Best Bulbs to Naturalise
Best bulbs to naturalise
Bulb planting is in full swing but there’s still time to plant more! So I offer my considered thoughts on the best bulbs to naturalise! If you get it right these bulbs will not only go on flowering year after year but also spread!
The best time to plant tulips is yet to come with the optimum month is November.
But tulips are not particularly good for naturalising and most are best treated as spectacular annuals that are replaced with fresh bulbs every year.
If you want to plant once- and once only- then you need to plant those that are less hybridised and closer to the simple tulip species. It helps if you can find a spot where the bulbs are baked by hot sun in summer. Tulips in the ‘Kaufmann’ and ‘Greige’ group such as Stresa, Red Riding Hood and Pinocchio will generally flower year after year. I’ve found that some of those classed as ‘Early Dwarf ‘are good too. Peach Blossom, Mount Tacoma and Monte Carlo are worth trying
Daffodil bulbs to naturalise
Most daffodils will naturalise readily and yet here too there are some varieties that excel. My experience is that those full blousy double varieties start out well but then steadily decline. You soon reach the point where there are plenty of leaves but hardly any blooms. Those blooms that do appear are quickly filled with rain, become heavy and bow their heads to be eaten by slugs and snails! So my advice is to avoid double flowered daffodils.
If you want the earliest of daffodils it is hard to beat that very old variety ‘Rijnsveld’s Early Sensation’. Indeed around Bristol it is regularly in bloom before Christmas!
Most large yellow trumpet daffodils are good for naturalising in grass. ‘Carlton’ is excellent and reliable. Those pictured – with white ‘Ice Follies’ – have been blooming for almost thirty years on the roadside in Cleeve. These bulbs, supplied by us but planted by the Brownies, perform well because the Parish Council have insisted that the daffodil leaves remain uncut until after the end of May each year. This makes all the difference because it allows time for all the sustenance in the dying leaves to go back and build up the new bulbs that produce the next year’s blooms.
You may wish to plant a mixture of daffodils and Narcissus bulbs and if you do, don’t be tempted by cut price smaller bulbs since these will take a few years to build up enough strength to give you a good show.
But if you want the real native daffodil bulbs to naturalise, it is Narcissus pseudonarcissus that you should be planting. This seeded itself merrily in a previous garden of mine and looks best in a gravel garden, amongst winter flowering heathers or just popping up in cracks in the paving!
Many of the other shorter hybrid daffodils are good at blooming year after year without any bother. Tete a Tete, Thalia and February Gold are good reliable ones but because they are short stemmed, they are not the best choice for planting in grass.
Bulbs for Wildflower Lawns
For a wildflower lawn, I’d suggest planting the really late flowering ‘Pheasant Eye’. These have delightful scented white blooms with tiny red cups and their subtle look lends itself to mixing with our native wildflowers. Look for this bulb labelled as ‘Actaea’ or ‘Winifred Van Graven’.
Camassia bulbs are in fashion since they do well when planted in longer grass and wildflower lawns. The tall blue and white flower spires that they produce are a very showy addition to a naturalistic style of planting.
Snowdrop bulbs to naturalise
Of course, the bulb flowering season gets underway with snowdrops. But these can be tricky to get established. The best time to split them up and replant is after flowering and before the leaves dry up. This is called planting ‘in the green’. This works well but you do have to have some plants in the first place! If you haven’t any snowdrops at all, then my advice is to plant snowdrop bulbs just as soon as they are available to buy and that would be in August. Failing this, the next best time is in January and February when you should be able to buy plants that are already growing and flowering in pots. Once established some, such as the most common Galanthus nivalis, will seed themselves and spread on their own. Snowdrops do enjoy the cool shade of trees and shrubs so this is the place to plant snowdrop bulbs to naturalise.
Similarly, bluebells bulbs are woodland plants and will spread by seed once established. Do check before you buy that these are genuine British bluebells. Often they are the stronger and, to many, vulgar Spanish bluebell which will readily hybridise with our native ones and ultimately threaten their existence in our woods. Sorry Spaniards, but I can’t recommend your bulbs to naturalise in our UK gardens!
Staying with the colour blue, grape hyacinths are good bulbs to naturalise. They are so successful- and difficult to remove- that I hesitate to recommend them. There is a place for them in the garden but not perhaps in your main flower borders where they will just take over!
Scilla, on the other hand, has far better manners! Scilla sibirica has intense blue blooms and will steadily colonise an area. They look especially attractive when planted under a pale pink cherry, a white flowered magnolia or a crab apple tree.
Anemone blanda also has a blue flowered form but I have found that this, like the snowdrop, can be frustratingly difficult to get started. Here again is a good argument for buying pot grown plants and buying them in March or April. The same goes for the white flowered wood anemone but if you already have corms of these, try soaking them in lukewarm water overnight before planting.
Many crocus corms flower well in lawns. The best types are those that have small early blooms and are often called “Snow Crocus” or “Specie Crocus”. These flower early and complete their life cycle before you need to get the mower out. In my experience the best variety of bulbs to naturalise are Crocus thommasinianus and this is usually sold as ‘Ruby Giant’ or ‘Whitewell Purple’.
It’s easy to forget that hardy miniature cyclamen are great bulbs to naturalise. Technically, these and crocus are actually corms but that’s splitting hairs! The autumn blooming Cyclamen hederifolium slowly spreads and is a very good choice for planting at the base of well-established trees. They are remarkably tolerant of the dry, poor and root filled soil that you find there. The winter flowering Cyclamen coum needs, I find, somewhat less competition. I had pockets of this delightfully hardy January and February bloomer in a gravel garden but also in gaps between shrubs and perennial plants throughout a previous garden.
Bulb planting conditions this year have been excellent and I’m sure will remain good for a few weeks longer. So if you haven’t done so yet, have a go at planting bulbs to naturalise! If you choose the right type, you will have spring flowering bulbs every spring and the show will just get better!
Have you had success with naturalising bulbs in your garden?
Which bulbs settle down and perform well year after year in your garden?
We have found that Scilla siberica bulbs planted at the base of a paperbark maple tree look very good. Have you any good bulb combinations to share with other gardeners?
If you are really into bulbs to naturalise in your garden then there is further information from the Royal Horticulture Society here.