Plant bulbs with a difference

By Andrew Collyer - Practical Gardening

Published 17/09/2016 | 00:00

Fritillaria imperialis
Fritillaria imperialis

Check yfor caterpillar attack - Large white butterfly larvae

Verbena bonariensis 'Lollipop'

Our garden centres and nurseries are full to bursting with fresh plump spring flowering bulbs at the moment. Daffodils, tulips, crocus, snowdrops and bluebells. Lovely as these all are why not try something a little different this year and seek out the more unusual from what is on offer. Even within the common bulbs already mentioned you can find something that stands out from the norm.

Double flowered snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis 'Flore Pleno' are exquisitely detailed in bloom. Forms of species tulip with rather less blousy flowers than those of what would be considered conventional types are available. Tulipa tarda and Tulipa turkestanica are examples. Daffodils and Narcissus come in a multitude of varieties in which there is something for everyone. But as an option the variety Narcissus bulbocodium [Petticoat daffodil] may create a talking point. Also I am on a crusade to bring back the popularity of the old fashioned Peasent's Eye, Narcissus poeticus recurvus. Late flowering and highly scented. Narcissus 'Actaea' is very similar but flowers much earlier.

Of the more choice spring flowering bulbs Fritillaria imperialis [Crown Imperials] must be the most dramatic with hanging tulip like flowers with a topknot of leaves above, displayed on a three foot high stem. It is recommended that these bulbs are planted on their sides to stop them rotting in Irish conditions. This Fritillaria is not to be confused with the more subtlely beautiful Fritillaria meleagris [Snake's head fritillary] with it's checker board markings of purple and pale pink. The white variety is even more lovely in my opinion, it still has the checker board pattern on the flowers but this is only apparent on very close inspection. Both varieties flower in April/May

Eremurus [ Foxtail Lily or Desert Candle] also fall into the category of show stoppers. Growing from a spidery star shaped root system with a central bud these are not bulbs at all but are available for planting bare rooted now for flowering in late May. As the name Desert Candle suggests they like dry hot sunny sites but are perfectly hardy. Flowering like an elegant delphinium they reach between four to six feet high.

Camassias on the other hand do like conditions on the damper side and some shade as they grow as natives in North America in wet meadow lands and by streams. Damp and shade that has to be a marriage made in heaven for the Irish gardener. Growing from a bulb they produce flower spikes with star shaped blooms to two feet in height. Camassia leichtlinii 'Caerulea' is the most common with violet/ blue flowers, Alba is a white flowering variety and even more wonderful is Camassia leichtlinii 'Semiplena' with semi double white flowers.

Alliums, flowering onions, have hit the big time in recent years with their stylish architectural flower heads punctuating many a plant border or flower arrangement. As excellent looking in flower as they are in dried seed head it gives them a long interest season. From the 'Big Bang' like explosion of star shaped flowers set in a globular habit of varieties like Allium christophii and Allium schubertii to the tightly packed spherical purple or white heads of Allium giganticum and Allium 'Mont Blanc' they are a designers dream.

Orinthogalum nutans has the lovely common name of 'Nodding Star of Bethlehem' as you would imagine it bears white star shaped flowers flushed with green on one foot high spikes. Easily grown in all but wet soils.

If you are looking for the really unusual you may find Colchicum autumnale with the equally lovely common name albeit not so politcally correct of 'Naked Lady' but also known as autumn crocus. Although they are autumn flowering you will find them for sale as dry bulbs for planting now. Often in late autumn is they remain unsold you will see them flowering regardless in the cardboard boxes they are displayed in. These bulbs will make up roots and regain energy during spring and survive to flower another day. Like many bulbs all parts of this plant are poisonous if eaten.

Wexford People

Read More