Tag Archive: bulbs

Potted_bulbsMore and more garden plants are available from garden centres in flower. If bought in bud, potted bulbs, such as dwarf daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths and tulips, allow you to instantly transform an otherwise dull border into a colourful, early spring centrepiece. This is particularly useful for adding colour to prominent beds near to the house.

Source: ‘Short Cuts to Great Gardens’- Reader’s Digest 1999

Old School Gardener


 I recently visited my first open garden of the season, the Georgian West Lodge in the nearby town of Aylsham. Recent cold weather had resulted in many bulbs not yet being open, but the overall layout and different features of this 9 acre garden were a delight to walk around.

Lawns, splendid mature trees, a rose garden, well-stocked herbaceous borders, an ornamental pond, magnificent 2.5 acre C19 walled kitchen garden (maintained as such) meant that there was plenty to look at. I hope to return in high summer to see more of these features at their best.


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Old School Gardener

Picture by Catherine Morrisey, Limerick, Ireland

Picture by Catherine Morrisey, Limerick, Ireland

Planting Patterns #5

Spring in the step

Old School Gardener

Watsonia-close-upA genus of around 60 species of perennials, Watsonia (‘Bugle Lilies’) are usually found on rocky or grassy slopes and plateux in South Africa and Madagascar.

Most are plants typical of the fynbos area in south Africa, adapted to a Mediteranean -type climate, but some occur along the eastern and inland areas of the country and have adapted to a wider range of conditions, mainly a continental climate with summer rainfall. Many species occur mainly in the mountains, though some occur in sandy flats and marshy areas.Watsonia species were introduced as garden ornamentals to Australia in the mid-19th century and were widely grown by the 1940s.

The genus is named after Sir William Watson, an 18th century Brtiish botanist. Growing from corms, they have erect, usually sword- shaped leaves at the base and are grown for their spikes of tubular flowers in shades of red, orange, pink or white. Stems grow to between 1.2 and 1.7 metres tall. Watsonia flowers for up to 4-5 weeks in spring, which makes it a really interesting plant for perennial borders.

They have an erect growing habit, do not need any staking or support and have blooms that add a ‘zing’ to a garden for weeks on end!

The plants are a little tender, so can only be grown successuflly in places with little or no frost, or alternatively in a greenhouse or conservatory. Spring and summer growing varieties can be grown outdoors in a border and then lifted in the autumn and brought under cover for the winter. They can also be grown in containers.

The most commonly cultivated species is the pink-flowered Watsonia borbonica and its white mutant ‘Arderne’s White’. These were crossed with Watsonia meriana and other species in the early 20th century by breeders in Australia and in California to produce a wide range of cultivars. Watsonia has been eclipsed in popularity by Gladiolus and other bulbs, and is now largely neglected by the nursery industry.

Under glass they should be grown in a loam-based compost with added sharp sand and leaf mould, in full sun. They should be watered freely when in growth and liquid fertiliser perhaps added every month. Outdoors they can be grown in light, well drained soil that does not dry out in summer. A dry mulch can help protect against frost during the winter.

Further information:

Plant profile- Watsonia

Growing Watsonia

Watsonia on Tresco, Isles of Scilly

RHS- Watsonia pillansii

Old School Gardener

You might recall that a month or two back one of my blog followers, Elena, asked what to do with a couple of Amaryllis bulbs she’d bought. I gave her (or rather a useful video did) the tried and tested advice of potting them up and putting them somewhere warm and dark until there were signs of growth aboove ground. I’m pleased to say that her two bulbs are coming on well- here’s the latest evidence, courtesy of Elena, who’s living in Bergamo, Italy.

Old School Gardener

WP_20131109_022I couldn’t resist a trip to Amsterdam’s Flower Market (Bloemenmarkt) at the weekend. My wife- whose birthday was the real reason for being in the city- was very tolerant (as she usually is when I lag behind at garden visits, soaking up the atmosphere, photographing or studying the plants).

We gazed at the wonderful displays (me rather more spellbound than her, I think), and of course couldn’t resist a purchase of some unusual blue tulip bulbs (I will be amazed if they don’t turn out to be more of a purple). Well, I say some tulips, when in reality I fell for the offer of 4 packs of 10 for 10 euros. I found some lovely violet-coloured and white varieties which will work well together and provide a good spread of flowers over April – June.

I must have looked like I knew what I was doing, because a lady from Shropshire got talking and asked my advice about what to buy. I explained my thinking: blue is an unusual colour, you don’t see very often in the UK (or at least that’s my experience). I was also looking for different shaped flower heads, colour combinations and flowering periods. She seemed impressed. In fact she ended up coming away with more or less the same choice as me. That got me thinking that maybe I could offer a consultancy service to the bulb seller? But no, I was here for other things, after all.

All I’ve got to do now is decide where to plant the 70 bulbs I brought home (I forgot to tell you that my wife was also given a present of 30 mixed tulips as one of her birthday presents).

Old School Gardener

Camassia quamash via Charles S. Peterson

Camassia quamash via Charles S. Peterson

Quamash, the common name for Camassia, is a genus of 5 or 6 species of bulbous perennials native to damp, fertile meadowland in north America. They have large, ovoid bulbs which give rise to narrow, erect, linear leaves at the base. The flowers form in racemes on the top of the otherwise bare stems. These are showy flowers, star or cup shaped in blues, purples and white, appearing in mid- late spring.

Camassia leichtlinii via Gentry George

Camassia leichtlinii via Gentry George

 The bulbs of the species Camassia quamash were once an important food source for native American indians.

Camassias are great in borders or wildflower meadows and make good cut flowers. They are fully hardy to frost hardy and should be planted in the autumn about 10cm deep in moist but well drained soil in sun or partial shade. The soil should not be allowed to become waterlogged. They should be mulched over winter in areas with persistent frosts.

New plants can be grown from seed, which should be sown in containers in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe. Offsets can be removed in summer when the plants are dormant. There are no major pests or diseases affecting Camassia.


To get the best from Camassia flowers plant them against a background that will allow the pale flowers to stand out:  e.g. Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’ – a good foil because the leaves are purple, splashed pink and white; Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’ – blood-red young leaves; and Choisya ternata (Mexican orange blossom).

In borders, Camassias associate well, in light shade, with forget-me-nots, Dicentra spectabilis (bleeding hearts), Lunaria rediviva, Leucojum aestivum (spring snowflake) and Polygonatum x hybridum (Solomon’s seal), and in sun with early-flowering Geraniums and Aquilegia. If naturalised in a meadow, they look good with buttercups, cowslips and the late-flowering pheasant’s eye (Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus).

I have some purple flowered Camassias here in Old School Garden, planted in a mixed border and close by to an orange Tulip ‘Ballerina’ which flowers at about the same time – the colour combination works really well.

Camassias growing in the wild via Oregon State University

Camassias growing in the wild via Oregon State University

Sources and further information:


How to grow Camassias

Camssia leichtlinii – RHS

Old School Gardener

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tin pot of daffodilsIt’s the time to begin planting many bulbs for flowering next spring. Narcissus, Crocus, Tulips and many more are now available in the shops and online. This week’s topical question comes from Justine Potts who lives in Bath:

“I live in the middle of town and have no garden to speak of. Can I grow bulbs in grow – bags?”

Bulbs are ‘ready – packaged’ plants that are very adaptable and so they can be used in many different ways. Growing  them in grow – bags is perfectly feasible. And just as you can have a double/treble layer of bulbs in a pot to give a longer floral effect, so you can do the same in grow-bags and other containers (though you migth be limited by the depth of the container). Among the Narcissi the old double yellow ‘Van Sion’ is early, cheerful and showy; ‘Armada’ is large, gold and scarlet; ‘Royal Orange’ is large, white and orange. among the tulips the Darwin hybrids in reds, yellows, oranges and white are very impressive.

Layering different types of bulb in a pot for long spring flowering

Layering different types of bulb in a pot for long spring flowering

As with grow bags if you grow bulbs in pots and similar containers it is important to have good drainage. So long as surplus water can soak away, bulbs should grow well in them. If you have raised containers on pedestals the plants might be blown about, so you should choose those that can put up with the wind, However even lilies are a possibility here; sturdy-stemmed types that can be tried include ‘Enchantment’ (orange flowers), L. regale (white), L. ‘Destiny’ (yellow). Daffodils in early spring and tulips a little later will give colour for weeks; in particular a double layer of daffodil bulbs planted in the autumn will give you plenty of colour. There are many suitable varieties:

  • ‘Tete a Tete’

  • ‘February Gold’

  • ‘Foresight’

  • ‘Armada’

  • ‘Rembrandt’

  • ‘Thalia’

Tulips could include:

  • ‘Red Riding Hood’

  • ‘Giuseppe Verdi’

  • ‘Toronto’

  • ‘Red Emperor’, and

  • early flowering doubles ”Electra’ and ‘Peachblossom’

Before you plant up bulbs in bowls think about what you will do with them afterwards. If you want to put them out in the garden it’s best to grow them in John Innes potting compost as this provides some nutrients that will feed the bulb and so increase their strength. If, however you discard the bulbs at the end of the flowering season you can grow them in bulb fibre which doesn’t contain these nutrients and will be cheaper. If you have your own supply of well – rotted leaf mould that would be just as good as bulb fibre – and even cheaper!

Hyacinths in pots

Hyacinths in pots

Further information:

Container gardening on Pinterest

Container growing with bulbs

Old School Gardener

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Daffodil flower close up

Narcissus is a genus of bulbous perennials in the Amaryllis family. They are in the  main hardy and most flower in the spring. There are various common names used to describe all or some of the genus – daffodil, narcissus, and jonquil. Narcissus are native to meadows and woods in Europe, North Africa and West Asia, centred in the Western Mediterranean.

There is disagreement about the number of distinct species (these range from 26 to more than 60 depending on who you ask) – as some are very similar and others have hybridised. All Narcissus cultivars are split into 13 divisions (using a combination of flower form and genetic background). New cultivars are registered by name and color with the Royal Horticultural Society, which is the international registration authority for the genus.

More than 27,000 names were registered as of 2008!

Narcissus flowers

Narcissus flowers

The name “daffodil” is derived from an earlier word  “affodell”, a variant of Asphodel (another group of Mediterranean plants). The reason for the addition of the  initial “d” is not known, although it could be a ‘slip of the dutch tongue’ – the merging of the main word with the Dutch article “de”, as in “De affodil”. Playful synonyms  “Daffadown Dilly”, “daffadown dilly”, and “daffydowndilly” appeared as early as the 16th century. Everyday use of the term Daffodil tends to refer to the wild daffodil (N. pseudonarcissus).

The name Narcissus comes from the same latin word, which in turn is based on an ancient greek word – but its meaning is unknown. It could be a word loaned from another language. The most common explanation is based on the Greek myth of Narcissus, a Thespian hunter renowned for his beauty. He became so obsessed with his own reflection in a pool of water that as he knelt and gazed into it, he fell into the water and drowned. Some variations of the myth say that he died of starvation and thirst. In both versions the Narcissus plant sprang from his remains. However, this is by no means a certain derivation and it could be the that the hunter’s name was derived from the flower rather than the other way round!

Another explanation for the name comes from Pliny who stated that the plant was named because of its narcotic properties (the greek word means ‘to grow numb’). There’s no evidence to support this idea and it seems to have fallen out of favour. However,  all Narcissus species do contain the poison lycorine (mostly in the bulb but also in the leaves). The bulbs can often be confused with onions, thereby leading to incidents of accidental poisoning.

On 1 May 2009 a number of schoolchildren fell ill at Gorseland Primary School in Martlesham Heath, Suffolk, England, after a daffodil bulb was added to soup during a cookery class.

Another problem is what florists call, “daffodil itch” – a skin problem often found on the hands after contact with the plant’s sap. Some cultivars seem more likely to cause this kind of dermatitis; eg  ‘Actaea’, ‘Camparelle’, ‘Gloriosa’, ‘Grande Monarque’, ‘Ornatus’, ‘Princeps’ and ‘Scilly White’.

Narcissus geranium

Narcissus geranium

The Narcissus is used quite widely as a symbol:

  • of unrequited love (after the Narcissus myth)
  • of vanity (the West)
  • of wealth and good fortune (the East).
  • of the new year (Kurdish and Chinese cultures).
  • of beautiful eyes (Persian culture)
  • of the nation (Wales – where the daffodil is known as ‘Peter’s Leek’)
  • of Easter (the German for daffodil is Osterglocke or ‘Easter Bell’)
Cornwall daffodils- traditionally the place (along with the Scilly Isles and Channel Islands) where early supplies of cut flowers are sent out to the rest of Britain.

Cornwall Daffodils- traditionally the place (along with the Scilly Isles and Channel Islands) where early supplies of cut flowers are sent out to the rest of Britain.

Some of the species names are:

N. bulbocodium = probably greek for ‘bulb’ (bolbos) and ‘a little fleece’ (kodion) – referring to the covering of the bulb – the ‘Hoop Petticoat Daffodil’

N. cyclamineus = like a Cyclamen flower

N. incomparabilis = incomparable

N. jonquilla = probably from ‘juncus’ (a rush) – the leaves being rush-like. The ‘Jonquil’

N. juncifolia = like Jonquil, rush – leaved!

N. major = larger

N. maximus = largest

N. minor = smaller

N. odorus = sweet-scented

N. poeticus = poet’s – the ‘Poets’ Narcissus’

N. pseudonarcissus = the false Narcissus. The ‘English Daffodil’

N. tazetta = an old name for the ‘Polyanthus Narcissus’

N. triandrus = having three stamens

Daffodil growing tips

Daffodil growing tips

Both species and hybrids are used extensively in gardens and grounds, looking good planted in borders or in naturalized drifts at the base of deciduous trees. Propagation is mainly from bulbs which are very easy to grow. They require little maintenance, but with some minimum care they can be more vigorous and floriferous, and they’ll multiply much more quickly, improving the show they provide each year. (see ‘Ten tips for looking after Daffodils’ above). Narcissus grows almost anywhere, although it does prefer well-drained soils with a sunny or light shade environment. The Narcissus species types are more specific in their requirements.

Naturalised Daffodils

Naturalised Daffodils

Source and further information:


Growing Narcissus

Kew Gardens- Narcissus pseudonarcissus

Daffodil classification

Old School Gardener

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