Growbag Blog

Ten bulbs you should be ordering now!


When we three sat down to decide our topic for this week, it was a toss-up between Halloween Horror plants and our pick of delightful spring bulbs to plant now.

The latter won, you might be relieved to hear, but frankly one of Laura’s choices looks like it could easily fit in the former category. Just thought I’d warn you. Short of time to read? Scroll to the bottom of the blog for a podcast recording of this blog – you can always catch up with the pics later!

Remember that bulbs, corms etc. already have their goodies locked away inside them – little packets of beauty poised to burst forth in 4-5 months’ time with very little encouragement.  Here are my suggestions to start us off…

You can only take modesty so far, sometimes you have to do this…Tulipa ‘Estella Rijnveld’
  1. Glamorous tulips.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tulip that I don’t like!  The classic goblet shapes, the little species types, the broken-coloured varieties, the voluptuous peony-flowered ones….. they all have the capacity to knock me sideways when in full bloom, just take a look at our feature picture this week of Arundel Castle tulip festival. I even like them when their flowers start to splay and droop like languid old film-stars. I’ve managed to keep T. ‘Estella Rijnveld’ going for many years in a pot, having planted them deeply and kept them protected from squirrels. Sometimes, you just need WOW, don’t you? 

My tulips always get a good foliar feed after flowering to build up the bulbs before they die back.  Others that I really rate are ‘Greenland’, ‘Negrita’, ‘Peach Blossom’, and ‘La Belle Epoque’.

Tulipa ‘La Belle Epoque’ sweetly echoing the colour of the Pieris shoots

2. Scented narcissi.  All daffodils are in the Narcissi family, and some of them are frankly pretty brash and coarse . My penchant here is for the quieter varieties with a sweet but not cloying scent: ‘Thalia’, ‘Silver Chimes’, ‘Yellow Cheerfulness’, ‘Tete-a-Tete’ – they are all charming, and EASY! As in, you’d be mad not to.

You might not want to plant QUITE as many Narcissus ‘Thalia’ as Arundel Castle Gardens, but I highly recommend you do plant a few…….

3. Hyacinths. For a real wallop of perfume and colour, not much can beat hyacinths. H. ‘Jan Bos’ is the most dazzling carmine red, ‘Delft Blue’ has a scent that will blow everyone’s socks off, and ‘Woodstock’ (yes okay, Laura, you discovered this smasher) has flowers of a sort of shining amethyst-plum. Stunning.

Laura’s H. ‘Woodstock’ with its plum flowers set off by their striking stripy leaves

Yes, well the problem with my sisters’ approach to gardening is that they both need instant gratification, and require mainstream tulips and daffs that arrive primed for action. They’re not prepared to put in the hours of research and experimentation that goes with some of the choicer botanical bulb selections which may start quietly but then bed in and increase over time.

4. Iris tuberosa. Elaine alludes to my planting choices as if my garden resembles the Little Shop of Horrors, and it’s true that my first choice goes by the rather unfortunate name of ‘widow iris’ and definitely has a more muted colour palette than some of Elaine’s frivolous tulips. But each spring I get the quiet satisfaction of having finally cracked its growing requirements after years of trying. Iris tuberosa seems to grow best in gritty soil in a deep, broad pot, raised off the ground to ensure perfect drainage. They prefer a sunny sheltered spot where they will get a summer baking. It’s best to soak the admittedly rather unexciting rhizomes for 24 hours once they arrive. I’m afraid you may not get much of a return in the first year, but if they’re happy they will spread and fill the pot.

Iris tuberosa
They’re a bit weird, I admit, but I love to see these little irises making an appearance early each spring

5. Allium ‘Red Mohican’ My next intriguing bulb purchase for the more discerning amongst you would be Allium Red Mohican. Instead of the more usual short purple lollipop, Red Mohican is fully six foot tall. Its gorgeous sinuous stems twist and contort as they unfurl almost as if they were animal rather than plant. The mad two-tone flower is really an added bonus to the circus performance of the stems, and once happy this allium starts popping up all over the place.

Allium ‘Red Mohican’
It’s fascinating to watch the stems perform their ritual slow motion dance as they uncurl to reach their full height

6. Sternbergia lutea My final selection actually flowers in autumn rather than spring, but you never remember to buy it in its dormant state in high summer. So it’s best just to go for it now, even though the bulbs you get may have started into growth already. Sternbergia lutea, or autumn daffodil is one of those mysterious bulbs that pops up in really ancient sites, like churchyards or manor houses, where it has been clearly established for centuries, slowly increasing its spread.

Fresh green leaves and crocus like flowers of the deepest egg yolk yellow are quite startling in November. But they instantly raise your garden to a national heritage site. The on-line retailer Crocus are selling them cut-price at the moment. The advice note is to enjoy their yellow flowers sprouting from the dry bulbs on your kitchen window sill this autumn. Then inter the bulb in its final resting place to settle in and grow proper leaves and roots ready for next year (link to Crocus at the end)

Sternbergia lutea
A little colony of sternbergia immediately invokes the patina of an aristocratic family heirloom.


7. Grape hyacinth – muscari. During our blog-planning sessions there’s often a discernible pause after I reveal my plant choices – and how was that pause extended this week when I excitedly proposed muscari! Like Great Aunt Maud declining a gobstopper, Elaine and Laura confirmed there was no danger of their plant lists duplicating mine. What on earth is wrong with them? Muscari are stupid-simple to grow and their cobalt blue complements the bright yellow of tete-a-tete daffs in the cheeriest way. As usual E  & L had conflicting and largely negative views about them in a previous blog (link at the end) – both totally unfounded. Plant these in your border for springtime happiness!

Gorgeous grape hyacinths – what is wrong with Elaine and Laura?

8. Crown imperials – Like a scorned lover I just can’t overcome my obsession with these. Even though they cost more than a bottle of Merlot, and I plant them at least a foot deep as instructed by Laura – still they rarely feel I’ve done enough for them to flower. I’d really like to abandon them but I’m addicted to the earthy scent both of the bulb and the emerging shoot, and the slightly Victorian ‘pineapple’ look of them when they do flower. I wondered if I needed to enrich the soil, to which Laura airily replied – ‘mine are in a sunny spot but very poor soil and they flower every year.’ SO frustrating.

These fritillerias are at Stocktonbury, not, obviously in my garden.

9. Anemone de Caen – These are conversely ridiculously good value. They stand out like dazzling jewels in late winter or early spring before their neighbours grow up and swamp them, and they require none of Laura’s fiddly husbandry; though don’t forget that Elaine told us last week to soak the corms overnight before planting. They should come up every year but if, like me, your summers are too hot and your winters too cold, they can fall off their perch. No problem – just buy some more – it won’t break the bank and they’re truly lovely flowers (tough little corms though, wise to soak overnight before planting).

What a no-brainer!

10. Amaryllis – very long silence after I suggested these I can tell you, confirming the family perception that I was actually a baby Kardashian left on the Growbags’ doorstep. Ignore any horticultural snobbery, buy two or three blood red amaryllis bulbs and cram them into a single pot for your kitchen this week (my best performers came from Lidls last year). You can thrill your family and friends with a daily update on their progress and likelihood of producing flowers on Christmas Day. I’ll definitely be doing that.

Should we have a competition to see whose amaryllis looks like this on Christmas Day?

Louise has the perfect tree to plant spring bulbs beneath as her Plant of the Month today. Click on the box below to find out what it is

NB 1. Here is the link to the podcast recording of this blog.

NB 2. Here is the link to Crocus offer on Sternbergia lutea

NB 3. Our blog here where E and L are less than complimentary about Caroline’s love for muscari.

NB 4. We’ve got some gorgeous little houseplant pots for sale in our shop this week – in eight different designs, perfect if you’re starting your Christmas shopping already!

NB 5. If you’d like a bit more gardening chitchat from the3growbags, please type your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

7 replies on “Ten bulbs you should be ordering now!”

Hello girls, thank you for projecting my thoughts to spring. A joyous season for many reasons but I always have enormous, deep satisfaction when I spy and smell the tiny narcissus ‘Thalia’ and grape hyacinth. Probably relates to my 50s childhood. So simple yet so heartwarming. Contrasting with life these days which can be so opposite – if you allow it! That’s where gardens and gardening saves our souls. Stay warm xxx

Scott what a lovely observation. Caroline here and I think you’ve raised yet another aspect of gardens that’s so special…the memories they evoke. Snapdragons and red hot pokers (antirrhinums and kniphofias to my sisters) will always remind me of our mum who sadly passed away before any of us could know her as adults, and of the wonderful childhood we spent together. Yes the 50s was a very happy era for us also, but hopefully every generation has the opportunity of recalling their own childhood contentment in a garden. I can feel another blog topic developing! Thank you so much Scott xx

Thanks for your response Caroline.Hopefully, every generation will have their ‘sensory’ memories. I didn’t mention running my hand along and smelling the privet on the way to school, the sound of the clitter-clatter of his push-pull mower (just bought one myself!) and the smell of the newly-mown grass and last (but not least) the sound, and smell, of walking along the pebbles by the shore. All so powerful and joyful. What have you started here?! xx

I shall be hunting for La Belle Époque to plant among my Pieris, and yes you can’t beat Amaryllis at Christmas!

Carole, I’m off to Lidls shortly. Brace yourself for that daily update on the progress of my amaryllis! Caroline XX

I grew La Belle Époque for the first time last year and fell in love immediately. My colours were rather more moody than the pink your photo shows. Sadly I put her in a windy spot by our front door (showing off) and several of her heads snapped off, to be enjoyed at close quarters indoors. My outstanding, so exciting, tulip was a rash investment in Tulipa acuminata, which stopped my heart, well almost, obviously, with its exquisite beauty. As a result, more are making their way into the garden this autumn, leaving me with a depleted bank balance. HOWEVER this is an investment for the future as they bulk up well I’m assured.

Hi Jennie, Elaine here. Yes, you’re right about La Belle Epoque – in some lights, it’s almost peach or coffee-coloured, isn’t it. Just lovely, though I’m sorry to hear about the sad decapitation of yours! T.acuminata is on my wish-list but I have yet to try it – these species tulips are so much more reliable about coming up again – I have had the starry T.tarda for many years. I hope your newly-acquired display of them dazzles everyone, come spring-time!

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