Summer Bulbs

‘When bright flowers bloom
Parchment crumbles
My words fade
The pen has dropped …’
– Morpheus

In spring, everyone’s fancy (except perhaps a young man’s!) turns to their gardens.
However, as my plans for the spring garden were set last autumn, I’m already thinking ahead and planning for the summer.
Perennials (which come back every summer) provide the garden with its foundation; plants such as hostas, foxgloves, grasses, peonies, astilbes, black-eyed susans, provide continuity year-after-year, giving grand performances that can be counted on to peak at different times of the summer.
Now we usually associate bulbs with crocus, tulips, snowdrops, hyacinths, daffodils and other members of the family Narcissi. These are generally planted in the autumn, and left to naturalise in the garden for years, to delight us every spring.
At a guess I would say that the vast majority of bulbs bought by the general public are spring flowering. But I’m going to talk about summer flowering bulbs, to provide splashes of colour amongst the perennial and herbaceous plants in the borders.
If we use the term ‘bulb’ in the loosest possible sense, to include tubers, rhizomes, corms, and tuberous roots, then the planting possibilities are endless.
As Nature doesn’t always recognise our calendar, the flowering seasons of different bulbs inevitably overlap, but hopefully we can get a succession of flowers throughout the summer and into autumn.
Summer flowering bulbs can be grown in plastic mesh containers embedded in the soil. In containers they can be easily lifted in the growing season, and if thought necessary, moved to a better location.
Many flowering bulbs of this kind also need lifting before the frosts in late autumn, as they would not survive the winter, another reason for using containers, which are easily lifted, bulbs and all, ready to be over wintered in a cool dry frost free place.
Sometimes everything you plant comes up and it either works as you imagined it would or you discover that plants have ideas of their own! Sometimes garden surprises are heaven, but at times you have to take charge and intervene. So never set your garden plans, and certainly not your plants, in cement!
Play with colour, play with texture, and let your plants fall in love with one another, but don’t be afraid to change and move plants around, especially easily moved flower bulbs and annuals.
Crocosmias one of my favourites, which used to be called Montbretia, have swollen underground corms. Plant in March-April. Colours nowadays range from bright canary yellows through the oranges to intense red.
No need to lift these after flowering, but in cold areas, it is worth covering plants with a deep mulch of well-rotted compost or straw in winter. They prefer well-drained soils in sun or dappled shade, and once established, crocosmias only require the minimum of care.
Like crocosmia Gladioli are great as cut flowers, and many gardeners grow the large-flowered hybrids mainly for this purpose, rather than for the garden.
When planted among shrubs and large herbaceous flowers in a border, however, they produce an eye-catching display late in the season that no other bulb can match. They like to be well fed with compost or manure, and lots of water in dry weather. The corms can be planted over a period of 2-3 months, and it is a good idea to plant at intervals to extend the flowering season.
Planted from March to May for flowering July to September, they like full sun. I try to avoid the very tall large flowered varieties, as they do need staking to support them. Hailing from warmer climes, gladioli corms must be lifted each autumn to be over wintered indoors.
Tuberous rooted Dahlias are a great feature in the late summer garden, and again make an excellent cut flower. Plant April to May for flowering from late July to late autumn.
Dahlias come in such a wide variety of heights and types it is well beyond the scope of a short article to describe them all. Although the flowers are smaller, try the bedding types of dahlia to avoid having to stake them. Incorporate them into your herbaceous borders.
After the foliage has been caught by the first frosts, lift the tubers gently and put them in a box on a layer of peat, then store in a cool dry place until ready to plant the following year.
We can add a great deal of variety to the garden by widening the list of bulbs we buy.
There’s a whole host of summer flowering bulbs available, some of which however need planting in the autumn for a display the following year.
Amongst them are Allium, Lilium, and hardy Cyclamen.
For me it’s back to browsing the catalogues, every gardeners favourite winter pastime.
I’m particularly interested in trying summer flowering Bulb Irises for next year. They come in such a variety of colours.
Be curious, experiment, and try something new every year.