Planting bulbs in pots and containers gives everyone an opportunity to enjoy dazzling blooms in brilliant colours. They suit any garden, however big or small – even if your growing space is limited to a windowsill, balcony or doorstep.
Layering spring bulbs in a pot
An advantage of growing bulbs in containers is that they can be a moveable feast, bringing pots that are at their peak to the fore, while discreetly moving the pots that have gone over out of sight. You can even enjoy a mini garden on a table top, with small bulbs – snowdrops, crocus and scillas.
If your garden is shady, concentrate on bulbs that enjoy shade, including woodland anemones, scillas, narcissi and snowdrops.
Here are Carol Klein’s recommendations for bulbs to grow in pots.
Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’ has lovely green-striped inner bell and honeyed perfume from January to March. Plant in October to November.
How to plant: Line up rows of 9cm pots, with five bulbs in each pot.
Other snowdrop varieties to grow: Galanthus nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’ or ‘Blewbury Tart’.
Iris reticulata ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ is sometimes the first bulb to flower, in January and February. It loves growing in pots.
How to plant: September to October. Try three bulbs to a 9cm pot.
Other iris varieties to grow: All reticulata and histrioides varieties. ‘Cantab’ is pure blue; ‘Natascha’ is icy white.
Cram the corms in and you will be rewarded with a sea of flowers in February or March.
How to plant: Plant in October, in any pot, 1-2cm apart.
Crocus varieties to grow: Any chrysanthus variety, such as the subtle ‘Cream Beauty’ or ‘Gypsy Girl’.
Narcissi grow well in pots and bring cheer in early spring. Narcissus ‘W.P Milner’ is dainty but robust. Plant in September or October for flowers from March to April.
How to plant: Lot of bulbs in large containers make a real show. Plant closely.
Other daffodil varieties to grow: Any triandrus variety, such as ‘Ice Wings’ or ‘Hawera’.
Scillas produce vivid blue flowers in March to April. They are especially distinctive when grown in pots.
How to plant: Plant in September to October, three to five bulbs to a litre pot.
Scilla varieties to grow: Scilla bifolia has attractive crimson stems. Scilla peruviana has superb heads; it needs a deep pot.
There are many stunning varieties of muscari (grape hyacinth), flowering from March to April.
How to plant: Plant from September to October. Try three bulbs to a 9cm round pot.
Other varieties to grow: All of the ‘Magic’ series – Blue, Ocean or White. ‘Valerie Finnis’ is a pretty pale blue.
Hyacinthus orientalis ‘Carnegie’ is fragrant and robust, with white flowers in April and May. Plant in September or October.
How to plant: One bulb per 9cm pot, or uneven numbers in larger pots.
Other hyacinth varieties to grow: ‘City of Haarlem’, an unusual warm yellow, or ‘Delft Blue’, a pretty pale blue.
Anemones are easier to grow in pots – they can be supported to prevent bent stems. They provide beautiful blooms from March to April.
How to plant: Soak the corms overnight before planting in September or October. Plant up to 10 in litre pots.
Others anemones to grow: Anemone coronaria ‘De Caen Group’ or ‘Bordeaux’.
All tulips love the sharp drainage they get in containers, so if you can’t grow them in your garden soil, this is a great way to grow them. Just make sure they have a sunny spot. They will flower in April or May, depending on the variety.
How to plant: October to November. Cram into clay pots for maximum impact.
Other tulip varieties to grow: Darwins or other strong-stemmed types. Species tulips are shorter but look lovely, too.
Alliums look dramatic and architectural in pots – Allium schubertii in particular. They flower from May to June. Cut off the leaves when they start to shrivel or disguise behind other pots.
How to plant: Plant in deep pots in September to October.
Other alliums to grow: Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ is easy and spectacular. Allium sphaerocepahlum looks showstopping later in the summer, planted en masse.
Grow bulbs in plastic pots that are the same size as your decorative outer containers. You can then drop them into the pots just as the bulbs come into bud, replacing those that are past their best. When planting, ensure that the bulbs don’t touch. You can plant bulbs in layers, known as a bulb lasagne – find out how to layer spring bulbs. Top with a layer of gravel – it helps drainage and makes an attractive mulch.