As we are nearing the end of the spring bulb planting season, we are already starting to prepare for our summer bulbs again.
Spring bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, crocuses, and all the other perhaps somewhat less-known varieties, such as fritillaries and alliums, ensuring colourful gardens from February until June, should really be in the ground by now. It is time again to shift our focus to the summer and autumn, and see how we can extend the colour displays well into October and possibly even November.
From February we should start seeing early spring bloomers like snowdrops (galanthus) and crocuses display their vibrant colours, followed shortly afterwards by early narcissi. In particular the dwarf varieties such as the ever-popular ‘Tête à Tête’ will be amongst the first to bloom. All these early spring bloomers tend to be great colonisers that will reliably spread once they are established (galanthus bulbs in particular often need a year to establish themselves without flowering). Because these bulbs produce flowers so early in the season, they are ideal for planting beneath deciduous trees and shrubs. They also naturalise well in borders and under grass in lawns. Especially snowdrops are perfectly happy in shady areas.
Most spring bulbs however, show off their best in April, with hyacinths, daffodils and most tulips at their peak. The later tulip varieties follow in May and the giant Alliums continue on into June.
What comes after June is what gardeners should start thinking about now.
Summer is when the more robust and long-flowering bulbs and tubers come into their own. The perennial crocosmia (montbretia) is available in several colours, from the yellow ‘George Davison’ to the bright red ‘Lucifer’. Crocosmias are great naturalisers, and come back in ever-greater numbers year after year. Begonias are as popular as ever, and of course there is the Dahlia, which is completely back in vogue again. Dahlias can flower from July through to November if well taken care of (this requires regular ‘dead-heading’). These reliable tubers are not hardy, so best to plant them after the frosts have disappeared. Dahlias come in all shapes and sizes and can grow so big that they sometimes require staking.
Gladioli and lilies also come in a huge range of colours, from bright whites through to reds and deep purples. Depending on their location, gladioli and lilies also often need staking to prevent them from falling over. If you really want something special and exotic then consider the stunning, long-flowering zantedeschia (arum or calla). It has beautiful lush green (spickled) foliage and stunning trumpet-like flowers in a variety of colours.
To further extend colour displays in your garden, consider the nerine bowdenii. This hardy perennial bulb has lovely divided pink flowers, which appear in October/November. Bear in mind that nerines often need a season to establish so are not guaranteed to flower in their first year.