The shops are full of packets of temptation. Before you spend your heirs’ patrimony on spring bulbs, beware of the pitfalls, to make sure that your children are starving for a good reason. Manufacturers fiddle with the photographs to suggest the most unlikely colours and although the cultivation instructions will be fairly accurate, they will not tell you if your prize may be liable to rot, scrot, mange and heat prostration. Tulips should wait until November for planting and apart from the miniatures, may not return after flowering unless you dig them up, ripen them in a dry shed and replant next autumn. You’re kidding, right? Daffodils and crocus are stalwarts; you have to be fairly inept to discourage them from a recurring performance. Get them in the ground now, so that the roots establish as soon as possible. Some of the more unusual stuff is striking and tough. Try Erythronium (dog’s tooth violet), Eranthis (winter aconite) or Camassia (quamash), for something to make spectators stare. Most bulbs prefer dry soil and sunshine but there is always an exception, for example Fritillaria meleagris (snakeshead fritillary) which grows wild in water meadows.
Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ (perennial sunflower)
Buy cheap in bulk, to give a decent show. Stick to a colour scheme, so that the one tulip that survives will not clash with next year’s plantings. If they all turn up repeatedly, you are fortunate and will have a silk petalled symphony. At the front of the display put clumps of more expensive, showy types. Please do not throw bulbs on the ground and plant them where they fall, as Gardener’s World suggests, or your spring garden will appear thin, mean and rash infested. I prefer to dig an amoeba shape, to a depth of 6 inches (15 cm) or at least twice the height of the bulb. Stir some bone meal into the bottom of the hole and plant the whole packet of bulbs therein, three inches apart, less for small bulbs. Put them in the right way up; the pointy end should usually face skywards. My way, you will get a clump of colour that looks as if it has been there for years. Congested clusters can be split into lumps and spread about in the future.
Helleborus foetidus ‘Wester Flisk’ (stinking hellebore)
If you want to plant in the lawn, I say good luck to you. If you use one of those metal tubes on a stick to dig a plug, you will end up with unusable hands, a contorted spine, a craving for cups of tea and a spotty lawn. I suggest peeling back the turf and planting in groups, as before. Since the leaves must be left to bulk up the bulbs for next year, you will thank me for saving you from mowing around individual plants. Or you can close cut the whole lot and forget the damned fool idea.
Acer aconitifolium (sycamore sp. autumn colours)
The biggest lily that you can buy is summer’s Cardiocrinum giganteum. Before you are overcome with lust, greed and the desire to outdo your neighbours, you should remember that most good things must be paid for. This case requires blood, sweat and tears. The giant Himalayan lily is not hardy and will not tolerate too much heat. It will take seven years or more to flower from seed and after blooming the bulb dies. The plant does produce offsets and seeds, which will take at least another seven years to bring to bud. On the plus side, you can buy the bulbs online at huge expense, to cut down the wait to five years. The blossom is white, fragrant and seven feet high and will stop the postman in his tracks. A large, dribbling, incontinent dog with sharp white teeth would have the same effect and will be much less bother.