Big and bold with bulbs

After one of the longest waits we can remember the sun has finally appeared, all be it briefly! Yet despite this terrible weather the Gardens at Aberglasney have fared remarkably well and the one group of plants that really signal spring is upon us are the bulbs. Over the years we have been developing collections of Snowdrops, Narcissus, Tulips and many others to make sure that the Gardens start the season with a real bang. Traditionally we have planted pockets of many different types of bulbs to give variety and colour throughout the spring.

Now that we have a good collection of different bulbs throughout the Gardens we can try something a little different. We are planting bulbs in one and two thousand bulb drifts, with larger bulbs such as Narcissus and smaller bulbs like Crocus in even larger numbers. The idea is to create a one off splash of colour for a short period. This may not be the most suitable thing to do in a home garden but in a larger space like Aberglasney it works quite well.

Generally lawns, meadows and other grassy areas are best for this job, although the same can be done in borders or woodlands. The general principle is to scatter them irregularly over the area and to make sure the edges of the drift are not regular. We find that there are patches between paths and or in between the cover of trees that can be filled quite effectively. Also the longer grassed areas of the garden that you cannot do much else with make excellent spots for drifts of bulbs.

This year we have planted three new drifts of Narcissus in a newly cleared area. As we already have over four hundred different types in small numbers through the Gardens the addition of some large drifts seemed like a good idea. So far we have been really pleased with the first flowering variety ‘Rijnfelds early sensation’ which always gets a mention and is in full flower at the moment, in fact we have over twenty different types in full flower at the moment. The second is ‘Tete a tete’ and the third is ‘February gold’ with each flowering in succession. These three varieties will flower between January and late March before the later varieties and really brighten this new area.

Elsewhere in the garden Crocus are drifted through borders, especially in the Cloister Garden and Alpinum. The great thing with them is that they are very reasonable to buy and planting is far less work than the back breaking Narcissus. The important thing is to remember to plant them in more than one place as this balances the colour. So if you have two borders try them in both to make it look a little more natural. We do exactly the same thing with snowdrops however they have a further advantage in that they can be annually thinned in late March. This means the display gets bigger every year without hurting the bank balance.

The same can be done for Tulips, Camassia and Frittilaria, we have had great success with them in various areas of the Gardens but it is the earliest flowering varieties that seem to work the best. The reason for this is that there are so few other flowers for early season so colour is scarce and therefore more valuable. If you are think of doing this the main thing is to buy good quality bulbs from a good supplier as it is a big task and it would be terrible if it went wrong. We have been pleased with the experiments we have tried with big drifts of bulbs and seeing two thousand Narcissus in full bloom in January really lifts the spirit after a winter like this one.

Tips for the Week

  • Have a think about a big drift of bulbs for next year
  • Mark clumps of snowdrops for thinning next year
  • It’s just about time for late winter pruning e.g. Roses, Hydrangea
  • If you dare try mowing the grass
  • Set up cloches for early vegetables outside as they will warm the soil ready for planting