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.
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!