Out of the Ordinary – Bulbs that give you extra (Outdoor bulbs)

Different things make different people feel rich, happy or content: designer labels for instance, new Apple products, and ‘on fleek’ eyebrows of course.

A wave of content always flows over me as I peruse the new boxes of flowering bulbs when they arrive at Capital Gardens. I like to sit quietly on the shop floor, at the very back of the store, and here with much rustling, put on my glasses and thoroughly examine  what our buyers have selected before helping Emma put the many boxes and packets out on display for our customers; and also getting inspiration for what I will be planting in my garden in autumn.

The renowned gardener, plantsman and author E. A. Bowles rightly described the ordering and planting of bulbs as ‘that most fascinating part of gardening’. And the selecting of bulbs is, for me, a golden opportunity, with some planning, to add greater dimension to my planting.

Versatile bulbs have great potential for innovative planting, and inventive combinations with perennial plants, yet many people are cautious and conservative with their use of them. Instead of looking at colour contrasts, and novel forms it is easier to plant a border of yellow daffodils along the front path or have a container of red tulips by the back door. Of course, these are both perfectly valid choices, but sometimes it’s nice to head off-piste and try new springtime bulbous species and varieties. And that is precisely what we will be doing here; looking at some of the more unusual bulbs you can find on the racks and shelves of your local Capital Gardens centre.

The two categories of bulbs we will look at are the more unusual forms of popular bulbs that everybody knows and grows. Tulips, narcissi iris and alliums. And the more unusual bulbous plants that you may be less familiar with.

Tulips – outdoor bulbs

Ever-popular tulips come in many different heights, flower shapes, leaf forms, and colours. The forms I have chosen here are the smaller tulips that often get overlooked in favour of their bigger, bolder cousins. This is a shame because they each have an extra-dimension on offer that repays closer inspection:

Pretty Princess: (£3.99 for 6) this stunning tulip with cups formed of silky pink petals streaked with magenta flames flowers in April and May. In addition to its beautiful flowers, it is notable for its distinctive white edged-leaves.

Humilis Persian Pearl: (£2.99 for 7) a small species tulip. Its bowl like cerise flowers open in the sun to reveal a bright yellow centre.  The outside, its protective petals are a contrasting cream colour. The secret dimension to these jewel-like flowers is their strong fragrance.

Polychroma: (£2.99 for 6) another small tulip, this time with white flowers that when fully open reveal a large yolk yellow centre. The effect is like a cheery free-range fried egg. This diminutive form is worthy of our attention because it is the earliest tulip to flower, producing its blooms in March. The flowers emit an interesting violet-like scent on sunny days.

Bakeri Lilac Wonder: (2.99 for 10) in contrast to the last variety this hybrid is a late flowering form, that produces flamingo pink flowers in May.

Humulis Helene: (2.99 for 10) this multiflowered botanical tulip grows to about 15cm, producing abundant star-like flowers from April till May. Its great advantage is that is spreads very rapidly, making it great for naturalizing.

Narcissi – outdoor bulbs

Actaea: with its large white petals and tiny red-lipped yellow cup, this Poeticus daffodil is a true bobby-dazzler. This late flowering form has the bonus of being highly fragrant.

Salome: this tall, pale beauty has a large central cup that changes from butter yellow to apricot as the flower ages.

Doll Baby: (£2.99 for 7) a multi-head strongly fragrant narcissus. The white out petals contrast the orange cup. Flowering in March and April

Papillon Blanc: (2.99 for 5) flowers in March and April. Its yellow central cup is very prettily frilled.

Sailboat: (£2.99 for 8) is a small multi-headed jonquila narcissus. Its creamy flowers are richly and sweetly scented. Flowers March/April

Spring Dawn: (£2.99 for 6) an exceptionally early flowering narcissus. Produces bi-coloured flowers from January onwards.

Golden Bells: (£2.99 for 7) this rich yellow species narcissus can produce up to 15 small flowers per bulb. The unusual bell-shaped flowers earn it the alternative name of Hoop petticoat daffodil.

Iris – outdoor bulbs

Frozen Planet: (£2.99 for 12) a selected form of Iris reticulata that flowers February/March. This dwarf pale flowered variety has stunning pale blue tips to its white flowers.

Painted Lady: (£4.99 for 15) this form has unusual colouring, the petals look like they have been hand-painted with soft blue watercolours.

Allium Graceful Beauty: Bulb of the Year 2020. You may be familiar with the purple spheres of alliums in the garden, but this showy ornamental onion is something new and special. Its eye-catching heads of tiny white flowers have highlights inside due to their lavender/pink stamen and purple anthers. This compact allium would look stunning in a pot, or in the front of a border.

Unusual bulb types – outdoor bulbs

Crown Imperial: (£4.99 each) or Fritillaria imperialis Lutea Max is a real eye-opener. The spectacular flower spike can reach 70cm and has a passing resemblance to a pineapple. The large yellow flower bells form a ring beneath a wreath of green.

Fritillaria persica: (£3.99 each) the Persian lily produces a tall spike of dark burgundy exotic flowers from a rosette of blue-green leaves in April/May.

Both these species of Fritillaria look best planted in groups. They need to be deeply planted in enriched soil, and require sharp drainage, so plant the bulbs on top of a good few handfuls of gravel. Once established they will continue to produce flowers for many years.

Erythronium dens-canis: (£3.99 for 2) the dog’s tooth violet is an ideal plant for shade. Its pink coloured flowers have recurved petals, making them resemble shooting-stars, and they appear above beautiful marbled leaves in March/April.

Ornithogalum nutans: (£2.99 for 15) the Star of Bethlehem produces plentiful sprays of small silver and green flowers in April. These delicate beauties are also sweetly scented.

Now is the perfect time to be planting these bulbs. It is the tail end of the growing season, and the soil is still workable. Why not come and visit us this weekend and choose from our big selection of bulbs. We have some special offers on bulbs at the moment, so what more excuse do you need?

To find out more about effective ways of using bulbs in your garden:


To learn more about E. A. Bowles, and to find out how visit his gardens:


By Ali Barwani – Capital Gardens

Share this post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *