Blue bulbs that offer more than meets the eye

Every year at Aberglasney spring begins with a myriad of different bulb displays. First up are the snowdrops and then come Narcissus, these are soon followed by Tulips and finally the Camassia with Allium. All these bulbs are well known and real stalwarts of the spring display everywhere. However there are plenty more that often get overlooked, especially in the March/April flowering period. Crocus, reticulate Iris and Fritillariav all do a great job at this time of year and are fairly well known. Although it is one that does not often get mentioned and that often has bad press that we have been especially pleased with. The grape Hyacinth or Muscari has a bad name due to a few types being particularly invasive and not actually flowering much. Today however there is a huge range to choose from and most of them make great garden plants.

They are all fairly short and generally prefer free draining ground that gets plenty of sun although it’s not always necessary. We have great success growing them in the Alpinum with a five centimetre gravel covering. Being different shades of blue through to white, with one that is so navy it is almost black, makes them really useful to mix with other plants. We drift them in small numbers between later flowering alpines. Even in small numbers they have quite an impact, but when examined close up you notice they are extremely pretty.

Over the last ten years or so a great deal of breeding and assessment work has been done with Muscari which has produced a list of excellent garden types achieving the RHS ‘Award of Garden Merit’. We have tried quite a few of these and found them to be excellent plants. However there are plenty of others that are also good garden plants. Personal favourites at Aberglasney are M. ‘Fantasy Creation’ which looks more like heads of broccoli and the wonderful pale blue M. ‘Valerie Finnis’. The species botryoides and latifolium are more robust and will seed around which some people don’t like however we find it useful as they fill gaps between other plants really well. There are also some very unusual types such as M. comosum or the multicoloured M. macrocarpum which we are trying this year. Although they do not have the nice shades of blue they are interesting and always prompt questions from the audience.

Over all we find them really good garden bulbs especially as they last for a long time when they are happy. We have clumps that are a good five years old and every year they produce a good display. They combine well with Narcissus as the blues and yellows look great together but we prefer to grow them on their own to fill a colour gap. They are also easy to propagate through seed or you can divide little bulbs out of a clump. Although they nearly always seem to look after themselves and either seed around or bulk up into clumps by themselves.

Unless you want a very special type then they are fine as dry bulbs planted in the autumn they are also very reasonably priced. Most good bulb companies will supply them and although it sounds extravagant it is best to put between fifty and a hundred in at a time for them to be eye catching. In future we will certainly be trying many more as we have been so pleased with the results.

Tips for the week

  • Set out cloches for early vegetables
  • Dead head early bulbs
  • Tie in Clematis armandii but very gently as the stems break in the wind
  • There is still time to divide perennials
  • Manuring is good while the weather is dry