Saturday 4 August 2012

Flowerbulbs for naturalising

Even though you might not have been away for your summer holidays yet – I haven’t – flowerbulbs are already arriving in the garden centres.  After the challenging weather we’ve had in the UK this year they are a welcome sight.  Gardeners are always ready to plan and plant ahead of a new season!
When it comes to choosing flowerbulbs for naturalising, many reach for bulk bags of mixed daffodils and narcissi.  These work well if you plant a lot of them in big drifts. In smaller numbers the effect can be very “spotty”, as different varieties bloom at different times. In any case they are hardly naturalisti, and if you want to create that meadow effect then native bulb flowers or others of similar character are the ones to go for.
The British native wild daffodil, Narcissus pseudonarcissus subsp. lobularis is a delight once you get it established.  It has a tiny bulb for a narcissus, more like that of a snowdrop. So buy it in as soon as it arrives in the garden centre and plant immediately before the bulbs dry out and shrivel.  Plant in groups of 10-15 bulbs spacing the bulbs a couple of inches apart at a depth of three times the depth of the bulb.  It grows best in thin grass under the dappled shade of trees, in well drained conditions.  After flowering, don’t remove the flowers; allow the seed heads to develop and ripen.  In early summer they change to parchment, split and release black seeds. The plant will spread and multiply more by seed than by the bulbs multiplying.
Fritillaria meleagris is also a British native that once colonised water meadows.  With the disappearance of wet meadows from our landscape this exquisite flower is seen less frequently in the wild. However it is grown widely in gardens, both in the open ground and in pots. It can be naturalised in grass where soil is moist, and never dries out completely.  Because it prefers cool conditions it is often more successful in slightly shaded areas under large shrubs and trees. The bulbs are small and waxy, and like the narcissus should be planted as soon as possible, buy them as soon as they arrive in store.

Hyacinthoides non-scripta, our native bluebell is one of the great delights of the English spring.  Its deep sapphire blue colour makes it particularly visible under the shade of trees, and it blooms before the grass grows tall enough to obscure its delicate lines.  Patient gardeners will find that they can build up large colonies of bluebells from relatively few bulbs by encouraging them to seed.  Plant the bulbs individually with a dibber, 15cm apart and once the seed heads ripen in summer, brush through the fading stems to scatter the seeds across the whole area.  Where bulbs are naturalised in grass under trees mow in autumn and remove the clippings, and mow again on a high setting in late autumn or winter to remove fallen leaves and top the grass.  This will ensure that the blooms appear amongst fresh green grass blades the following spring.  Bulbs sold in our garden centres are from cultivated sources and are certified not wild collected. 
And snowdrops – well let’s talk about those another time!

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