Fragrant BulbsJustin Barclay
Fragrant bulbs to heal your life
Scents can boost your happiness, reduce stress, and help you sleep. They can also increase your self-confidence and improve your mental performance (thus enhancing your professional Zoom prowess). Our sense of smell has a direct pathway to the parts of our brains associated with memory, mood and emotions. It’s all a bit subjective of course, but ‘good’ smells stimulate the release of those feel-good hormones, dopamine and serotonin. The natural smells of plants also attract bees and other pollinators, and fragrant bulbs will help you to do your bit. If you’re feeling a bit helpless or aimless – and let’s face it, who amongst us hasn’t felt like that at some point of late? – boost your sense of purpose. Think globally, act locally and bring the bees home by filling your patch with flowering fragrant bulb
The bee/flower partnership
Did you know that the honey bee’s olfactory sense – located in its antennae – is so finely tuned that, in flight, it can detect just the trace of a smell? The intricate relationships in the natural world mean that the scents given off by specific plants have evolved to attract different pollinators. And plants that pump it out during the day are mostly pollinated by bees or butterflies while night-scented flowers are pollinated by moths and bats. Mature flowers ripe for pollination tend to have the greatest output. And newly opened or young flowers waft out fewer odours to limit their appeal. Pollinated flowers can also change or reduce their scent to save pollinators a wasted journey (from the plant’s point of view.)
Our top 10 picks for late spring and summer bulbs:
Spicy, floral and sweet, soothing and invigorating. Fine in the garden, on your balcony and as cut flowers, these bulbs will enhance your mood indoors and out. Fill your garden and indoor living space with the rich fragrance and colour of our late spring and summer flowering selection. We’ve picked a mixture of plants which bloom from spring to late summer to give you flowers throughout the season. Some like shade, while others crave the sun, so hopefully we’ve covered all bases. Some of them aren’t botanically speaking bulbs, but corms, tubers or rhizomes, which look similar and perform the same essential task of storing nutrients.
Convalaria majalis rosea:
A novel take on traditional Lily of Valley, this pale pink bell-like flower is a woodland plant and likes dappled or part shade. Reaching up to 30cm in height, it flowers in April and May. You can plant these in early spring, as long as the ground isn’t frozen, just below the surface of the soil so any shoots are poking out. Space them approximately 10cm apart.
Iris Champagne Elegance:
Sun-loving and growing to nearly a metre tall, this frilly (bearded) iris has white and palest peach flowers. It smells of orange blossom, allowing you to imagine yourself to be in Seville, not north London! It flowers in April and May. Bearded irises can be planted any time between autumn and spring. Soak the bare rhizomes in water for a few minutes before planting. Then plant about 30cm apart and so that the upper part of the bulb (rhizome) sits on the surface of the soil. It’s said that you should place the rhizome facing south if you can for maximum exposure to the sun. These toughies love to bake!
Lily Pink Perfection:
Flowering in June and July, this stunner has large trumpet shaped flowers the colour of blackberry ice cream with rich orange centre and stamens. 1.8m high.
White flowers up to 20cm in diameter with a pink flush and speckles in July and August. Reaches about 80cm in height and is makes fabulous cut flowers.
Spicy scented lilies can be planted any time from autumn to spring, but definitely by the end of March. They’re sun-worshippers that are also tolerant of a bit of shade, but the formula is ‘more sun, more flowers’. Plant the bulbs about 15cm deep and 15cm apart with a layer of grit at the bottom of the planting hole if you’re putting them in the ground. Deadhead the faded blooms regularly from the bottom of the flowering stem and cut the dead stems back to ground level at the end of autumn.
Tender and half-hardy bulbs
Plant these in a cold frame or cloches in spring and transfer to the garden in late April or May, or plant straight into the ground once it seems fairly certain that there’s no longer any danger of frost. They’ll need a bit of care to get them through the winter but you’ll find it’s been worth it when you see their first baby shoots emerging next year, preparing to spread their love all over again.
Begonia odorata mixed:
A trailing mix of white, creamy yellow, pink and red flowers, these are perfect for hanging baskets and will help you make the best use of your space. They’re happy in part shade but also do well in full sun. Plant them shallowly – covered by about 1cm of soil – and spaced about 15cm apart. The concave side of the tuber should face upwards. In gardening parlance they’re really ‘good do-ers’, often flowering from June to October.
The Perfumed Fairy Lily has yellow, citrus-scented flowers. Native to the Peruvian Andes, the flower spikes grow to approximately 50cm tall. They prefer full sun. Plant the bulbs 10-15cm deep, pointy side up, spacing them about 10-15cm apart for flowers in June and July.
Dahlia Mexican Star:
Deep red with bright yellow centre, this is a beautifully simple, classically-shaped flower, reminiscent of a child’s drawing. It reaches about 90cm in height and will flower from July-September. Plant the tubers 30-40cm apart in full sun for flowering July-September. This is a dahlia crossed with chocolate cosmos and has an appropriately soft cocoa-like scent.
Native to the eastern side of southern Africa, freesias grow in the wild from Kenya to South Africa, with most species found in Cape Provinces. The corms look like miniature onions but freesias have a sweet, heady scent. This cultivar has delicate trumpet-shaped rusty red double flowers. Plant them in a sunny position 5cm deep and 10cm apart with the pointed facing upwards. You should be rewarded with flowers from July-September. They grow to a height of about 45cm.
Delicate clusters of spidery white flowers reaching 30-40cm in height – a really unusual plant. It’s also known as the spider lily or Peruvian daffodil and flowers between June and August. Plant the bulbs at a depth of 15-20cm, 15cm apart in full sun.
Polianthes tuberosa Sensation:
the tuberose is famous for its use in creating perfume and has strongly scented spires of star-shaped flowers. Usually tuberoses are a creamy white but Sensation has pale rose pink blooms with darker centres which flower between June and August. Plant them 10cm deep and 15cm apart in full sun and they should grow to about 80cm tall.
How should I plant and look after them?
All need moist but well-drained soil or compost. They’ll all be happy in pots as well as in the ground. Don’t forget to give them a good drink when you plant. To encourage them to flower well again next year, feed every week or so with a balanced liquid fertiliser or tomato feed. Once flowering is over, don’t be tempted to chop back the leaves straightaway even though they’ll start to look a bit shabby. They’re next year’s food for the bulb so leave it until they’ve died back.
In the ground:
They’ll benefit from a scattering of grit in their planting hole, particularly if your soil contains quite a lot of clay. Begin feeding when they have started to send up strong shoots, and stop once the foliage starts to die down at the end of the season.
If you’re planting in pots:
Ideally plant them in 3 parts peat-free compost to 1 part grit. An alternative is John Innes no. 2. Before you start to feed them, check the compost bag. This will tell you how long the nutrients in the compost bag will last. Only start to feed when this period of time has passed, otherwise you’ll overdo it. Plants, like people, suffer when they over-indulge! Stop once the foliage starts to die down at the end of the season.
Tender or half-hardy bulbs need winter protection before the first frost. Ideally they need to be stored somewhere frost-free but cool, dark and dry like a shed. It’s important to keep them at a low temperature but not allow them to freeze – you’re trying to mimic their natural dormancy cycle. Warmth may make them sprout and they might go into shock if it’s still a bit chilly when you plant them out again in spring.
Lifting and storing:
- If you haven’t yet cut off the foliage, leaving it until you’ve successfully lifted them may help you with the process.
- Carefully dig or lift the bulbs out of the soil and gently brush most of the soil off. If you’re worried about damaging them, just gently shake off as much as you can. Take to your chosen cool location.
- Allow any soil still clinging to them to dry out well. Then slide them into a brown paper bag, wrap in newspaper or place in a cardboard box until late spring when there’s no chance of frost. If you feel like splashing out, nestling them in sand in a tray will also help keep them dry.
- If you don’t have anywhere to keep them, try leaving them in the ground and covering them with a thick – about 15cm – layer of organic material such as bark or compost and with a bit of luck they’ll survive the winter.
What should I do if they’re in pots?
- Compost in pots often gets colder than soil in the ground – there’s a greater surface area exposed to the cold and less of it to provide insulation. So the plants are at greater risk.
- The best way to protect your bulbs is to cut the foliage back and put the pots in a frost-free place. But if you can’t, all is not lost! There are other things you can try.
- Wrap them in layers of horticultural fleece. Move the pots against a sheltered house wall which will provide some warmth, and huddle them together so that they provide insulation for each other like a small colony (or ‘waddle’ – yes, really) of penguins. To improve drainage and reduce the risk of waterlogged compost, put pots up on pot feet.
- Go on, get out there and get gardening, even if it’s a bit chilly and damp. You’ll feel better, we promise. And when you’ve finished planting that Lily of the Valley, you can go indoors for a cuppa and a substantial slice of lemon drizzle cake.
Other related blogs you may find of interest
Written by Andy Williams, Capital Gardens.