Pot’s growing on in March: spring bulbs start turning up to the party

My biggest delight so far this month is the success of our perennial spring bulbs. Given the extreme cold weather this year I’d wrongly assumed the combination of wet and cold would be too much for some of them but actually, perhaps it’s more akin to their alpine natural habitats. Whatever the reason, they’re back stronger than ever this month preparing to flower.Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ planted three years ago in our main raised bed border did poorly last year with only a couple of flowers and weak plants. I’d written them off a bit in our garden, thinking it’s perhaps too shady and damp. Yet as the snow melted I’ve noticed the opposite.

One original bulb becomes five… six… lots.

Every bulb is back this year, shoots strong, thick and at first tinged a beautiful red. A couple of clumps have even significantly multiplied, one having over six strong shoots. I cannot wait to see if these shoots result in more flower heads this year.

I’m much more interested in bulbs that will come back year after year. While I love tulips, I lean heavily in favour of creating natural plant communities that survive and thrive with minimal human meddling. Tulips were effectively out of the equation until something quite remarkable started happening.

Our tulips planted in 2015, flowering here in May 2016

In 2015 I planted over one hundred tulips around our garden. They flowered magnificently but then I dug them out thinking they’d flower the once properly. Ever since digging out, a few keep popping back. A tiny signal that they may be more perennial than most tulips. Last year I left some and sure enough, they’ve multiplied and bulked up. Most already have small buds on them. They’ve started changing my mind on tulips, clearly these are happy enough to multiply and flower three years later. I’ll leave them this year to see if we get a bigger display next year with no intervention from me.

Inside the house I have a four year old Hippeastrum cybister ‘Sumatra’. It’s flowered beautifully every year without a great deal of care by me. Over the years it developed baby bulbs and this winter I separated them. To my amazement the larger of the bulbs only a couple of years old flowered too. It’s clearly a strong strain! I love that bulbs work in this way.

Fritillaria meleagris shoots

Fritillaria meleagris var. unicolor subvar. alba is one of my favourite flowers of all. Like the alliums and tulips, this year is the first where I’ve seen them expand their population and grow strongly. This is very exciting as it was another bulb I’d felt wouldn’t be happy in our semi-shady border.

Completing the set of white flowered bulbs, Ornithogalum nutans, the star of bethlehem I’ve grown successfully every year since seeing it on my first visit to the RHS Chelsea Flower show. Another exquisite jewel in our spring white garden. Also Narcissus triandrus ‘Thalia’ – one of my favourite daffodils – is almost in flower after being knocked to the ground by the snow.

Bulbs and corms are fascinating things. I love how reassuring they are to gardeners as little packets of energy that we can count on to lie in wait to flower beneath the hurly burly of the summer border. Quite remarkable.

Of course, snowdrops and cyclamen have seen us through the last couple of months until this bigger display. I’ve also grown a single Anemone blanda I hope will clump up this year too.

Anemone blanda ‘White Splendour’ shoots from one corm

One unwanted but happy bulb is the Spanish Bluebell. Five years on and it still persists though I’m almost rid of the thing.

Away from the bulbs and our plum tree is ready to burst into flower and our Brunnera macrophylla are starting their slow expansion of cloud like flowers now which will last for months. My little pot of white Pulsatilla vulgaris ‘Alba’ is growing and will hopefully flower this year. I’ll share an update on the white garden as it happens… or as it doesn’t.

Otherwise, the more colourful late spring to summer garden plants are all showing signs of growth now. Snow aside, a few weeks of sunny spring weather and our blank garden will soon be teeming with wonderful, exciting, colourful and dynamic life. I cannot wait, can you?!

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Jack Wallington

I'm an RHS qualified garden designer living in Clapham, London who loves growing plants and designing with them. Follow me on Twitter.

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