely neglected. This is the great advantage of using bulbs in the modern garden when time for gardening is at a premium.

In the last 30 years, raisers have given us a wide range of fascinating new varieties to lend added pleasure to our gardens. The ice-white-flowered narcissi, the water-lily tulips, new snowdrops and miniature daffodils; hyacinths and cottage tulips of great richness of colouring, all of which have given the flowering bulb additional popularity; but whilst the enthusiast has not been slow to recognize the value and charm of these new plants, so many of the old established species are still sadly neglected, and what joys are being missed especially on the rockery where it is possible to enjoy an all-year-round display from bulbs alone. Perhaps as our gardens become even smaller and our gardening days more restricted the miniature bulbs will come more into their own.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.