When speaking about bulbs in general terms, these normally include corms (Crocus) and tubers (Begonia). Bulbs can be divided into two main groups: spring flowering bulbs which are by far the most popular, and summer flowering bulbs.

Basically they are of very easy culture, and the majority will thrive in almost any situation where good drainage is provided.

The reason for this is that while in their dormant stage during the summer months, the new flower and foliage is developing in embryo form inside the bulb. When planted out in the autumn the process of development simply continues.

scatter the bulbs
To give bulbs a natural look, scatter them and plant them where they fall.

Bulbs are extremely versatile subjects and can be used effectively in almost every conceivable situation in the garden.

They may be divided into four main groups, namely Hyacinths, Daffodils and Narcissi, Tulips and the miscellaneous section, which includes such genera as Aconite, Crocus, Chionodoxa, Muscari, etc.

Spring Bulbs

Apart from garden work, many of the spring flowering bulbs may also be used for forcing in the home and here, a specialist catalog should be consulted to determine the suitability of the various varieties for such culture.

The basic essential requirement for growing bulbs indoors is to establish an abundant root system. This is best achieved if, after planting, the pots or bowls are placed in a shaded part of the garden and covered with 13-15cm/5-6in of weathered coal ashes or peat.

This will ensure a cool and even temperature, and prevent drying out of the potting medium. If ornamental bowls are used, it is a good idea to protect them by wrapping in newspaper.

This will become soft and the top growth of the bulbs will be able to penetrate without being damaged in any way. Once the bowls have been transferred indoors regular watering is essential.

But to ensure that no water is left to stand at the bottom of the bowls, which would inevitably cause the soil to turn sour, just place them on their side for a few minutes to allow any surplus to drain away.

Many of the miscellaneous bulbs are also ideal for growing in small bowls or pans, and crocuses are one of the first to come to mind. How often however, does one see these producing large quantities of foliage but alas, no flowers!

The diagnosis is simple; we are just too impatient and think that by placing them in a warm room, we advance the flowering time. What happens in reality is that the tender flower buds shrivel up and remain deep down in amongst the foliage.

Great success can be achieved from many miscellaneous bulbs if these small bowls are placed outside after planting, and covered with an inch of peat to prevent drying out.

Just leave them until the buds begin to show color, and then place the bowls indoors on a cool windowsill. You will find that grown this way, the flowers will attain their normal size and last for a long time.

After flowering, do not discard the bulbs but simply turn the whole clump out of the bowl.

Plant in the garden and leave until the foliage has turned yellow; the bulbs may then be lifted and replanted at their proper depth, and normal spacing in a permanent place.

The Narcissi family embraces a large number of different types, ranging from the giant flowered golden harvest, to its tiny miniature form minimus with numerous varieties of different sizes and colors in between.

The earliest starting to bloom in February and the latest to continue into May.

Most varieties are ideal for naturalizing but when planting for this purpose; the major points to observe are early planting—September being the ideal month, and depth of planting.

Except for the miniatures, where a depth of 5-8cm/2-3in is sufficient, the large flowered ones should have 13-15cm/5-6in of soil on top of the bulbs. This will ensure that after flowering when the bulbs are growing, sufficient moisture is available.

Great advances have been made in the last 45 years in developing near perfect shape and form of the flowers. These can often be admired at the special spring daffodil shows which are organized by local horticultural societies.

However for garden purposes, we require varieties that are capable of producing large numbers of flowers with strong stems and constitutions.

Good examples are trumpet varieties Rembrandt, solid golden yellow; Mount Hood, pure white; the large cupped varieties Delibes, rich yellow petals and red crown; and Kilworth, pure white with brilliant orange cup.

Visitors particularly interested in this subject should study specialist’s catalogs which give a wealth of information.

The Tulip family also embraces a large number of different varieties and types. When these are carefully chosen, it is possible to have a continuous show for almost three months.

an array of beautiful tulips
A massed array of tulips is always impressive.

Starting with some of the Kaufmanniana varieties in March and finishing with exotic Parrot tulips with their frilled and crested petals in May. The popularity of the species tulips, which includes the Kaufmanniana and Greigii groups, continues to increase year by year.

This is no doubt due to their short sturdy growth averaging 30cm/12in in height, and their beautifully marked foliage which is an added attraction before as well as after flowering.

Perhaps the most popular of all is Red Riding Hood with its waisted blooms of brilliant scarlet and heavily mottled foliage. Darwin Hybrids are a race resulting from a cross between Darwins and Fosterianas.

They produce enormous flowers carried on stout stems about 60cm/24in long, blooming during late April in advance of the Darwins, their rich colors creating a dazzling effect.

Apeldoorn, orange scarlet, and its golden yellow form Golden Apeldoorn are fine examples. Tulips may be planted from the end of September until December, requiring a well drained site and setting them approximately 10cm/4in deep.

Their main enemies are slugs which like to eat the tender shoots as they appear through the ground, and tulip fire which is a fungus present in the soil, usually caused by decaying tulip matter from previous year’s plantings.

To keep the soil clean, it is essential therefore to remove the flower petals as they drop off, and also the foliage when this begins to turn yellow. Slug damage can easily be prevented by the use of the many different types of slug bait available.

No bulbs perhaps are more appreciated than hyacinths which fill our homes with their delightful fragrance from Christmas onwards.

hyacinths-groups (Hyacinths should be planted in groups for maximum effect.)

For this season early varieties are used, such as L’Innocence, white; Pink Pearl, deep pink; Ostara, bright blue; these have been specially treated in warm and humidity-controlled stores to advance the embryo flower buds.

A common error in the cultivation of hyacinths for indoors is to transfer them into the light and warmth too early. The time varies for different varieties, depending on whether they are naturally early or late flowering.

A good guide is to wait until the shoot is approximately 5cm/2in high. In other words, when the bud is well out of the neck of the bulb. If transferred too early the bud will cease to lengthen and this will ultimately result in decay.

Hyacinths are also most suitable for window boxes and garden troughs, but remember to water well during prolonged dry weather. If used for the garden, they should be planted 10cm/4in deep and 10-13cm/4-5in apart.

The miscellaneous bulbs fill a very important part in the planning of a garden, and many of them can be used for widely differing purposes. The rock garden is the foremost place for these subjects, but many are equally at home planted in groups in the border, or in larger drifts in the more natural parts of the garden.

They multiply rapidly, some seeding themselves, so that in a reasonably short time a good stock can be obtained. We shall now discuss some of the most important of this group.

The genus of anemone or windflower consists of several different types, but the species blanda in various shades of blue, pink and white outshines any in popularity—producing a multitude of blossom during March-April.

They are very much at home amongst the stones of a rock garden, growing to a height of about 13cm/5in, and once established, there is no fear of losing them.

Anemone fulgens deserves a mention as its flowers are of the brightest scarlet with a centre boss of black stamens creating a delightful contrast.

Few flowers are more treasured than the eranthis or aconite which can show their pretty buttercups as early as January. These should be planted 2.5cm/1in deep and in doing so, select a pocket where they can be left undisturbed when they will increase rapidly.

They are perfectly hardy and bad as the weather may be in the early part of the year, this will in no way deter them, making themselves excellent companions for the snowdrops.

Fritillaria meleagris, commonly named snake’s head fritillary, is amongst the most delightful of the miscellaneous bulbs. Their bell shaped flowers in shades varying from white through rose, to deep purple are borne on slender 30cm/12in stems during April—dancing in the breeze like little Chinese lanterns.

Plant 5cm/2in deep during September-October preferably in fairly damp soil. They are an excellent investment as they multiply well and seed themselves freely. They also make a very attractive flower for table decoration.

No garden can ever be considered complete without crocuses, be it the autumn flowering which commence to bloom in October, the winter flowering species and their varieties or the large Dutch crocus.

pretty crocuses
Crosuses naturalized in an informal garden.

They all produce a multitude of flowers. Autumn flowering crocus are perhaps the least known yet their flowers in shades of lilac, and mauve with brilliant orange stigmatas look most attractive amongst the drab autumn leaves.

They naturally require early planting and should be in the ground by the beginning of September. There are many winter flowering varieties blooming from January onwards but of these, the chrysanthus crocus are the most beautiful.

Fine examples are Blue Pearl, lovely pearly blue; Cream Beauty, rounded creamy yellow blossoms; E. A. Bowles, deep gold; all producing tufts of up to fifteen flowers; apart from outdoor planting, they are most attractive in shallow pens of bowls, thus remaining unblemished by the weather.

Crocus tomasinianus and its varieties in shades of silver and deep purple deserve a special mention as these are the finest for naturalizing, rapidly multiplying and freely seeding themselves.

Crocuses may be planted throughout the autumn, about 5cm/2in deep except for the large flowered varieties which should be set at a depth of 8cm/3in.

The galanthus or snowdrops need little introduction as perhaps they are the most well known flowers of all. The dry bulbs may also be planted throughout the autumn, 5-8cm/2-3in deep, but when clumps have become congested they can be transplanted during the early spring.

This should be done as soon as possible after flowering before the foliage turns yellow. This way they will very easily re-establish themselves.

Muscari or grape hyacinths look particularly beautiful if planted in large drifts; visitors to the Keukenhof exhibition in Holland will no doubt have seen them in their thousands, creating a magnificent carpet of blue.

The most well known variety Heavenly Blue may be used for all purposes, including interplanting with tulips, a combination which looks most effective.

Muscari azureum which produces tight heads of soft powder blue with short leaves grows only 15cm/16in high and is very lovely in bowls for indoors.

If planted during September they will flower in January, and provided they are kept on a cool windowsill, will last for several weeks. Its white form—azureum album—is also most enchanting.

The same conditions as for muscari apply to scillas, notable varieties amongst them being bifolia, sky blue, and the taller siberica with lovely cobalt blue star-shaped flowers loosely set on slender 13cm/5in stems.

Until the late ‘70s, endymion was classified as scilla, including such species as Endymion non scriptus commonly known as bluebell with its pink and white form.

Endymion hispanica, also known as scilla campanulata or Spanish bluebell, is much more robust than the former; colors include various shades of blue, pink and white.

Both are ideal for planting at a depth of 8cm/13in in the natural part of the garden, where they will seed themselves freely and produce a multitude of flowers during May.

For visitors of this site who are in possession of a greenhouse, freesias are amongst the loveliest flowers one can grow. Their gorgeous colors and delicious scent having no equal.

It must be emphasized, however, that they are not suitable for growing in the house. The best time to plant is during September in 13cm/5in pots, which should be plunged in the garden up to the rim.

By mid-October they may be transferred to the greenhouse giving a temperature of 10°C/50° Fahrenheit, which may gradually be increased to 15°C/60°F.

The secret of success is not too much heat and plenty of ventilation, when they will produce large sprays of lasting flowers on strong stems.

Summer Bulbs

We will now briefly discuss some of the more popular summer flowering bulbs which are well worth growing. Anemone single Caen and its double form St. Brigid come first to mind.

These are ideal for flower decoration and very easily grown. They prefer a rich well drained soil and may be planted from March onwards, 8cm/3in deep.

It takes approximately 100 days from planting until flowering, and so by staggering planting time, a succession of blooms may be obtained.

The magnificent multicolored ranunculus, with their large double flowers in almost every conceivable shade require similar conditions. People often wonder how to plant these curious corms and the answer to this is claws downwards!

In the last few decades, lilies have become very popular, and this is no doubt due to the introduction of many—at the time— new varieties raised in the United States.

These are much less particular in their cultural requirements than the old species, in fact with only a reasonable amount of care excellent results can be obtained.

Lilies may be planted from November to March but a well drained site is essential; in very limey soils plenty of leaf-mold and peat should be added.

Set the bulbs at a depth of 13-15cm/5-6in; this is essential for the stem roots to develop, as many varieties not only produce roots at the base of the bulbs but also from the stem.

The majority of lilies flower during June-July, varying in height from 1-2m/3-6ft, but the season is extended well into the end of August by the speciosum hybrids.

The range and type are so extensive that it is best to consult a specialist catalog to select your requirements. Among really choice plants nerines well deserve a place.

Bowdenii is the most commonly grown, with its strap like foliage and large umbels of soft pink flowers in September. Apart from the mildest parts of the country, they are not reliably winter hardy and should therefore be covered with a thick layer of bracken during the winter months, but remove this in the spring.

The ideal place is in front of a wall facing south, planting the bulbs with their tip just below ground level.

The tuberous begonias should be grown much more’ extensively, as they produce a multitude of fine blooms in jewel-like colors from July until the first night frosts.

They are not hardy and the best plan therefore is to start the tubers off in boxes in the greenhouse, or garden shed in March and plant out at the end of May or June according to local conditions.

Lift the tubers after the first frost and store during the winter in a frost-free place. The large flowered begonias are ideal for bedding, while the smaller multiflora type are most suitable for the rock garden or narrow borders.

The pendulous begonias look most effective in hanging baskets or window boxes. To obtain best results, plant in rich soil and water abundantly, preferably in the early morning or during the evening.

vibrant dahlias
Dahlias will not survive any frost, but are well worth growing.

Dahlias are valuable garden plants giving a wealth of blooms throughout the summer and early autumn and as cut flowers, they are unsurpassed at that time of the year.

The tubers may be planted in a sunny part of the garden in May or earlier according to local conditions. They will produce several shoots but only three or four of the strongest should be retained.

An alternative method of culture is to plant the tubers on the bench in the greenhouse in February-March taking cuttings as they develop, while making sure to include a small part of the tuber as this will facilitate rooting.

After the initial period in the greenhouse, they may be potted and transferred to a cold frame, keeping them frost free until it is safe to plant out in the garden.

The majority of dahlias will grow to a height of 1-2m/3-6ft and it is therefore advisable to put in a stake for each at the time of planting out. Dahlias are by nature hungry, and some organic manure should therefore be incorporated in the soil.

As soon as possible after the first frost in the autumn lift the tubers, remove the old growth and store covered by slightly damp peat or sand in a frost free place.

The most popular types are the decoratives which produce rounded rather formal flowers and the cactus type, with their characteristic spiky petals. Pompons are also an important group but because of their small flowers, are more suited for cutting than garden display.