Like many gardeners, we depend on spring flowering bulbs to help brighten the early garden, and using a selection can give splashes of colour from late December until April. Most importantly, many early flowering blooms provide nectar and pollen for early emerging bees.
Nearly every garden in Scotland can support bulbs as long as the soil is not too damp or waterlogged. Which ones, though, are hardy enough for our Scottish gardens?
Unlike most plants sold, very few bulbs are labelled with details of their hardiness, so we looked at ones we feel are suitable for our Scottish climate using the RHS hardiness ratings.
The H number is the RHS hardiness rating and in Scotland, we would recommend H3 in mild areas, to H5 across most areas. In extremely cold areas or frost pockets, look for bulbs or corms with a rating of H6 and H7.
It may be too late to plant now for this spring but you can buy potted bulbs at nurseries and garden centres, and plant these out in your garden. Plant them in the pot so as not to cause disturbance, then after flowering, as they die back, remove the pot and replant.
Otherwise, make a note of any early flowers you like this year when you see them and check to see if they are hardy enough to survive a Scottish winter. Plant them this autumn to give you masses of welcome colour next spring.
Alliums – H3-5
Allium is a large genus which includes onions, garlic, leeks, and chives, as well as many highly ornamental species, which form clumps of mostly strap-shaped leaves and flower in May and June. The flowerheads form a spherical globes of many individual flowers in shades of purple, pink and white. Alliums prefer full sunshine and a well-drained soil. In general they should be planted 15cm deep.
Gardeners can be put off by their unsightly foliage but if underplanted with shorter plants like herbaceous geraniums or spring bedding, the lower leaves of the alliums can be covered while allowing the magnificent flowers to be shown off.
Snake’s Head Fritillary, Fritallaria Meleagris – H4-5
A varied genus, including some wonderful small to medium-sized spring flowering garden plants. In general, they prefer a well-drained soil, in full sun or part shade. F. meleagris, commonly known at the Snake’s head fritillary because of the snake skin pattern of the flowers in shades of purple, pink, and white, grows to a height of around 30cm, and is good for naturalising in grass.
Hyacinth, Hyacinthus – H4
These bulbs produce pretty, scented flower spikes coming in a rainbow of colours including lilac, blue, pink, white, cream, apricot, and even red.
Plant garden hyacinths about 15cm deep in full sun or light shade, in any well-drained soil. Take care when handling the bulbs as they can cause skin irritation.
Grape Hyacinth, Muscari – H3-5
Grape hyacinths, not directly related to true hyacinths, are little blue or white-flowered spring bulbs which look fabulous at the front of borders or naturalising beneath shrubs. They have a tendency to spread freely, preferring a sunny position in any soil with reasonable drainage. Plant 7.5cm deep in autumn.
Crocus – H4-5
A spring garden essential, with their instantly recognisable funnel-shaped flowers which open wide in the sun, crocus is great for naturalising in lawns and at the edge of borders, preferring a sunny position in well-drained soil.
Crocus comes as corms, not bulbs, and should be planted 7.5cm deep or 10-15cm in very light sandy soils. If your soil is heavy, add plenty of grit to the planting area. Mice and squirrels like the taste of the corms, especially when newly-planted, and if this becomes an issue, try placing chicken wire over them.
Daffodils, Narcissus – H5
Narcissus is of the easiest garden bulbs to grow, with thin strap-like leaves, taller stems, and yellow or white flowers in spring. It is best planted in a sunny or lightly shaded site, in a rich, moist soil, with adequate drainage. Leave the foliage after the blooms are spent, to store food for next year’s flowers.
To naturalise daffodils in grass, the best are the vigorous types such as ‘King Alfred’. There are many low growing varieties for the smaller garden, border, or rockery including ‘Quail’, ‘Pipit’, ‘Rip Van Winkle’, and ‘Tête a Tête’.
Tom’s Hidden Garden is located in Bonnybridge, Central Scotland – a small garden with over 630 different plants, 200 containers and 30 hanging baskets. Tom Williamson has been developing the garden over the last 35 years, working with David Gallacher over the last 10 to create its unique look. Tom is a keen gardener, planting where he thinks a plant will be happy. David is a time-served gardener in commercial gardens and landscaping. Catch up with more secrets of their garden and their success with plants on their Facebook group.