One of the most overlooked aspects of gardens are spring flowering bulbs which is a shame. I usually incorporate bulbs into a garden when I’m doing a design, even though they can’t be planted at the same time as the rest of the garden. After a long cold winter of various shades of white and grey, those bright colours are such a welcome sight. They make you want to get outside, shielding your eyes from the sun that you’re no longer accustomed to and they make spring chores in the garden seem a little less like work. While cutting back perennials and gathering up the remains of last year’s garden, it’s always a joy to stop and admire the little crocuses popping out of the ground or take a deep breath and smell the intoxicating fragrance of hyacinths combined with the earthy smell of the garden that you really only get in the spring.
As soon as the snow melts (and sometimes before it finishes) snowdrops, snow crocuses, winter aconite and dwarf irises start to make their appearance. These are among my favourites and I usually go out and look for them after we’ve had three or four days of warm sunshine because I know that once I’ve seen them, at least to me, spring is here. We might get a late snow after they’ve started to bloom but I know it won’t last long because the flowers don’t care and keep blooming even with a blanket of snow.
Next will come the early tulips, daffodils, giant crocuses, glory of the snow (Chionodoxa) and hyacinths, followed by the grape hyacinths, bluebells, Fritallaria and dutch irises.
This is the time for tulips to really shine. They come in almost every colour imaginable from white to a dark purple that’s almost black, and almost everything in between, like reds, pinks, yellows, oranges, and even greens. There are also a number of different forms like doubles, lily-flowering tulips with pointed petals (my favourites), contorted blooms, petals with fringed edges, variegated leaves and even “bouquet flowering” tulips that produce multiple flowers per stem. When it comes to tulips, many people lament that the squirrels eat their bulbs. Hen manure, which is a great time-released fertilizer, has been shown in test plots to do a great job at keeping the squirrels away.
One of the last bulbs to come up are the Alliums. They’re so late that most people don’t realize that they’re bulbs as they bloom with the late spring and early summer perennials. Every year people come in and say that they’ve seen this flower in someone’s garden, “it’s like a big purple ball on a stick – do you have them?” Usually, they’re describing either ‘Globemaster’ or ‘Giganteum’ which have flowers that get to be eight to ten inches. Alliums are very easy bulbs to grow and multiply fairly quickly to put on an amazing show. When they’re done flowering, I’ve been known to take a can of floral paint to the spent flowers and extend their time by another 3-4 weeks with big red balls, or lime green, or steel blue, or whatever colour I feel like that year. I try to have as much fun in the garden as I can.