Play Bulb

Bulbs are weird little structures that look like they’ll never amount to anything when you’re holding one in your hand. But as soon as their internal clocks start ticking and they hit some soil and water, they produce the most colourful blooms on cool days, when their humans are still bundled up in beanies and scarves!

From April until the end of May is the time to plant all the wonderful late-winter- and spring-flowering bulbs – the easiest way to get flowers for very little care.

Here are some ideas to get the bulbs rolling:

  • For patio pots plant sunny yellow dwarf daffodils closely together – great for indoor pot culture too.
  • Along a pathway, go for indigenous freesias with sweetly scented flowers in mixed or single colours. Plant them in bold groups to create a perfumed show!
  • To grow on pebbles in water indoors, or in outdoor shade, buy hyacinths with deeply scented, exotic, bell-like flowers.
  • For cut flowers you need lots of Dutch irises. Think dark purple, butter yellow and white, as well as ranunculus in a range of rainbow colours in single or mixed packs.
  • For a white colour scheme, you should have hundreds of native chinkerinchees – good value for money as they can be left in the ground after flowering to multiply.
  • Between ornamental grasses or in meadow gardens, indigenous babiana, ixia, and sparaxis will be perfect. They too will naturalise and can be left in the ground to multiply.
  • To create a woodland scene under the bare winter branches of deciduous trees, invest in large numbers of snowflakes (Leucojum), daffodils and grape hyacinths – all of them can be left in the ground to multiply after flowering and will give you repeated pleasure in the following seasons.

April’s choice

Planting in pots and doing other playful things with bulbs can wait until next month. For now, we first want to fill up our garden beds with ranunculus, with its multiple layers of delicate, crepe-paper-thin petals. It is available in bulk packs of mixed colours or single shades including pink, white, red, yellow and orange. The bulb has claw-like old roots resembling a dead rain spider that are attached to a hardened stem base that looks like the dried-out hat of a garden gnome.

When planting (no more than 5cm deep and about 10 – 15cm apart) the claw should be facing downward. The soil should be well-draining, loosened to about 20cm deep and enriched with compost. The growing spot should be in sun or light shade. Water your bulbs deeply every 3 – 4 days: the secret is not to let them dry out for too long, but the soil should not be sodden all the time either or the leaves will yellow.

Powdery mildew, which can sometimes mar the pretty ferny leaves, can be prevented by adding EcoBuz Disease Pro to the soil after planting. Feed your ranunculus with bulb food every two weeks. Good quality ranunculus bulbs will produce flowers for about six weeks, and the more you cut, the more buds will appear. Cut them for the vase when the buds are showing colour and are not fully open yet.

The Gardener