Bring spring home early: Plant bulbs and their companions now to banish winter blues
- Nigel Colborn shared advice for preparing gardens for a gorgeous spring show
- British gardening expert said tulips and hyacinths make good main stars
- He revealed it could be time to rip out colourful summer plants to make room
For a truly gorgeous spring show, plant now. With the right bulbs and companion plants, you could enjoy early colour by February. That could lead to a magnificent show running from March to May.
Tulips, hyacinths and other large- flowered bulbs would be main stars. But well-chosen companion plants are equally pretty.
Those could include pansies, forget-me-nots, primulas and other, smaller bulbs.
A February crocus can be more heart-lifting than a perfect June rose. But winter bulbs don’t last long. That’s why plant mixtures often work better than solos. Bulbs always look prettier among background foliage, too, so you need leafy companions.
Successful beds and outdoor containers can look tolerable by mid-October, interesting from February and superb until May. So plant for spring now.
Delightful: Sweeping drifts of narcissus look spectacular naturalised into a lawn
That could mean ripping out colourful summer plants to make room. But, alas, the bulbs won’t be visible until next year, which is why winter greenery is so valuable. This comes from leafy wallflowers, primroses and polyanthus.
They’ll look green and fresh through winter and may produce an occasional flower.
Winter colour is even more valuable than greenery. But the choice is limited. Violas and winter pansies are the most reliable, flowering modestly from now onwards.
To ensure continuous flowering, keep dead-heading your pansies through winter and spring. Few other plants are so productive. Primroses and polyanthus produce occasional winter blooms preceding the big spring show. Spring daisies form shapely winter leaf-clumps. Charming, double or semi- double flowers appear in March and increase through spring.
Tall wallflowers are gawky for little pots, but flourish in large containers. They’re leafy all winter and are lovely flowering with tulips or narcissus.
Forget-me-nots are the most adaptable bulb companions. Their hazy-blue flowers contrast with yellow daffodils, white narcissus or tulips in any colour. The early flowers open while still tucked snugly among the leaves. But, in April, their branching stems expand to create a mist of beautiful blue.
For those who like them, forget-me-nots are also available in pink or white varieties. BEYOND TULIPS
Big spring bulbs will always be the stars. But your average tulip gives just three weeks of colour. So you need a succession of early, middle and late varieties.
If you’re combining colours, choose varieties to flower simultaneously. Tulip packs often contain two varieties for companion planting.
Large narcissus or fancy daffodils are also great for containers. Tall varieties may need support and always look prettier when underplanted.
For smaller displays, miniature varieties such as tiny-cupped, lemon-yellow Hawera or cheerful orange-red trumpeted Jetfire make a delightful show.
For extra flower power, plant your tulips or narcissus at two levels. Fill each container to a third or half its depth. Plant half your bulbs at that level and cover them. Place the remaining bulbs above them before topping up the compost.
I also pepper my pots with early crocuses or scillas. For midwinter, snowdrops or winter aconites work.