Planting spring bulbs

by Kate Bradbury

Spring bulbs don't just provide us with a burst of colour to remind us that summer is on its way. They provide insects with nectar, which is essential for feeding them up again...

Daffodil 'Minnow' flowersI’m going to plant my bulbs earlier this year, to avoid disturbing any hibernating creatures in colder weather. I've just bought 20 winter aconites, 20 Nectaroscordum siculum, and the Gardeners’ World magazine offers: 100 free alliums and 160 spring bulbs. I've no idea where they're all going to go.

Last year's spring bulb display went a bit wrong. In March my garden was a muddy building site and the daffodils I grew in pots looked a bit out of place. When I planted my containers of alliums and crocus I didn’t realise my garden didn’t get any sun until late-May, so the alliums flopped over (they can develop weak stems and flop if grown in shade) and the crocus flowers didn’t open. At least this year I know the alliums will flop so I can plant them in large drifts to dance, drunkenly around my borders. I've given up on the crocus, they like the sun too much. I'll plant them in a sunny patch of grass in my flat's communal gardens instead.

Spring bulbs don't just provide us with a burst of colour to remind us that summer is on its way. They provide insects with nectar, which is essential for feeding them up again after their long winter sleep. There are several spring bulbs which provide food for insects: snowdrop, winter aconite, snake's head fritillary, crocus, grape hyacinth and allium, to name a few. The wonderfully named hairy-footed flower bee is particularly fond of grape hyacinths.

Last year’s late arrival of spring was hazardous for many insects, especially some bumblebee queens, which woke to find nothing in flower but the hardiest of daffodils (which aren’t their first choice of spring nectar). Walking around the local park, I’d find buff-tailed bumblebee queens clinging to unopened crocus blooms, willing them to flower so they could have their first taste of nectar. In a good year, when crocuses open in plenty of time, a large swathe of them will buzz with the sound of bumblebees splashing about in pools of pollen. The best thing about crocus flowers is that they close at night and reopen in the morning, providing bumblebee queens with the perfect overnight accommodation prior to finding a nest. It's a shame I can't grow them in my garden, but avoids the temptation of getting up early to see if any bees are snoozing in the flowers as they open.

I’m aiming to have something in bloom for passing insects from January, starting with winter aconites and snowdrops, moving to snake’s head fritillary and grape hyacinth. Then, for me, I’m growing my favourite daffodil: ‘Minnow’.

What bulbs will you be planting this year?

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Gardeners' World Web User 27/08/2010 at 19:04

hi i have never heard of any of these bulbs before, only a gardening beginner really. I tend to go to our local garden store and see what bulbs are being sold and if i like the look of them on the packet i just buy them. i would really like to know what bulbs and hardy plants should be able now to buy if you know i like to have some bedding plants but i also like to buy hardy because they will come back i am try to get things to plant that will pop up at different times to give constant colour?

Gardeners' World Web User 28/08/2010 at 15:37

I'm still not sure. I already have a lot of alliums in my garden. But I think that they don't bloom very long. I also like crocosmia lucifer but they grow so strong that I think I already have more than a hundred bulbs. Can you recommend a summer blooming bulb with a maximum height of 40 cm ? I live in Belgium so it can be a lite bit colder here than in the UK.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/08/2010 at 17:50

Bees sleep in crocus flowers? That is so cool!

Gardeners' World Web User 29/08/2010 at 09:34

I'm planting loads of tulips this year. I'm planting the bulbs in pots with daffs planted on top. The daffs will grow first then the tulips after so my display will last longer.

Gardeners' World Web User 29/08/2010 at 10:01

ive been out yesterday buying loads and loads of bulbs from the garden centre ready to plants,,,as ive now got a extra piece of land to add to my garden,it will give a lovely splash of colour in spring and hopefully attract lots of bees too. is it true the bulbs [snake heads] are difficult to grow from a bulb as the lady in garden centre said they were???? but i brought them anyway......

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