Why not try something fantastical and new this year? There are hundreds of weird and wonderful bulbs out there, from the mad-looking Sicilian honey garlic (whose bell flowers turn to rockets as they mature), to the pouting, sinister ‘Papilio’ amaryllis with its strange greenish flowers streaked in darkest maroon. Everyday yellow daffs and red tulips move aside!
1) Sicilian honey garlic – related to the blue globe allium below, the weirdly-named Sicilian honey garlic is a delightful plant. In summer it bears tall heads of hanging greeny-red bell-shaped flowers that seem to have exploded off the top of the stems. Unusual and eyecatching, they make great cut flowers, and the individual flower stalks have the interesting quirk of moving to point straight up if you leave them to set seed.
2) Iris ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ – the flowers of this delightful little iris are hard to put into words – their colours and patterns are so complex they almost defy description. Grow her in a pot in a
porch or unheated greenhouse so you can get up close to admire those blooms; if that’s not an option, don’t worry as she’s perfectly hardy and will thrive outdoors in the garden too.
3) Botanical crocus ‘Orange Monarch’ – give your garden a jolt of early spring colour. Crocuses are great for helping banish the winter blues – and this is one of the very best. Its warm orange flowers have striped brown backs to the petals – the same colour scheme as a monarch butterfly! Scatter bulbs over your lawn and plant them where they fall, or use them in drifts under deciduous trees or shrubs.
4) Narcissus ‘Paperwhite Ziva’ – if like me, you can’t wait till March for the first daffs, these indoor beauties are the perfect cheat. They’re quick and easy, and they smell wonderful too. You don’t even have to bother potting them up – just put some glass pebbles in a wide-necked vase, top up with water and place the bulbs on top. Read more in my previous blog.
5) Blue globe allium – ornamental onions, or alliums, have been a must-have plant for trendy gardeners for years now. Every Chelsea Flower Show is full of their purple and white pom pom heads. But how many people know there’s a delightful, steely-blue allium that flowers later in the summer? It’s a dead easy plant
that likes a dry, sunny spot.
6) Tulip ‘Paul Scherer’ – dark and mysterious, these velvety near-black tulips are sure to excite comment from garden visitors. I love them because they stand out so beautifully among the fresh zingy greens and yellows of the spring garden. Having said that, just like in clothes, black will go with almost anything – it will make the colours of all your other flowers look all the richer and brighter.
7) Pheasant’s eye daffodil – a refreshing change from blazing yellow trumpet daffodils, these demure beauties really are something quite different. Dazzling white outer petals surround a shallow red and yellow cup, reminiscent I guess of the yellow of a pheasant’s eye against its red face. They bloom later than ordinary daffs and are deliciously fragrant. If you’ve got space in your lawn, try naturalising them in the grass with other spring bulbs such as camassias (also shown in the photo).
8) Hippeastrum ‘Papilio’ – yes we all call them “amaryllis” but the proper name’s Hippeastrum. Big, blowsy and fun, hippeastrums are another great bulb for banishing winter blues. You can grow them in vases the same way as paperwhites. ‘Papilio’ is an unusual variety with sexy, elongated green flowers streaked in maroon. If any flower could pout, it would be this one. Read more here.
9) Crown imperials – another one to grow if you want admiring and quizzical glances from the neighbours. Crown imperials are not subtle in any way – not least their smell! The bulbs have a peculiar foxy scent, but don’t let that put you off. Plant them 8in deep in good fertile soil and they should shoot up bold flower spikes to around 3ft high in April and May. They come in shades of yellow, orange and red – making a truly unique statement plant with their hanging bells and crown of small leaves on top.
10) Spring starflower is not often seen, and I’ve no idea
why. It’s a delightful little plant, hardy and reliable, that will give year after year of blue starry flowers with tiny yellow centres. Combine with yellow crocuses or orange violas.