Splash out with Summer Flowering Bulbs

Splash out with summer flowering bulbs

It’s just starting to feel like spring and I’m itching to start planting things but trying to control that impulse as I know it’s too early. It’s not too early though, to start thinking about summer colour and as the spring bulbs poke their heads out, it reminded me to think about ordering some summer flowering or ‘tender’ bulbs. When you think of bulbs it’s natural to think about Daffodils, Crocus and Tulips, all of which need an autumn planting, but there are a host of bulbs that can be planted in spring for a colourful show throughout the summer months.

Why bother with summer bulbs? Because they are relatively cheap, long flowering and showy, easy to grow and low maintenance and make great fillers of gaps in borders or pots. The description Summer Bulbs is a bit misleading though, a bulb we’d all recognise is something that looks a bit like an onion has a pointed end where the stem emerges and a few small roots at the other end. This is a true bulb that is an adapted bud that grows underground and stores nutrients for the embryonic plant. In catalogues and general usage ‘Summer’ or tender ‘Bulbs’ usually encompasses plants with other storage adaptations such as swollen roots or tubers (e.g. Dahlias) underground vertical stems in the form of Corms (e.g. Anemones and Crocosmia) and horizontal underground stems or Rhizomes such as Iris. What they all have in common is the need for a sunny position in well-drained soil as standing in wet ground will cause them to rot. Keep them fed when they are flowering with a high potassium feed such as tomato food and let the leaves die away naturally after flowering and there’s a fair chance they will flower again in the following year. These spring planted ‘bulbs’ are classed as tender as most (but not all) will not survive a harsh u.k. winter and need to be treated as annuals or dug up and brought inside somewhere frost free at least for the colder months.

We will all have come across some of the more common summer bulbs such as Begonias, Gladioli, Anemones, Dahlias, and Lilies, but there are a lot of other things that can be started off in pots in March or planted out once the weather warms up such as Ranunculus (ornamental buttercups), Eucomis (the Pineapple Lily – pictured above) , Acidanthera, Liatris (Blazing Star), even exotic plants like Hedychium (the Ginger Lily) and the Schizostylus African lily.This is a good time of year to look at the popular major seed and plant suppliers such as J Parker and Thompson and Morgan as they often have special offers on summer bulbs. Also check out some of the more specialist suppliers such as Farmer Gracy, Gee Tee Bulbs and for some really unusual bulbs such as Sparaxis the Harlequin Flower or Amarines (A cross between Amarylis and Nerines) look at the ‘Miscellaneous Bulbs’ section at Peter Nyssen Bulbs

It’s easy to discount old favourites like Dahlias and Gladioli as being old fashioned and not for today’s gardens but there are some wonderful new cultivars of Dahlias and a particular favourite of mine is Totally Tangerine with its lovely colour and simple flower shape and it flowers for months on end if you deadhead it.

If you don’t like the blowsy blooms and bright colours of traditional Gladioli then look at the much daintier Gladiolus Nana series or the Gladioli murielae (now called Acidanthera) or Sword Lily with its stylish white star like flowers with a burgundy throat – gorgeous in a pot or in the border.

There are so many summer flowering bulbs of different sizes, shapes and colours that with a little planning it’s quite possible to have a vibrant display all summer long, right up to the first frosts with later flowering Crocosmias, Nerines and long flowering Begonias ending the fireworks.