Five types of bulbs to buy for spring flowers in London gardens


ulb merchants sell dreams of spring at a time when it feels awfully far away but you do need to buy now to plant soon. The most popular varieties will sell out and you don’t want to be left with bare borders come April. It might be hard to imagine that spring promises as the leaves redden and the days shorten, so make a plan to get the best blooms.

Firstly, decide where you are going to plant your bulbs: is it a dry, sunny spot or somewhere slightly shady? Different bulbs prefer different conditions. If you are planting your display in containers, also consider how tall the flowers will grow.

Too short and you might not see them, too tall and they run the risk of flopping over if they are left unsupported.

Finally, think about timing and succession. Especially in containers where space is limited, creating a long-lasting display saves time and money.

Look at the flowering time of the bulbs you are buying, and base your selection on when they will come into bloom. If you are savvy, you should have blooms to enjoy from February right through to June. Save space by layering them in a container, with the latest flowering bulbs at the bottom and earliest flowering bulbs at the top, in a “bulb lasagne”.

As long as bulbs in containers aren’t touching, you can break the rules on the packet about how close together they need to be — planting them much closer will give you a more impressive display.

London’s microclimate means bulbs often flower at the earlier end of their flowering window.

Bulbs in the capital are prone to attacks by small mammals — mice, squirrels and others are notorious for digging up displays before they have had time to start growing.

Protect planted pots by placing a wire mesh over the top and holding it down with a brick or stone until the shoots start to emerge.

Five of the best spring bulbs for London gardens

Flowers in February

Winter aconite (Eranthis cilicica)

If you are looking for a blast of color before spring starts, winter aconites are your best friend. Ideal for London as they remain compact. Their yellow flowers shine through on even the greyest of winter days.

Flowers in March to April

Scented yellow daffodil (Narcissus cordubensis)

Daffodils come in all shapes and sizes. The one I’m most excited to grow is Narcissus cordubensis. Each flowering stem produces four or five dainty golden flowers. Ideal planted in pots so you can move them inside for the scent.

Flowers from April to May

Grape hyacinth (Muscari latifolium)

Grow from smallish bulbs, typically with bright blue flower spikes. Look out for Muscari latifolium, with flowers that start a sky blue before becoming a rich royal blue. These are low-effort and come back annually.

Flowers from April to May

Woodland tulip (Tulipa sylvestris)

Of all the tulips available, it is the woodland tulip that has the most character. Yellow flowers streaked with green start facing downwards, before curling up into bloom.

Flowers from April to May

Snake’s head fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris)

The snake’s head fritillary has a magical flower, purple and lacelike, with a checkerboard pattern. In a sunny, free-draining location they will naturalize by themselves and come back year after year with no effort.