Singles All The Way

Reading time 4 minutes


I love flowering bulbs. I plant thousands of them in pots every autumn and spring, ready to bloom the following season. I plant big ones and small ones, short ones and tall ones, bright ones and white ones, but I almost always plant them separately, one variety per container. I am not sure where my aversion to mixing different types or colours of bulb stems from. Perhaps it’s the inexpensive nets of daffodils sold in garden centres for ‘naturalising’, in which too many shapes and shades jostle for attention, creating an awkward effect that’s anything but natural. More likely it’s the yellowing, untidy foliage that’s left behind after many bulbs have done their thing. Dead flowers can be removed, but leaves must remain to give the bulbs an opportunity to replenish their energy reserves. If you decide to mix bulbs in one container, the secret is to make sure that the later flowering varieties are lusher and taller than those that came before. In that way any withering foliage is diguised beneath burgeoning growth, a trick that’s as useful in the border as in a pot.


Compare this image of 2014's display in March with the photographs taken in April, below
Narcissi, muscari and hyacinths planted one variety to a pot.


Don’t get me wrong, a well planned mixed pot can reward with month after month of beautiful blooms. I have done it many times and often with success, but somehow I always find the ‘one hit wonder’ of a single variety planted en-masse preferable to a succession. The impact of a low bowl densely forested with white muscari, or a generous long tom crammed with glossy red tulips is so much greater than if they were planted with companions. Using bulbs in this way does not mean attractive combinations cannot be achieved: I do this by moving the pots around to create different associations as each comes into its own. Pots of bulbs that have ‘gone over’ can be moved and placed somewhere discreet to recharge their batteries, or otherwise turned out in favour of the next inhabitant. (Despite having hundreds of terracotta pots, I never seem to have a vacant one. Is it only me that suffers from this problem?).

Although an urban fox is busy digging up my bulbs faster than I can say ‘Boom! Boom!’, we will soon be enjoying massed displays of Iris histrioides ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’ and Galanthus woronowii. After 10 days of feeling decidedly shabby I am looking forward to getting out to Goodnestone Park tomorrow for their NGS snowdrop day. Spring is almost here!


Arranging bulbs around the front door means we can enjoy their colour and fragrance every day
Arranging bulbs around the front door means we can enjoy their colour and fragrance every day




Categories: Bulbs, Container gardening, Flowers, Foliage, Kentish Gardens, Plants, Practical Advice

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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14 comments On "Singles All The Way"

  1. No you are not alone…I never have the right sized one though will do a pot cull soon and chuck out all the crazed and cracked ones and replace where necessary this spring. Glad you are feeling more chipper and enjoy the snowdrop show!

  2. Lovely. I have one snow drop out. the rest are tight in bud. I keep them in pots and they are always later than the ones in the ground. The first daffys look like they are about to burst. However, the grape hyacinths leaves have been up for months and still not a sign of a bud. Bring on spring!

  3. Being a bear of v. little brain I hadn’t realised how magnificent a display of bulbs in pots could look until I saw yours. Thankyou.

  4. Looking Stunning! and yes – there are never enough pots of any description (except the black plastic ones!) to do what you want and I inevitably end up buying more and more and more……However, my bulb displays don’t ever look as grand or as beautiful as yours. I have such good intentions and buy heaps and then seem to run out of time to put the plan together to ensure that the pots look really lovely. Instead as time diminishes and panic and just shove one variety per pot and hope for the best.

    You do know how to taunt someone don’t you!! Goodnestone Park would have to be one of the most magical places I have ever visited. It was ( I recall you writing that it was being ‘modernised! into some swishy expensive weekend resort – sob sob sob…..) like stepping back into a Jane Austen novel. Such a stunning environment with rolling green hills, and a grand dame of a residence, full of romance and ‘faded’ beauty. I will never forget that amazing ‘tangled’ tree from the 16th century or our encounter with the owner as we wandered the grounds. What wonderful memories I have.

    Enjoy your day out… I am weeding……. xxxx

  5. I have lots of snowdrops, cyclamens and crocus in the garden at the moment. But, like you Dan, I have quite a lot of pots, especially tulips and muscari, the latter potted up with ‘red riding’ tulips. Another lively Journal – always look forward to reading them!!! Enjoy your day out at the Snowdrop Display!

  6. Hi Dan;
    Do you replant every year? If so, which bulbs carry over well. I heave my potted tulips out and renew, but I wonder if some spring bulbs are happy to be fed and left for another year or two. I grow oriental lilies in lots (very heavy ground here and I can control the beetle this way) and they do very well with feeding, top dressing and then re-potting every 3 years. I am looking at your beautiful display of spring bulbs and thing what a lift they would give after months of somewhat dreary weather. Inspirational, as ever.!

    1. Hi there. I don’t bother keeping tulips and hyacinths from one year to another but daffodils can keep quite nicely if they are allowed to die back naturally and then repotted in August or September. Fritillarias I also keep, particularly as they are relatively expensive bulbs. I do the same as you with lilies and eucomis, adding a few new bulbs every year just in case the vine weevils have taken their toll.

      A while until this year’s pots look that good. Very few bulbs are above ground yet, probably because I planted them rather late. Here’s hoping they look as good as last year! Dan

  7. My snowdrops are very small this year, so I’m hoping that’s just because they’re so young.

    Anyway, I love the display outside your front door. Sounds a great idea to be able to move flowers which are past their past in such a nifty manner.

  8. Beautiful photos to cheer us up. Your white muscari look wonderful, I love the pale ‘Valerie Finnis’ as well. Mice or voles have eaten my Crocus planted in pots in the cold frame, and in the garden, for the first time here – I am hoping that I have saved a few. Iris ‘Harmony’ looking cheerful in the greenhouse, the year is definitely progressing. I hope the snowdrop day was good (envy!!).

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