Shorter flowering bulbs for windy places
Shorter flowering bulbs are the perfect answer if your garden is exposed to strong winds.
There is nothing more irritating than finding tall tulips snapped off by a sudden spring squall. Unless that is you discover that your daffodils which had just opened have been chewed by slugs and snails. Sadly this often happens if they too have been beaten to the ground by gales!
Well with a bit of careful planning, you can avoid this and keep your blood pressure down too!
There are masses of shorter flowering bulbs to plant!
Short stemmed and dwarf varieties
If your garden is anywhere near the coast or on a hill top this particularly applies to you.
But just because you live inland and in a suburban area don’t think that you will not need to consider this aspect.
You too will benefit from planting shorter stem sturdy varieties.
That’s because there are draughty corners created by winds funneled between buildings and walls. These can wreak havoc with taller varieties of spring flowering bulbs!
The earliest shorter flowering bulbs
The earliest to bloom, and therefore the one putting its head above the parapet, is the snowdrop but this is a tough little fella.
Most at home under the shade of trees or at the foot of a hedge, snowdrops are rarely damaged.
This is surprising when you see the narrow neck that attaches each beautiful bell to the stem.
Soon to join snowdrops, the snow crocus or specie crocus significantly widens the colour spectrum.
This is the smaller flowered crocus that you can easily plant in your lawn. That’s because, unlike later flowering bulbs, you don’t have to wait until the leaves die back before cutting the lawn. They flower and die down very early.
With crocuses there’s virtually every colour of shorter flowering bulbs you could imagine! And some even have two colours that contrast or compliment each other.
Just like with snowdrops it pays to plant crocus corms early!
As soon as these little chaps are in the soil they start to sprout roots. Consequently the performance from them is better if planted early.
Also like snowdrops, specie crocus are very perennial and will slowly spread giving tremendous value for money!
Blues and purples
To the untrained eye Chionodoxa, Puschkinia and Scilla look similar. Most of these are varying shades of blue or purple. They are very easy to grow and to establish.
They’re very short at 8-10 cm high and also spread to colonise an area.
With all these small bulbs it pays to plant shallowly. However if you plant 2 1/2 times as deep as the distance measured from the base of the bulb to the top, you won’t go far wrong.
And whilst I’m on the subject of planting…be random! Do take a handful, throw them up in the air and plant them just where they landed!
Straight rows are for vegetables not for flowers!
Staying with blue blooms
Muscari [aka grape hyacinth] look great in flower. But remember that they produce their leaves after blooming and those don’t look nearly so good as the blooms! Muscari are very fast to spread and, if you decide that you no longer like them, they are very difficult to get rid of!
Perhaps Muscari are best kept for planting with other bulbs in pots so that you can keep an eye on their wandering habits?
Personally I think that blue flowered Anemone ‘Blanda’ is somehow much more acceptable even though, like Muscari, it too spreads.
Blanda or Scilla planted under spring flowering trees can be breath-taking.
I had Scilla sibirica around the base of the lovely paperbark maple Acer griseum. This tree, raised from seed by me in 1980 was planted for us at Cleeve Nursery by that great plantsman Roy Lancaster! Roy, who I worked with for many years at Hillier Nurseries, planted this and a magnificent Ginkgo biloba in spring of 1984 shortly after we bought the Cleeve Nursery.
Having sold this nursery in 2018 we had to leave these trees behind but if you visit there you should still be able to see them.
Of course, Anemone ‘Blanda’ is also available in pink and stunning white too!
Whilst those I’ve mentioned love shade, the ultimate short bulb for shade must be our native bluebell.
Bluebells prefer deep cool soil and will seed and spread well if you get the soil conditions right.
Please don’t even think of planting the Spanish version since it will hybridize with our own native more refined bluebell.
Bluebells are hyacinths of sorts and we shouldn’t forget the [non native] cultivated hyacinth! Whether your cultivated hyacinth bulbs are planted out after forcing for Christmas [‘prepared hyacinths’] or bought as ‘garden hyacinths’ these are wind resistant and heavily scented too.
Short Iris bulbs
Iris come in all shapes and sizes but for windy places short stemmed Iris reticulata varieties are absolutely brilliant.
They’re mostly shades of blue and violet but can be planted with the yellow flowered equally short Iris danfordiae.
Beware that they both have more exacting cultural demands to succeed than other bulbs.
They need very good drainage at the base of the bulb.
This is easily provided by putting a small handful of horticultural grit in the bottom of each hole when planting.
If you do this, you are much more likely to get these dwarf iris blooming in future springs.
Daffodils that withstand wind
Short stem daffodils are a delight and, with careful choice of varieties and a bit of planning, can give you colour from February to April!
‘Tete a Tete’ is justifiably the most popular variety and with several tiny trumpets per stem it is a little charmer!
It’s also one of the very best varieties to ‘naturalise’. In other words plant once and see them flower year after year with the absolute minimum of maintenance! You will see them steadily spread. But, as with any daffodil, it is a good idea to lift the bulbs every 4 or 5 years or so after flowering when the leaves turn yellow, and replant them with more space between them.
Daffodils that are planted too shallowly and are growing too close together often fail to bloom but both of these reasons are easily fixed!
I’ve written a blog on daffodil blindness here.
And even more daffodils
An improved ‘Tete a Tete’ daffodil variety is ‘Cornish Chuckles’. It flowers a bit later, has slightly taller stems at approximately 18 cms high but has longer lasting multiple headed blooms. I grow it in pots and in borders.
‘Jet Fire’ has an orange central trumpet and yellow outer ring of petals. It’s a very reliable garden performer. That’s another I wouldn’t be without.
But if you prefer white flowers then look for ‘Toto’ or ‘Thalia’. These are excellent daffodils.
Taller but a favourite of mine is ‘Silver Chimes’ as it has a simple purity and grace that larger bloomed varieties lack.
Double flowered daffodils are not everyone’s cup of tea. The taller ones certainly have too heavy heads for their stems. But ‘Pencrebar’, at just 30 cms high, is stiff enough to cope. So if you luck double flowers then plant ‘Pencrebar’.
For the earliest blooms ‘February Gold’ is a good choice but a few twigs stuck in among each clump will give this one the support it often needs. I’ve been impressed with ‘Little Witch’ and ‘Charity May’ is a tried and tested variety that I can recommend.There are so many daffodils to choose from but I must just include one for planting in short grass. That is of course Narcissus bulbicodium and called the ‘hoop petticoat daffodil’. With wildflower lawns in vogue this, or more likely the widely available form ‘Golden Chimes’, gives an early splash of colour before the meadow flowers get going. There’s a whole lawn covered with this one at RHS Wisley Gardens in spring!
And what about Tulips?
Last, but by no means least, short stemmed tulips can be planted in windy places.
Much like daffodils, we are spoilt for choice but, unlike them, we have almost the whole colour spectrum to play with!
The Tulipa greggii and T. kaufmanniana group give us most best performers but we mustn’t exclude the excellent double early ones either.
All varieties from these groups will bloom year after year. So there’s no need to lift the bulbs and dry them off before replanting them again in the autumn. That is if, and only if, you get the soil conditions right. If your borders are inclined to be moist during the summer they won’t like that. They want to be baked dry after flowering [hence the idea of lifting and drying them off] as this emulates more closely the conditions that wild tulips enjoy.
Outstanding short tulips from the single bloomed groups include ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, ‘Stressa’, ‘Hearts Delight’ and, if you prefer mixed colours; ‘Peacock Mixed’.
Sumptuous short doubles include ‘Abba’, ‘Angelique’, ‘Monte Carlo’ and ‘Peach Blossom’.
Off course there are many more shorter flowering bulbs to grow and having “a windy spot in the garden” is no reason not to plant these magnificent bringers of spring!
Which varieties of bulb have you found successful in windy places?
What plant combinations with bulbs have looked great in your gardens?
Keukenhof Gardens in Holland is world renowned for it’s great flowering bulb displays. Do read about my visit to this great garden here.