Spring Bulb Wrap-up | 2021

The spring garden has always been my favourite. It’s the time that after a long winter, usually grey and persistently wet and stormy here in England, that the garden begins to come alive again and persuades me to pop out and have a walk around, often doing five minutes weeding as I look for things to re-appear.

The main joy for me are the containers of bulbs that I plant in the previous autumn months. Even when without a garden of my own I still planted bulbs. Shallow pans of Iris reticulata / histroides, crocuses, hyacinths and dwarf rockery narcissi, scilla and muscari can be planted singularly or mixed and matched. In pots the secret is to cram them in so you get a good display.

April Garden View

Then there are the tulips.

In the autumn of 2019 I veered away from my usual mix of tulips – coppery oranges, caramels, golds, deep reds and purples – to trial six lily/flute varieties (10 of each) as they seem to cope well with April showers and winds. I planted them in individual pots so I could mix and match by simply moving the pots. They were all successful flowering in the spring of 2020.

I then decided to trial how well they would return in 2021 by leaving them in their pots in a hot sunny part of the garden all throughout the summer allowing their leaves to die down naturally. None of the bulbs were removed and none of the compost was replaced and the bulbs were not fed.

The results have been poor.

  • Lasting Love – a lovely deep red, planted in a glazed pot (one flower returned)
  • Red Shine – glossy red that deepens with age (nothing returned)
  • Ballerina – orange and scented, reliably returns. (Six from last year, but several from earlier years, all in pots)
  • China Pink – pale pink (two flowers returned)
  • West Point – bright yellow (three flowers returned)

Other varieties:

  • Queen of Night – deep purple, almost black, planted in a glazed pot (two very small flowers)
  • Green Star – white and green (two flowers)
  • Dolls Minuet – magenta red and green (five small flowers)
  • Flaming Spring Green, white with red and green stripes, planted in the raised bed (only one decent flower, a few very tiny ones)
  • Tres Chic, pure white lily tulip. Nothing showed this year.

Also planted in 2019 in a raised bed were Narcissus ‘Thali’, ‘Sir Winston Churchill’, ‘Geranium’ and ‘Pueblo’, Chionodoxa luciliae ‘Alba’ and four types of iris reticulata. ‘Alida’, ‘Harmony’, ‘Pixie’ and ‘J.S.Dijt’ and an assortment of Muscari bulbs. Tulipa ‘White Triumphator’ – pure white which starts out with a green tinge, was planted in a raised bed (five flowers returned)

The Narcissi all returned well in March/April 2021
Chionodoxa increased and mingled with self-seeded forget-me-nots looking delightful
Muscari returned well
Irises did not flower except a couple of Harmony in early February, though leaves did appear so maybe they might return next year.

Iris reticulata ‘Danfordiae’  a yellow flower and Iris reticulata ‘Pauline’ were planted in a shallow pots. Neither flowered this year. Tulip ‘Tres Chic’ and Narcissus ‘Thalia’ were planted together in a container. The Narcissus have flowered again, but no sign of the tulips.

Hyacinth ‘Woodstock’ was planted in a shallow pot. Two out of the three bulbs flowered, one with two spikes. They have now been planted into the dappled shady bed.

I also planted several rockery narcissi in shallow pots – ‘Canaliculatus recurvus’ – white with a yellow cup; ‘Tete a tete’; ‘Sundisc’ – white with a yellow cup; ‘Minnow’ also white with a yellow cup; ‘Martinette’ in a deeper pot – yellow with an orange cup and taller than the others, very similar to ‘Falconet’ and Narcissus ‘Recurvus (Pheasant Eye)’  in the shady border which was late flowering.

Some new crocuses were planted in the new shady border, but didn’t do too well in 2020 because of all the rain during February. In 2021 a few of the C. sieberi ‘tricolor’ and ‘snow bunting’ did appear, but not in the numbers that were planted.

Autumn 2020

I didn’t plant as many bulbs as I wanted to see how well the older ones did. Many of the irises and narcissi were removed from their pots and replanted in fresh compost. I only bought a few new tulips: ‘Sarah Raven’, ‘Princes Magriet’ and ‘Paul Scherer’ for two containers; Tulip hageri ‘Little Beauty’ and Tulip clusiana ‘Peppermintstick’ both species tulips, for my small barrels and Iris reticulata ‘Katherine Hodgkin’.

I replanted last year’s rockery narcissi, mostly in pots, but some like the ‘Canaliculatus recurvus’ went into a sunny raised bed where they have done well.

Iris ‘George’ returned reliably in his pots for the third year and both ‘Alida’ and ‘J.S. Dijt’ which were replanted and have flowered well, as did Katherine Hodgkin. Though I felt she was a bit insipid on her own. I think she needs some Muscari  – maybe Valerie Finnis – and a white Tete a tete.

The new tulips have done well, though Sarah Raven and Princes Magriet are much shorter than I expected so Paul Scherer towers above them (incidentally very much the same colour as QofN) . I like the fact that Princes Magriet has quite neat leaves and lovely sunrise colours which works well with the wallflowers I planted in the same containers, though they are only just beginning to flower now (end April).

Little Beauty deserves its name and looks fabulous with the self-seeded forget-me-nots and Peppermint Sticks really does look like a stick of the old-fashioned mint pink and white rock.  This is quite a tall tulip and might look nice with some pink ones and a white Narcissus. I hope they return next spring, if not I shall definitely order them again.

Lessons learned.

I think it is best to buy Iris reticulata, hyacinths and tulips as large fresh bulbs each year for container planting and treat them as annuals. You can try planting the finished bulbs in the garden if you have space for them, I don’t, though I do keep squeezing some of the smaller narcissi into beds.

Narcissi / Daffodils and Muscari and Chionodoxa seem to come back well if planted in the ground, or even in the case of dwarf narcissi, if removed from pots after the leaves have died down and stored in a dry spot until being replanted into pots using new compost in September.

I will mention that I have several containers from 2017 and 2018 that have never been emptied and yet the bulbs such as Iris reticulata ‘George’ and tulips such as ‘Ballerina’, ‘Ronaldo’, ‘Whittallii’, ‘Brown Sugar’, and ‘Bruine Wimpel’ keep coming back each year. Also Tulip ‘Orange Emperor’ which was planted in the raised bed in the autumn of 2016 still makes an appearance, this year producing 10 flowers! And I was surprised to see ‘Belle Epoque’ make an appearance this year – planted in 2018, flowered in 2019, but missing in 2020.

I think where bulbs are concerned you just have to try and see what works for you and your garden. Some reappear, others don’t. I have found that large, heavy flower heads like parrot tulips and doubles don’t do well because of the wind here. The same applies to tall daffodils. Although they do better planted in the ground where they presumably make stronger roots and can grow deeper.

Favourite tulips of mine are
  • Red – ‘National Velvet’, ‘Red Shine’ and ‘Lasting Love’; ‘Sarah Raven’ (slightly darker red and darkens with age)
  • Dark purples/black – , ‘Paul Scherer’, ‘Havran’, ‘Ronaldo’, ‘Queen of Night’ (very tall)
  • Mauve – ‘Purple Dream’
  • Copper / Orange / Caramel – ‘Ballerina’; ‘Orange Emperor’, ‘Brown Sugar’, ‘Cairo’, ‘Bruine Wimpel’, ‘Whittallii’ which naturalises well; ‘Princes Irene’ and ‘Princes Magriet’
  • Green – ‘Greenland’ which is pink and green; ‘Flaming Spring Green’ green and white with a red stripe, ‘Spring Green’ green and white
  • White – ‘White Triumphator’; ‘Tres Chic’;
  • Yellow – ‘West Point’

I may try some peony tulips again next year and I fancy mixing some dark ones with a shocking pink, but I must confess that the jewel-like colours of the oranges, coppers, deep reds and purples remain my favourites.

Which favourite spring bulbs do you recommend?

42 Comments Add yours

  1. We’re not as lucky here with our warmer climate, but I love the Narcissus, Black Pearl Lily, Spring Stars, Sparaxis and Freesias, all of which return each year. I have recently noted from a supplier that there are some varieties of Tulip that will tolerate this warm climate, but too late for this year, I think, so I will splurge out on these bulbs next year!

    1. Heyjude says:

      My son bought me some Sparaxis, Freesia and Ixia bulbs for Mother’s Day. I noticed some are poking their leaves above the soil already so I am hopeful there will be summer flowers!

      1. That is a wonderful gift!

  2. Cathy says:

    Really interesting to read this, Jude – as you say, it seems to be best to work out what does best for each of us and our gardens and you gave certainly done this. I too have reached this stage, but will also experiment with a few tulips planted really deeply in some of the borders – there are about 3 really dark parrot tulips (probably Victoria’s Secret) that have returned for a number of years but I don’t know if it is the variety or the depth that has made the difference…it’s really hard to bury them deeply in a border of other things!

    1. Heyjude says:

      Parrots are too heavy here, and I am not too keen on their look. And I agree that trying to stuff bulbs into borders filled with other plants is tricky. I think I have pretty much run out of any space now!

  3. BeckyB says:

    Fascinating (and also gorgeous) – have shared with MrB as he is the one that plants all the bulbs – I just prepare everything, and sort out the previous years!

    1. Heyjude says:

      I write things down in notebooks and end up duplicating everything so I have decided this year to simply write a post about decisions in the garden, whether they are of interest to anyone else is debateable, but at least it means I have a record I can refer to!

      1. BeckyB says:

        Brilliant idea as easier to search too, although am sure your handwritten books are lovely

        1. Heyjude says:

          Mostly scraps of paper!! 😂

        2. BeckyB says:

          Oh!!! 🤣 I had this vision of a modern Edwardian Lady’s Garden Diary.

        3. BeckyB says:

          I had such high hopes of sketches and beautiful handwriting!

  4. margaret21 says:

    Gosh, I’d love to walk round your garden Jude. It must be a little corner of Paradise.

    1. Heyjude says:

      Won’t take long Margaret, it is very small, but packed with plants so that might slow you down.

  5. That was an interesting read – I was especially regarding the tulips left in pots. Your garden is looking stunning.

    1. Hmm – where did ‘I was’ come from? Let’s try that first sentence again… That was an interesting read – especially regarding the tulips left in pots.

      1. Heyjude says:

        Haha… I got the meaning.

    2. Heyjude says:

      All getting a bit overrun with the forget-me-nots again. I hate pulling them out when they are still flowering, but other plants need some space.

  6. restlessjo says:

    Just a few! I can’t believe how many bulbs you have, Jude. So much fabulous colour, it’s hard to pick a favourite. Wishing you a joyful, happy May and here’s to that first outing away at the end of it. 🙂 🙂

    1. Heyjude says:

      Lots of small pots with small bulbs Jo. Last years tulips will go into the green waste and this year’s will find a spot in a border. All new in the autumn. May has started nice an bright, though not looking good for Monday. And I have to take the car for a service on Tuesday so hope it’s not raining as I have to kill 5 hours!

      1. restlessjo says:

        You wouldn’t go far on the Bank Holiday anyway ☺️ I was cock – a-hoop to find my fig had lots of babies yesterday. A small triumph 🤗💕

        1. Heyjude says:

          Very nice, unless the birds eat them. Do you get many birds in your rooftop?

        2. restlessjo says:

          They are singing away right now ☺️💕 Just back from lunch and going to collapse with my book and maybe talk to the ladies in a little while. 🤣 Gilly phoned yesterday!

        3. Heyjude says:

          Oh, yes! Has she finished work yet?

        4. restlessjo says:

          11 working days to go 🙂 🙂

  7. Sue says:

    Love the way you do your experimenting, Jude! And your garden has some fabulous plants

    1. Heyjude says:

      Well I think after five years I have got this garden sussed. Not much room for any more plants really, so the pots are on the increase. Though I have a plan for those too.

      1. Sue says:

        Very good!

  8. beetleypete says:

    You have packed so much into your garden, Jude. It always makes me feel a twinge of guilt for not planting anything. 🙂
    (Only a small twinge though, and it soon goes away)
    Best wishes, Pete. x

    1. Heyjude says:

      Well you have your dog walking and writing Pete. I feel guilty not walking as much as I should!

  9. Tina Schell says:

    OK Jude, I just have to say I’m so impressed with your methodology and conscientiousness as applied to your beautiful gardens. Your post shows me how much effort goes into them and explains your amazing results. Glorious!!

  10. Cee Neuner says:

    Stunning tulip photos 😀 😀

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