Bulbs are a valuable asset in the garden, many of them flowering in spring when little else is in bloom. But, as well as the common daffodils, snowdrops, crocus and tulips we all love to grow, there’s a host of interesting and unusual bulbs we can add to the mix.
As well as spring bulbs, choose summer- and autumn-flowering bulbs to increase your season of colour. Unlike herbaceous plants, bulbs are almost guaranteed to flower, so you can count on them to provide colour and interest in a set display.
More on growing bulbs:
Browse our list of 10 unusual bulbs to grow, below.
Snake’s head fritillary
Snake’s head fritillary, Fritillaria meleagris, has bizarre and unmistakable chequerboard markings on its bell-shaped flowers. Most flowers are purple but some come in white, still with a faint checked pattern all over. Snake’s head fritillary is a native British flower and is therefore extremely hardy and easy to grow, and is ideal for growing in a variety of situations including pots, spring borders and in long grass.
Height x Spread: 30cm x 5cm
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Allium ‘Dready’ is so-called because of the masses of dreadlock-like curling tendrils, which grow out from its drumstick-like flower heads. These start off bright green, but over the course of a couple of weeks change to red.
Allium ‘Dready’ works well when planted in drifts with ornamental grasses and other alliums. It makes a wonderful, dramatic cut flower.
H x S: 40cm x 10cm
The Siberian squill, Scilla siberica, bears dainty spikes of nodding, bell-shaped, blue flowers in early spring, above slender, strappy leaves. Siberian squills are perfect for naturalising in lawns and areas of semi- shade, particularly beneath deciduous shrubs and trees.
H x S: 20m x 5cm
Crown imperial, Fritillaria imperialis, is an imposing bulb, flowering in mid- late-spring. It bears pendent, bell-shaped blooms typically 5-8cm long and wide, on stems up to 1.2m tall. Grow in well-drained soil, ideally on a bed of gravel, in full sun.
H x S: 1m x 30cm
Persian lily, Fritillaria persica, has elegant, tall stems of beautiful dark purple flowers. It’s unusually tall for a spring-flowering bulb and therefore makes a grand statement among other tall-flowering blooms such as tulips and white narcissi.
H x S: 1m x 30cm
Allium ‘Red Mohican’
Allium ‘Red Mohican’ has unusual, maroon-red drumstick-style flower heads with extra tufts at the top, tipped with tiny white flowers (resembling a mohican). It’s a great choice for growing in a mixed herbaceous border among ornamental grasses. It also works well in pots.
H x S: 90cm x 20cm
Sea squill, Urginea maritima, bears enormous spikes of white, star-shaped flowers with a yellow centre. Native to coastal regions of the Mediterranean, it’s quite hardy and will flower reliably in southern regions of Britain. Plant bulbs in autumn in well-drained soil with added grit, in full sun.
H x S: 60cm x 30cm
Portugese squill, Scilla peruviana, is a late-spring-flowering bulbs with lavender-blue flower heads, similar to alliums. Native to the Mediterranean, it’s best grown in warmer regions of Britain, in well-drained soil with added grit. It does best in full sun.
H x S: 25cm x 25cm
Fritillaria raddeana is a shorter version of the crown imperial, Fritillaria imperialis. It bears green-yellow flowers in April and May. Grow in well-drained soil with extra grit added to the planting hole, in full sun.
H x S: 35-40cm
Allium schubertii has spiky flowerheads with stems of different lengths, giving it an unusual look. Individual florets are purple with a green centre. It’s perfect for growing in sunny borders and pots as an unusual centrepiece. It makes a striking cut flower.
H x S: 50cm x 25cm