Date: 23 September 2011
Originally published in: Guardian website (UK)
Written by: Jane Perrone
Bewildered by the array of spring bulbs on offer? Our panel of garden experts pick their favourites.
Garden writer and broadcaster
My favourite is a parrot tulip called ‘Orange Favourite’. It smells like a freesia, with a pinch of curry powder, has magnificent flowers with orange, green and crimson markings, flowers late (ideal for a tulip, to spread their season) and makes a brilliant cut flower. Team it with Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’, which carries on once the tulip’s petals have dropped.
Broadcaster and Guardian gardening columnist
I’d pick the hoop petticoat daffodil, Narcissus bulbocodium – it’s such a perfect, tiny daffodil. The flowers are shaped like a petticoat, obviously, and range from palest lemon yellow to butter. They look amazing naturalised on a bank of rough grass dancing about in the wind.
Garden writer and author of Bulb: A Hand-Picked Selection Of The World’s Most Beautiful Bulbs
I’ll be growing 20 kinds of tulip next spring, and the one I’m most looking forward to seeing again is ‘Cairo’. It blooms [in mid-April] in a sandy orange-brown that gets paler and browner as the flower ages. It’s scented and looks gorgeous with the bright foliage of Geranium maderense.
The tulip ‘Spring Green’ is sturdy, upright, pretty and sophisticated, especially the soft green licks on the outside of the pale cream petals. I tend to use them with Tellima grandiflora, which flowers at the same time, and Euphorbia x martinii.
Plantsman and garden designer
I’d recommend a snowdrop given to me by my friend, the late Sir Cedric Morris. Galanthus elwesii ‘Cedric’s Prolific’ stands up to 40cm tall, producing a succession of rounded flowers, sometimes marked at the tips with faint green lines. Snowdrops look well coming through low, carpeting plants, such as the foam flower, Tiarella cordifolia, and the little purple-leafed viola, Viola riviniana Purpurea Group.
Head gardener at Great Dixter
Tulip ‘Ballerina’ is elegant, yet has a joyous spark with a hint of tangerine scent. I’d pair it with sky-blue forget-me-nots. Simple yet effective.
Garden designer and singer
Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ is an impressive late spring/early summer bulb that returns each year and multiplies. The spherical flowers hover above box balls, echoing their form, while the unruly foliage is hidden by herbaceous perennials such as Alchemilla mollis, Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’ and G. ‘Ann Folkard’.
Guardian Weekend garden writer
I buy as many tulips as I can afford and fill a butcher’s sink with them, plus a load of pots. I don’t plant them with anything else – just tulips, each group on their own, so I don’t have one going over and ruining the look of the rest. I like the strong colours – purples, oranges and pinks. This year I’m going to get ‘Queen of the Night’, ‘Ballerina’ and ‘Couleur Cardinal’.
Narcissus ‘Silver Chimes’ is the last of all the daffodils to perform. The multiheaded flowers are infused with intoxicating perfumes more reminiscent of summer borders. Combine with Cyclamen coum, Erigeron karvinskianus and Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Purple’.
Tulipa sprengeri saved my bacon by adding an important splash of colour to a Chelsea show garden a few years ago. It’s a zingy red that really sings without being gaudy. It is happy to naturalise where it can self-seed undisturbed. I use it among grasses and herbs in gravel gardens and among shrubs in semi-shade.
How about the tulip ‘Abu Hassan’, for its rich, generous colouring and a sheen like the finest silk? Its best companions are other tulips such as ‘Paul Scherer’ and ‘Couleur Cardinal’, all dark and rich.
Blue Peter gardener
The native Fritillaria meleagris. I love it when nature throws a curveball, and that snakeskin pink and white chequerboard is amazing; it looks great among blue fescue grasses.
Plantsman and broadcaster
It has to be a snowdrop, the appearance of which signals the coming of spring. I would not be without Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’, whose robust constitution, free-spreading nature and fragrant blooms make it a must for beginners. In my heavy clay soil it grows with Leucojum vernum, Cyclamen coum and Eranthis ‘Guinea Gold’.
I am hopelessly addicted to tulips. My favourite combination is half Tulipa ‘Havran’ mixed with a quarter ‘Princess Irene’ and a quarter ‘Ballerina’ through all borders close to the house, alongside paths or crammed into pots. ‘Havran’ is used as a base colour and is a generous bulb, often producing more than one rich plum bloom to a stem. The petals of the others provide a clash of vibrant tangerine orange. Both have streaks of purple, which link back to ‘Havran’ perfectly, and the bonus of perfume.
Supervisor of the Mediterranean Biome at the Eden Project
I love white narcissi and the cyclamineus narcissi with their curved, swept-back petals. Although Narcissus cyclamineus ‘Jenny’ isn’t pure white – the trumpet starts off pale yellow and quickly fades to creamy white – it is reliable. It is great for naturalising, in grass or wild settings, its and is fab with white-stemmed birch trees or ornamental grasses.
Buy 25 Fritillaria meleagris (bulb size 5-6cm), 20 hoop petticoat daffodil bulbs (5-6cm) or 10 Tulipa ‘Spring Green’ for £8.99 (10/11cm). Or buy two packs for £17.98 and get the third variety free. Prices include free p&p. To order, go to guardian.co.uk/offers/plants. Bulbs delivered next month.