Brightening up Lawns and Cheating with Bulbs

After weeks of rain, we’re finally seeing a glimmer of much needed sunshine that allows us to get outdoors and do a good stint in the garden. We’ve spent the last few weeks bulb planting at Aberglasney. There’s literally tens of thousands to do so there’s a good deal of trepidation involved. Having discussed bulb planting recently in my blog, I realised I’d said very little about my favourite way to use them.

Camassia leichtlinii and Apple Blossom in the Stream Garden at Aberglasney

I love planting bulbs in grass or lawns as it’s an excellent way to increase colour and interest in the garden all year round. In fact, some of the best garden features I’ve seen have been a tree in a lawn that’s under planted with bulbs. It may sound simplistic, but it’s a really interesting tree with good flower and autumn colour that’s underplanted with spring/autumn flowering bulbs can have real impact. It brings a lot of joy to the garden for very little cost and effort. There’s also an added incentive as the lawn will need to be cut a little less often, which can be a real help.

Narcissus ‘tete a tete’

One thing I didn’t realise was that the Towy Valley where Aberglasney is situated has some of the best dairy land in the country, which means our grass grows really quickly.

Narcissus ‘Rijnfelds Early Sensation’ on Aberglasney’s North Lawn

Well cut grass is a pleasure to see, but can we make it even more interesting? Yes – by planting a huge swathe of bulbs in some of our grassed areas. It’s a great idea but has one downfall in that you have to wait for the bulbs to die down before you can cut the grass. This is a particular problem with Narcissus (commonly known as Daffodil) as they can look messy for quite a while after flowering. The trick is to plant them in long grass areas that are cut less often so the dying stems can be hidden in the grass.

Narcissus ‘Rijnfelds Early Sensation’

If you carefully choose your bulbs to suit your garden, you can get around this problem quite easily. If you grow early spring flowering bulbs like Scilla and Crocus, grass will be growing more slowly at this time of year and won’t swamp them. They also have the advantage of dying back very quickly after flowering which means the area will never become overgrown and you’ll get about a three-week splash of colour.

We grow larger bulbs like Camassia and Narcissus at Aberglasney along the same principles, but they work better in rougher grass.

Camassia leichtlinii meadow

Large quantities of bulbs are usually needed when planting in grass, and generally, naturalistic planting works best. For instance, five thousand Crocus are being planted below our Yew Tunnel and whilst the idea of planting such a large volume of bulbs can be daunting, there’s a few tricks that can make the process a little easier…

Crocus ‘Ruby Giant’

They can be planted about two and a half time their depth which, because they’re only about a centimetre tall, works out roughly to the depth of a thick piece of turf. By pulling back the strip of turf but not removing it, like a flap, you can create a pretty good planting hole into which a small handful of bulbs can be scattered.

Crocus tomasinianus

This is quite simple to achieve, but the hard part is keeping the planting natural. We use a couple of tricks to achieve this, such as different sized holes with the flaps in different directions and using a regular bulb planted to add in smaller clumps. If the turf is gently pressed back down, then the bulbs shouldn’t be damaged. If they’ve sprouted they’ll damage more easily, and although it’s not ideal, it can be better to lie them on their sides. It’s best to do this when there’s plenty of moisture around as it’ll allow the turf to re-establish more easily.

Crocus ‘Vanguard’ in the Cloister Garden at Aberglasney

Taking some photos of the planting before the holes are filled can be helpful later in the season, especially when it’s time to mow.

Cornus contraversa ‘Variegata’ and Camassia cusickii growing in the Pool Garden at Aberglasney

Naturalising bulbs in lawns can really add to your garden’s spring and autumn interest without causing lawn-mowing headaches. The key is in your choice of bulbs and in their careful placement. If you’re looking for some further advice then specialist bulb growers would be the best place to start.


Tips for the Week:

  • Make the most of the dry weather and do any digging
  • It’s not too late to plant latter flowering bulbs like Tulips
  • This is about the last chance to buy and plant wall flowers
  • If you have free draining soil onion and garlic sets can be planted
  • Grease band fruit trees
  • It’s not too late to plant up winter baskets