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Spring Bulbs

Tulips and Spring flowers
Tulips arranged with Borage, Bluebells and Forget-me-nots

Why grow bulbs in the cutting garden?

Bulbs are a great choice for a cutting garden as they don't take up a lot of space and can be squeezed into small gaps in borders or raised beds. There are a huge range to choose from and the secret is to grow a few of each type of bulb for real variety when cutting for the house. They'll fill the gap before your annuals and bi-ennials start flowering beautifully. Some start flowering very early, like Snowdrops and Crocuses. Even just bringing a few cut flowers into the house in February will bring a real taste of Spring and the flowering season to come, in what is typically a gloomy time of year. Small flowers benefit from being displayed on their own in tiny glass bottles or you can bring in potted up bulbs for a longer display.

Spring bulbs
Spring bulbs displayed in vintage medicine bottles


September is a good month to start bulb planting and it's best to aim to finish planting before the end of September, although I often go into October if I spot some bulb bargains! Start with Narcissi, Alliums, Crocuses and Muscari - Tulips should be left until November to guard against Tulip Fire.

Top tips

  • Choose plump, firm bulbs.
  • Plant soon after buying or at least take them out of any plastic packaging and store in a paper bag in a dark cupboard if you can't plant them straight away.
  • Good drainage is important. If you have heavy soil then you can add some grit to the bottom of the planting hole. If using pots, have plenty of crocks at the bottom.
  • Bury bulbs at twice the depth of their size, tip upwards and firm in well to ensure there are no air pockets around them.
  • Use them to fill gaps in beds and borders. If you are growing them solely for cutting, then devoting a raised bed for bulbs is ideal. I use one raised bed, which I also use to grow annuals in during the Summer, for my Tulips. Once the annuals have finished flowering in November, I plant out my Tulips - either new bulbs or some that I have lifted and stored from last year. In the other raised beds, I plant my bulbs around the outside so that they can be left in after cutting for the following year. This works well for small bulbs like Iris reticulata and Muscari.
  • Make your life easier by investing in a strong good quality dibber or if you have a bad back, a long-handled bulb planter.
  • For a natural look in borders, throw handfuls of bulbs in the air and plant them where they land.

Indoor bulbs and bulbs for forcing

I love early spring bulbs like Crocus and Iris reticulata. If you cut them, they will only last a day or two. If you have lots of spring bulbs outside, cutting a few here and there every few days isn't a problem. But if you don't want to destroy the outside display, a better idea might be to plant a few in small pots. Pot up a few bulbs in small terracotta pots, every week throughout September/October, and then when they flower, bring them inside in their pots so you have a progression of bulbs in flower when flowers for cutting are so scarce.

If you are interested in forcing bulbs for flowering at Christmas time, then Sarah Raven offers good advice. While we're talking about Christmas (sorry!), I cut down my Alliums, back in July before the seed heads had weathered too much, and have dried them out by placing in bottles on my shelves. As well as looking rather lovely as a display now, I will spray them silver in December and use them as a natural Christmas decoration.

Allium seed heads
Allium seed heads