Spring Bulbs: Good things in small packages
It’s the anticipation that makes spring bulbs so compelling.
Plant them in the garden and in pots, watch them shoot and grow through winter and finally open their blooms in spring.
Words: Sandra Ross. Photo credits: Tesselaar and Jane Tonkin
Bulbs are one the best garden surprises. Especially spring bulbs - they herald the arrival of warmer times and the promise of new beginnings. Many of you will have delighted in the joys of the cheery daffodil or heavenly scented hyacinth, but have you ever been seduced by the charm of the cottage gladiolus? Or allowed yourself to be transported back to your grandmother’s garden with fragrant freesias? Read on to discover more about the beautiful world of spring flowering bulbs.
All you need to know
1. A bulb is underground storage system. The umbrella term covers true bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils; rhizomes, such as iris; underground tubers such as dahlias and potatoes; and corms, of which cyclamen and gladioli are good examples.
2. Buy healthy-looking bulbs and don’t plant anything that's soft or mouldy.
3. For long-lasting results choose a bulb from a similar climate to your own. If you are planning a one-off, single-season display of something you love, choose whatever makes you happy.
4. Spring-flowering bulbs are traditionally planted in autumn, any time between March and June. Dig the soil over to get rid of any weeds. Scatter complete fertiliser. Don’t use fresh chook manure, because that can burn the bulbs. Planting depth is quite important. Plant at least twice as deep as the bulb is high, with the neck facing up and the roots facing down. The exception is Ranunculus - plant the claws facing down.
5. Feed at planting time and again when the bulb dies down to increase the energy stored within the bulb for next year’s flowers. As the foliage yellows trim or tie into knots but don’t be tempted to cut it off before it’s yellow as this process provides the energy for next years’ flower. Bulbs may need dividing after a few years.
Tulips (Tulipa spp.)
Called the ‘Queen of all Bulbs’, tulips are all about colour. They’ve been hybridised into a myriad of brilliant colours from bold through to pastel. Their petals can be fringed, speckled, splashed or even fluted and crimped, like the Parrot tulip, my absolute favourite. And they are perfect for pots! Plant them in layers to give a full result.
Cottage Gladdies (Gladiolus nanus)
‘Blushing Bride’ (pictured) is an elegant cottage gladiolus with white flowers and carmine throat markings. We grow this through our front garden, where it flowers alongside peony poppies and Johnny Jump-ups. Also known as miniature gladiolus, these spring flowers are every bit as easy to grow as their larger summer flowering cousins. They can be tucked into corners or planted in pots – great for gardens where space is limited. And they are self-supporting, too. ‘Oriental Lady’ is another elegant miniature hybrid in deep carmine pink.
Freesia (Freesia spp.)
Almost nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing potted freesias dotted around my courtyard or growing in my flower border – they also provide me armfuls of incredible scented blooms for much of spring. The flowers are profuse, easy to grow and will flower for weeks. Freesias are great bulbs for naturalising as they are well suited to a variety of climatic conditions. The blooms last well in a vase and we recommend picking them as the first flower opens.
Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)
Gardeners in warm regions envy cool climate gardeners who can grow this cold-loving bulb. Its arching racemes of small, highly fragrant, white bell-shaped flowers look best planted in drifts through a flower garden or beneath trees. If you prefer a different colourway, look for sweet pale pink blooms of Convallaria majalis var. rosea.
Ranunculus (Ranunculus spp.)
For cut flowers, ranunculus is the best. ‘Renaissance’ (pictured top of page) is a triumph of meticulous genetic selection, with large full multi-petalled blooms, very popular with florists. ‘Picasso’ is another superior strain with large flowers on tall stems that will last a week or two in a vase.
If you like to fill your house with flowers, then you should plant them around Mother’s Day, second Sunday in May. Feed them well as they grow, and by the time spring rolls around you will be picking bunches of blooms.
Where to buy bulbs
Van Diemens Quality Bulbs
1800 179 113
1300 428 527
0417 525 371
0433 644 779
Supplies pre-packaged dormant bulbs to independent garden centres across Australia
Red Earth Bulbs
(03) 9737 9790
Visit Tulip Top
Welcome spring with a visit to Tulip Time, Bywong NSW. With 10 acres planted with magnificent tulips and other spring flowers, you don’t want to miss this spectacular display. For more information, visit tuliptopgardens.com.au