SPRING AWAKENING: BULBS IN CONTAINERSAli Barwani
If your image of potted bulbs is a bowl of splaying hyacinths plonked in the middle Auntie Joan’s sideboard then it is time you took a fresh look at planting bulbs in containers.
Growing bulbs in containers has many advantages. These include:
1) You can enjoy the detail and fragrance up close. This is especially true for small forms with delicate flowers.
2) It’s an easy, economical way to add colour. If space is limited, you can still cram pots full of bulbs for a spectacular spring show – then compost them
after they have finished, and use the empty pots for spring bedding. If you love colour, tulips are available in nearly every hue and combination you can imagine.
3) The opportunity to grow new plants. If you want to try something different, buy a small pack of bulbs and give them a go. I like growing single species of bulbs, and pots are ideal for keeping them separate.
4) Add sparkle. Adding bulbs to established pots injects energy. Small bulbs can simply be popped into the pots of large container grown shrubs and perennials to add spring interest. After flowering the bulbs can be left to fade in situ, or dug out and planted elsewhere.
5) Portability. Containers are easy to move around. You can quickly rearrange pots to freshen the look. Bring out those in flower to create a focal point, and move them away when they have finished.
Pots planted with late flowering tulips can be brought forward to replace early flowering crocuses and daffodils that have finished -extending the flowering time in your garden.
Use plastic pots as liners for big containers – then you can simply lift them out when they’ve finished and let the bulbs die down somewhere less conspicuous. After that, drop a new pot full of bedding plants into the empty container to continue spring’s show.
Small containers full of Muscari, iris cultivars and small narcissi can be used to decorate your patio table.
6) Get creative with your containers.
Muscari, crocuses, and other small bulbs can be grown in vintage teacups and jugs. Use colourful empty & washed tin cans, or paint plain ones (after using a hammer and a nail to knock three holes in the base for drainage) to make funky free pots.
Old wicker baskets make charming rustic planters when lined, or buy ready-to-plant wooden boxes and wicker baskets from us – (‘Antique Oyster Crates’ start from £5.99). If your container lacks drainage it’s best to put a thick layer of horticultural potting grit (handy size RHS packet, £3.49) in the base, and fill them with specialist bulb compost (Bulb Planting Compost £4.49 for 10 litres).
- I like using traditional terracotta pots and pans for my bulbs. I find them aesthetically pleasing, and the range of sizes gives me lots of choice for creating interesting arrangements.
7) Bring spring inside. Some bulbs are ideal for growing indoors. The easiest are crocuses, hyacinths, Muscari and small daffodils such as ‘tête-à-tête’.
If you want flowering bulbs for indoor decoration you should purchase a bag of bulb compost for potting up. Plant your bulbs in the normal way, covering them fully, and leave the finished pots outdoors, on a balcony or in the garden, until the leaves and flower buds have appeared. Then bring them indoors to enjoy as the flowers start to open –
Forcing bulbs, and growing bulbs for Christmas requires a bit more technique, and is something to discuss another time.
8) Bulbs can be used in exciting combinations to create colourful displays. The only limit is your imagination.
My colleague Beth chose the early flowering red and yellow short-stemmed tulip ‘Shakespeare’ (£2.99 for 10) together with powder blue Muscari azureum (£2.99 for 15) to make up a zingy spring bowl for her balcony.
Is your taste more gothic? You could achieve this by buying a shiny black-glazed ceramic pot and planting it with tulip ‘Paul Scherer’, selected as the darkest tulip (£4.99 for 12), and adding the grass-like, black leaved perennial Ophiopogan ‘Nigrescens’ on top for the tulips to grow through.
Creating a ‘Bulb Lasagne’:
This method involves layering bulbs in a pot for maximum colour impact. It is also known as ‘Lasagne Planting’. Think of the compost as the ragu and the bulbs as the pasta sheets.
By selecting your bulbs according to their flowering times you can either have a succession of blooms from January through into May, or enjoy one glorious explosion of colour. You can really play around with mixing colours and shapes, and produce something that reflects your personality. Be creative, have fun!
It is easy to achieve, just follow these simple steps:
- a) Select a deep container and half fill with compost. I prefer using John Innes No. 3 (£5.99 for a 35L bag), but multipurpose compost is just fine.
- b) Put your bulbs in the right way up. In most cases it is obvious (pointed end up, roots down), but if in doubt look for the withered remains of last years roots and be certain they are at the bottom.
- c) Plant bulbs deeply – three times the height of the bulb is the general rule. If in doubt, you can always check with the packet.
- d) Plant big bulbs that need the greatest depth, such as tulips, first. Avoid bulbs touching. Then, cover with a layer of potting compost so their tips are just visible. Now you are ready to add the second layer of bulbs.
- e) Build up the layers. For the next layer scatter narcissi evenly over the compost. Again, cover with sufficient compost so their tips are just showing.
- f) Add the final bulb layer. This would typically be a small flowering form, such as crocuses. Cover these with enough compost so that they are totally buried. That’s it!
- g) Extra toppings. Instead of Parmesan, you can sprinkle your lasagne with winter bedding such as violas or pansies so that you have some colour until the bulbs start to emerge.
When you have finished give the pot a good watering, and pop it outside.
And if that wasn’t enough…
Containers offer you extra growing room when outdoor space is limited. Fill up tubs on balconies; hang pots and boxes from railings. Window boxes beg to be filled with goblet-like crocuses and drifts of dancing snowdrops – and once these have finished replace them with identical boxes containing sweetly scented hyacinths or golden-trumpeted daffodils.
Low growing narcissi such the multi-headed miniature ‘Minnow’ (XL value packs at £6.99 for 40) and fragrant miniature Narcissus canaliculatus (£4.99 for 20), or the early flowering Iris reticulata‘Katherine Hodgkin’ £2.99 for 8) can be planted in hanging baskets to further expand your display.
You might only have a doorstep, but it is still possible to have a succession of flowers in a large pot by lasagne planting.
So, look around your home and see what containers can be used for planting. Walk around the garden or balcony, and gather together empty pots – then, come and visit us and peruse our tempting display of bulbs. I’m sure you’ll to find plenty of inspiration. Why not make up some extra pots to give to friends and family? And don’t forget to surprise Auntie Joan with a fabulous modern creation!
Alexandra Palace Garden Centre