Coast columnist and ITV’s Love Your Garden presenter Frances Tophill advises on the best bulbs and perennials to fill your garden with early spring colour
March is a time when we really get our first taste of spring in the garden. For me, and for many other gardeners, spring means bulbs. By March, this vibrant, colourful assault will be in full swing. The March of the bulbs perhaps?
For those of us who garden by the sea, the bulb is our best friend: planted in the autumn, flowering in the earliest part of the year, full of colour and often full of scent. Many people can leave bulbs (with the exception of tulips) for decades in the ground, with an ever-strengthening display year after year. Sadly, a coastal position renders that difficult. Often the salty conditions make bulbs really fight for life and this battle will weaken them as the years go on. No need to despair though, bulbs offer maximum colour for minimum cost, meaning you can add to the display every year.
BULBS & BEES
So let’s get down to practicalities: what are the best bulbs for early spring? Well they may not be the most fashionable, but the hyacinth has to be, if not the King of the bulbs, certainly a member of the high court. The vivid blues, deep purples, candy pinks and primrose yellows are not only stunning but also provide a sweet scent, designed to draw in those brave, early bees.
If a hyacinth is a courtier, then the princess is the delicate Ipheion. This beautiful, little bulb thrives by the sea and has naturalised on the coasts of Britain despite hailing from South America. It has stellate (star-like) flowers in bright whites and pale blues.
PICK OF THE BUNCH
Of course the King of the March bulbs, or the general that leads this offensive, has to be the daffodil. Every year it brightens our verges with flanks of bright yellow. But there’s more to this old favourite. White narcissi for instance, are delicate and headily scented and the Pheasant’s-eye range too, offers something a little different. And what better plant to grow for the ideal mother’s day bouquet?
It’s not all about bulbs though; I can get carried away. Let’s not forget those evergreen perennials that throw up the earliest flowers. The Euphorbias and the Bergenias for example give brilliant, almost fluorescent early colour. I say, let them come. Bring on the flowers and bring on the colours.
Growing up on the Kent coast, Frances has the sea in her blood. A presenter on ITV’s Love Your Garden, she studied horticulture at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh and is the author of First-Time Gardener (Kyle Books). She now lives on the South Devon coast and works on her own plot and community projects. francestophill.com