Spring bulbs are poking through the snow to bring welcome colour

As the days lengthen, fresh buds and flowers begin to appear. A profusion of spring flowers should now be on their way, brightening up the garden and offering welcome colour and interest after the winter. The earliest spring bulbs manage to brave the elements thrown at them. Winter-flowering sun worshipers include the buttery yellow aconite, Eryanthus hymalis. They are very charming and best planted where the sun can add warmth to open their globe-like yellow flowers. Avoid tucking them away in deep shade. Spring flowering crocuses, early dwarf irises (Iris reticulata) and Anemone blanda are all a delight to see too!

Bulbs complement the winter stems of Cornus and Salix, giving that extra sparkle. The yellow-red stems of Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’ work beautifully well with small Narcissus and aconites. Iris reticulata look great with the dark stems of Cornus ‘Kesselringii’ and the vivid green Cornus Flaviramea. These early jewels look great planted in groups, giving maximum impact when shining bright. Why not plan a visit to Harlow Carr Gardens to take a look at the Winter Walk? I am sure you will be inspired by the fabulous planting combinations!

There are many miniature Narcissus available for early colour. N. ‘Tête-à-tête’ is a favourite of mine as it is stout and sturdy and less prone to being blown about by the weather. This makes it ideal to be under planted beneath deciduous trees and shrubs. Other good miniature Narcissus include ‘February Gold’ and Narcissus ’Jet fire’ which produces a bright orange trumpet, a delight to see! Some Narcissus are scented like N.’Cheerfulness’. This flowers later around mid-spring, producing clusters of double white flowers with creamy white segments in the centre.

Most of the Crocus with large goblet-shaped flowers in purple and white are Dutch selections bred from the genus Crocus vernus. These amazing bulbs have the power and strength to push through turf and can be used in lawns and under trees. When naturalising Crocus vernus ‘Pickwick’ and Crocus ‘Remembrance’ for example, ensure you leave the grass uncut for six weeks after flowering to encourage self-seeding. The sunny orange and cream varieties are bred from Crocus chrysanthus and are early to flower and have smaller cup-shaped flowers. All Crocuses are very charming and provide a good splash of colour, C.chrysanthus ‘Cream Beauty’ is a popular choice. Beware of mice and squirrels as they are partial to munching on the bulbs, so watch out!

Tidy the foliage once the leaves have gone yellow and brown, allowing all the goodness to go back into the bulb. This will help for next year’s flowering display and is generally carried out about six weeks after flowering. This is when bulbs go into dormancy, storing up those all-important reserves ready for next spring. Look out for Narcissus bulb fly when cutting them back, as maggot grubs can feed on the bulbs before hatching, leading to detrimental effects destroying the bulbs. Any plants which show signs of bulb fly attack in the spring should be dug up and disposed of before the maggots leave the bulbs to pupate in the soil.

As we head further into spring, tulips become the stars of the show with their bright glossy blooms. Striking combinations are often grouped together for striking, colourful displays. This is an exciting time of the year as we look forward to and become inspired by the growing season ahead.

Jobs for the Week

• Lift and divide perennials and grasses

• Mulch to conserve water; this will help keep the weeds in check too!

• Build structures and supports for runner beans and sweet peas to climb up

• Chit potatoes in preparation for planting

With thanks to Tom White, Horticulturist at RHS Garden Harlow Carr


1 March – 1 April: Bath House Gallery – Textiles Showcase

Browse and buy beautiful pieces made by talented local textile artists. From felt, applique, embroidery and woollen work, there will be something for everyone. Normal garden admission.

3 March: RHS Members’ Advisory Service

RHS Members can get face-to-face gardening advice from an RHS advisor from 11am – 3pm on the first Saturday of the month and every Monday from 1pm – 3pm. Come to our desk in the entrance conservatory with your questions. Normal garden admission.

11 March: Mother’s Day

Bring Mum for a leisurely stroll around the garden this Mother’s Day. Take in the spectacular spring bulb displays – from daffodils and hyacinths to scillas and trilliums – and perhaps a coffee and cake at Bettys Café Tea Rooms next door. Normal garden admission.

20 March: RHS Spring Free Day