We have all seen spring bulbs from a very early age, a joyful commencement of a new growing season, full of colour and expectation. I remember as a young boy walking through English bluebell woods and even at that young age being entranced by the sights and smells. If you are lucky enough to encounter some of the smaller wild orchids and young fern shoots when walking through such woods they are a bonus worth seeking out. There are many colours, forms, shapes and sizes of spring flowering bulbs and a garden devoid of bulbs in spring is missing out on one of nature’s treats.
Considered by many to be more of a late winter bulb, the humble snowdrop (Galanthus), is one of the very first to emerge and with time, will form great clumps of white and green in the lawn, border or woodland. It comes in a single or double form with various patterns inside the flower itself. We grow the double (Galanthus nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’) quite successfully here at the house and I am rather pleased with how well it has formed a good sized clump within only four years. I am determined to increase the varieties here but always seem to run out of time to get them in. I suppose I could always plant them ‘in the green’ once spring flowering has finished but it is not that easy to find them this way here.
The Chinodoxa or ‘Glory of the Snow’ form vast carpets of colour given the right site, we have a few small clumps that the squirrels have moved around for us over the last five years but they always appear in very early spring with their bluish-white flowers peeking out as if they are squinting at the bright spring sunshine. Squirrels have also moved a great number of Crocus around the borders and must have eaten them out of the grass! ‘Cream Beauty’ is one that I grew as a young boy and have an affection for it now. It has creamy yellow blooms with bright orange stamens and is relatively long lasting. Another long lasting, clump forming Crocus that looks great in lawns is ‘Pickwick’. It has silver-white and lilac striped petals and each corm produces up to three flowers so it is great value for money. The leaves are also variegated adding to the layers of the plant, which blooms as the snowdrops fade.
Many people have a love/hate attitude towards Muscari, I happen to like it. It quietly grows, forming very large clumps rather quickly, but when it blooms in such numbers you can’t help but be impressed with the result. We grow Muscari armeniacum, Muscari comosum ‘Plumosum’ (favoured by Colonial gardeners such as Thomas Jefferson and now naturalized in many of the borders at Monticello!), and Muscari latifolium, and each brings its own distinct bloom to the spring garden. The foliage for M. armeniacum emerges in the autumn as a tantalizing precursor. There are also white, sky blue, deep purple and even a very fragrant yellow available.
One of my wife’s favourite dwarf Narcissi is ‘Tete-a-Tete’, this plant really is a spring star, with lemon yellow petals and a bright orange trumpet. It is great for cutting and although it is only about 6-8” tall makes an easily replenished posy. I am fond of the dwarves myself and we grow a number of them here in Winchester as well as planting them for various clients around northern Virginia. I like sweet scented ‘Pipit’, it too has small lemon yellow flowers but the cup is a pale yellow so the contrast is rather good. There is a great fragrance, which having been stuck indoors all winter is a well breath of fresh air once cut and brought indoors! In keeping with the fragrant Narcissi ‘Minnow’ is another wonderful miniature with creamy white petals and a very pale yellow cup, we planted a small grouping of this and it has done well even in the front of the house in full sun. We have a number of other small Narcissi forming their own groupings here at the house including ‘Hawera’, ‘Golden Bells’, ‘Jetfire’ and the pure white ‘Thalia’ which has a heady perfume on a warm spring day, when you have a chance to sit and relax on the patio and listen to life waking up once more…