Spring flowering bulbs that last
Some bulbs you plant this autumn will be a one season wonder, others may be long term garden plants that will come back year after year. So which are the survivors? Which are the hardy perennials among the bulbs? Personally bulbs that I grow in pots I regard as seasonal bedding plants.
After flowering they are committed to the compost heap. Those that I plant in beds and borders, or naturalise in grass, or plant under trees I expect to last. Cyclamen hederifolium, the autumn flowering hardy cyclamen is a good example; although it blooms in fall, it is often sold as a dry tuber at the same time.
It will seed and spread and establish well under trees, and it survives dry shade. If you do plant as dry "bulbs" then soak the tubers before you plant; water well until the leaves are well developed in winter.
Daffodils and narcissi are generally hardy bulbs which come back for years on most soils. They cope with cool conditions and heavy soil, unlike tulips. They are also left alone by deer, so a good choice for rural gardens. We have wild, native narcissi under the oak trees which are fantastic, unless the spring is dry. Then the foliage dies down quickly, and as a result flowering is poor the following year. We have a fantastic group of pink trumpet narcissi in the vegetable patch which have multiplied over the years.
We pick them for the house and enjoy them in the garden. Their dying foliage is smothered by variegated horseradish from late spring onwards, but it remains in good condition and dies down naturally, building the bulbs for the following year.
The true pheasant eye narcissus, Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus is an old cottage garden subject which, one established, will open its fabulous fragrant porcelain blooms much later than other daffs and narcissi.
Fine foliage and slender stems make this an altogether refined plant. It is worth growing if you only get a few flowers each year. A truly hardy perennial.
Tulips hail from warmer lands than narcissi. They hate cold wet winters, heavy soil and wet conditions. The survivors are the single flowered tall tulips: Darwin, triumph and early and late single varieties. For me purple black Queen of Night and purple and lilac toning varieties mix beautifully with emerging perennials and in mixed borders.
Although they came back each year on most soils, it is worth adding a few more bulbs each year to maintain the display. Make sure you plant deep enough: three times the depth of the bulb of soil above the bulb.
You will find the species tulips are hardier than the highly bred cultivars. They also have narrow leaves and stems which die down quickly. Tulipa clusiana was the first tulip to be introduced into cultivation in Europe.
The tiny bulbs are ideal to add at the front of borders and in gravel and scree. They are lovely in groups in rock gardens and amongst low growing perennials. Pencil thin buds open to starry flowers which are a delight year after year.
Snowdrops are definitely bulbs to plant for the long term; if you plant them as dry bulbs they are never at their best in the first year. Plant about 1cm, 0.5 inches apart in groups of ten or fifteen bulbs, this gives them room to multiply.
Plant three times the depth of the bulb in moist soil with plenty of organic content; in the right growing conditions you will get more every year.
I always defend grape hyacinths when gardeners moan about how they spread and multiply. We hate things that grow easily don't we? Muscari armeniacum is such a delight with its fragrant sapphire flowers that emerge reliably however roughly it is treated. If you want to prevent it from spreading then clip off those seed heads while they are still green.
There is no doubt this is a mixer; it goes with anything. If you've got lots dig up a few as the buds start to appear, cram them into a pot and bring some spring indoors.
Again keep them watered after planting for best results, especially if planting under trees. Plant somewhere you do no need to cultivate. These spread by seeding and it is easy to wipe out the seedlings when weeding. They are ideal to plant in the shallow soil right around the base of deciduous trees and large shrubs.
Alliums are reliable perennials on most soils, however they do not like wet conditions. Allium cristophii is the most reliable in my opinion and has the longest season of interest. The sparkling lilac flowerheads develop into attractive seedheads that last into fall. On my light, sandy soil it seeds and spreads and my bulbs have multiplied over the years.
Plant it where the foliage will be hidden by low shrubs or emerging perennials; it is not a pretty sight when the flowers are at their best.
Although the waxy bulbs are not usually on sale until mid-winter, it is work keeping a look out for some of the reliable hardy lilies. The exotic Lilium henryi is one of my favourites. I think its jewel-like blooms will fit in anywhere and they add a touch of something special in the border when other plants are getting tired.
The bulbs are small and easy to tuck in between other plants where you are not going to dig and damage them. Plant them as soon as you buy them for best results, even if the weather is cold.