Blooming marvellous: the spring bulbs to plant now

October might not be the obvious month for spring planning, but if you want beautiful blooms come February, now is the time to start planting, says Ruth Styles

The weather might be doing its very best impersonation of spring, but the real deal is more than six months away. Between now and then, we can expect frosts, cold and plenty of rain, which is bad news for us but great news for bulbs planted around now. And autumn is peak season for getting spring flower bulbs in the ground, with the winter months providing them with the time needed to put roots down so they’re ready to blossom into life at the first sign of sunshine next February. ‘Bulbs can be planted from October to December, so to avoid
disappointment always check the health of your bulbs before planting,’ suggests Samantha Major, MD of gardening specialists, Sparrow and Finch ( ‘Discard any that are damaged, shrivelled or feel soft, and go for plump, firm bulbs.’

So what species are around to plant? ‘I just love the spring with all the promise it has for a good year ahead,’ says Rosy Hardy of Hardy's Cottage Garden Plants ( and the most decorated plantswoman ever to exhibit at the Chelsea Flower Show. ‘Any spring flowering shrub or plant will get my attention but there are one or two favourites. Perfumed plants might not be the best for the insects at this time but they certainly add to the enjoyment for us bipeds. Try Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’, Coronilla valentina subsp. Glauca Citrina or Sarcococca confusa to name but a few. My favourite spring perennials are more numerous including Primula, Pulmonaria, Phlox divaricatus, Pulsatilla and many more.’ These bright bulbs are also a good way of providing your plot with a shot of colour and usually bloom before most trees and shrubs are back in full leaf. ‘Use spring bulbs to brightening up the base of trees before they come into full leaf, suggests Samantha. ‘The soil beneath trees is moist and light, offering the perfect growing conditions. You can also transform a dull looking lawn and to achieve a natural look, drop bulbs from waist height and plant them exactly where they land in the grass. The aim is to make it look as though they have decided to grow there by themselves.’

With spring planting for aesthetic pleasure taken care of, the next step is to think a little more about your garden’s wild inhabitants, most of which will be coming out of hibernation close to the start of March. ‘Remember that if you want to provide food plants for insects, those with double flowers should be avoided as they are mainly sterile,’ advises Rosy, ‘so the food potential is far smaller. Specie plants are always something to look out for as they provide brilliant food sources.’ Even city gardens can do their bit for urban wildlife because, as Samantha points out, you can grow spring bulbs in pots. ‘Keep it simple by planting one type for dramatic effect or several types packed closely together for colour,’ she suggests.

Rosy Hardy's fab four for planting now

Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’
‘They or ‘Opal’ are in my opinion good flowering forms and have interesting leaves’ says Rosy. ‘Avoid the rubra group unless you want a large area of difficult ground covering.’

‘Helleborous x ericsmithii  ‘Bobs Best’
‘Be aware that the seedlings from your Helleborous x hybridus types are not always very good strains and should be removed from around good flowering varieties, before they grow and swamp them,’ comments Rosy.

Ranunculus ficaria
‘Ranunculus ficaria named varieties are fun plants for woodland areas, says Rosy. ‘Remember they are related to celendine but aren’t as invasive; their main attribute is that they give foliage cover in the winter, flower in early spring and then are totally deciduous through the rest of the year. The best forms are ‘Brazen Hussy’ and ‘Randalls White.’

‘This is an extremely large family and there are some very good old cottage garden varieties which should be planted now,' explains Rosy. 'Primula ‘Barbara Midwinter’ is a classic early flowering mat forming variety.'


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