Spring Flowering Bulbs
Tulips are, along with daffodils one of the most iconic bulbs of the garden. Wildly popular, they are the national flower of a number of countries and have a wide range of mountainous areas they are naturally found. Generally they favor cold dry winters and hot summers, making them hard to naturalize (excepting groups 12, 14 and 15) in the UK.
The Netherlands have been synonymous with tulip growing for many years and at one point in tulip mania, tulips were worth incredible amounts of money. A cultivar called Semper augustus (considered the most beautiful bulb in the world) was sold for equivalent amounts to 10 years skilled labour!
Almost every colour has been observed in tulips, baring true blue. Some truly incredible colours were formed, where tulip breaking virus infected plants, leading to some of the most remarkable colours. Unfortunately these bulbs were prone to degradation and almost all of these have been lost.

Semper Augustus

Watercolour, unknown artist

This was once considered the most beautiful bulb in the world, and it was defiantly the most expensive!

The magnificent colouration on the petals is due to tulip breaking virus, at the time this was unknown and the tragic irony is that the virus degrades the bulb making it short lived and difficult to reproduce.

If that weren't enough, the leaves were weak and stunted which likely meant it flowered only occasionally.

The bulbs that were worth 10 years skilled labour were unlikely to last more than 2-3 years and prove very hard to propagate!

The only remnant you will find of this type of tulip are the Rembrandt group. Unfortunately the modern Rembrandt tulips are only a shadow of the old cultivars.

Tulips are an oddity among bulbs, they like to be planted as deep as you can, ideally up to six times the depth of the bulb, doing so helps anchor the bulb (even for the tallest of them), increases their chance to survive the summer (as the subsoil is drier than the upper layers) and reduces blindness in recovering bulbs.

Tulips are best planted as late as you can before the frosts, to better protect them from diseases that can attack them in warm damp ground, they do very well in a sunny location, although they can tolerate shade in their first year (as the energy for flowering is stored in the bulb) and appreciate a well drained soil.

Theoretically you can plant them as late as January, and the bulbs store very well compared to daffs and other autumn planting bulbs, but we recommend October-November as it's much easier to plant them before the ground freezes!


Tulips are fairly easy to look after, simply remove finished flowers to stop them going to seed, and allow the leaves to persist for six weeks afterwards or until the foliage goes yellow. This is when they recover the energy required to flower next year. While the leaves are up, they benefit from a liquid feed of growmore or another balanced fertiliser as this will help them rebuild the exhausted bulb.

If they are shallowly planted or in pots, after the leaves are cut down, you can dig them up and let them rest for a few days. After the soil has dried on them, trim the roots and any remaining top growth, then dust with sulphur and put somewhere dry in sawdust or the like. There is a good chance they will store and can be planted again next autumn!

Tulips are divided into 15 groups that each share a form and characteristics. If you want to get the most out of them then it can be worthwhile checking which group suits you best.
1: Single Early
Single flowered cultivars with reasonably short stems and early flowers. The flowers are often not quite as tight as darwin hybrids and tend to be oval shaped.
2: Double Early
Double flowered but otherwise very simmilar to Group 1, The flowers tend to be larger and are very good for cut flowers, often resembling peony flowers.
3: Triumph
Originally hybrids of 1-2 and 5-11 these now have their own group, they have slightly stouter flowers than the groupes 1-2 and flower mid-way through the season, tending to last longer than the early flowers.
4: Darwin Hybrid

This is a hybrid group of tulips that are the most recognised and popular in the garden, they have the classic egg shaped flowers that most people associate with tulips on long strong stems. They naturalize reasonably well and are the tulips you most often find as cut flowers.

The original Darwin group they were crossed from is now part of Group 5

5: Single Late
Tall Single stemmed late flowering tulips (now contains darwinni and cottage groups) that generally have more squat flowers on strong stems. As the name suggests, the flowers are often later than other tulips.
6: Lily Flowered
Single Flowering plants with an interesting reflexed flower, they often have strong colours and provide a fantastic flower that is a bit less traditional than some. Mid-late season.
7: Fringed

Previously only single flowering, these tulips are now appearing as doubles as well, they have a frilly edge to their petals and they can be almost  reminicant of dianthus or sweet williums. They are best grown in a sheltered place as rain can potentially get trapped in and cause the flower to brown early.

8: Viridiflora
A rare group of tulip with a green flush on the outer petals, that can accentuate and draw attention to the flower. These are a fantastic choice for someone who wants something a bit unusual for their garden. Mid-late flowering.
9: Rembrant
A very rare group, produced by tulip breaking virus, or grown to mimic it. True Rembrant are hard to propagate and never found commercially. This is the group Semper Augustus belonged to.
Modern Rembrant tulips are disease free and much more acsessable, they are mutants of existing tulips but are only pale echos of the old now extinct cultivars.
10: Parrot
Simmilar to the Group 7 tulips, these have frilly twisted petals with large flowers and tend to flower later than Group 7
11: Double Late

The double version of Group 5, the flowers are even larger than the single lates and the double effect gives them their other epithet of peony flowered tulips.

12: Kaufmanniana
This group resembles its original species closely, it has a carmine/red blush on the outside petals and is comparatively small, it opens in the sunlight to reveal flowers reminicant of water lillies.
They are superb for overwintering and with short stems they are resilient against hard wind and have a great flower / leaf ratio.
13: Fosteriana (emperor)
These tulips were bread from a wild species of tulip found in central Asia. They retain broad flowers with truly incredible colour. The flowers open up in full sun and reach sizes of 16-18 cm. Early flowering.
14: Greigii
This group is superficially similar to group 12, it flowers later and like group 12,  they have a large proportion of flower to stem. They often have paterned leaves that bow to the ground, leaving the flowers unobstructed. They natrualize well and are great for rich colour.
15: Species (botanical)
This group has ended up a bit of a catch-all for tulips not easily put into other groups, this includes semi-domesticated tulips and wild tulips. They have the closest similarity to their wild breathrin and often have simple or delicate flowers rather than the massive commercialized cultivars. They make a wonderful display very different from modern tulips, these make a great contrast.
16: Multi-flowering (unofficial)
This is not actually a group although many places list it. These tulips produce generally 3-7 flowers per bulb and flower for a long time.
Narcissus (or Daffodils to us plebs)  are without doubt the most popular bulbs in the British garden, distinctive, cheerful and easy to naturalize, they now come in many forms and colours different to the traditional yellow cup. They are easy to naturalise and grow in the UK with sizes ranging from minute 6" Téte á Téte to larger 1.5ft cultivars.
It is worth remembering that both the bulbs and flowers are poisonous so avoid planting them if you think children or dogs are likely to try eating them!

King Alfred Select

King Alfred Daffodils are one of the classic cultivars, with strong stems and broad bright yellow flowers, they are one of the cornerstones of the garden.

They look spectacular with blue or purple bulbs so consider pairing with Iris, Crocus or Muscari.

Téte á Téte

Téte a Téte are another classic, these bulbs are tiny, growing only to 6" high and make fantastic pot grown plants for windowsills and or in borders.

Not every daffodil is yellow and single flowered. There are a number of white flowered and doubled cultivars, the most popular is Cheerfulness, a scented double Narcissus that comes in both white and yellow.

White Cheerfulness

This is a great alternative to the traditional Narcissus, it is long flowering and has a fantastic scent with a poached egg flower.

It is one of few scented daffodils which gives it a niche in gardens with little space as it pulls double duty and grows well with other plants nearby.
Daffodil bulbs are traditionally planted mid to late September, this gives them a long cold spell and the slightly moister conditions of early autumn is beneficial to starting them off. Bulbs can be planted later however they tend to slowly deteriorate over time when stored out of the soil, so check any bulbs you pick are firm with no sunken tissue.
Planting depths should be about 2-4 times the depth of the bulb, going deeper in colder climates. If you can, mulch the surface (straw works well) to protect emerging young tips from cold dry winds that could otherwise cause cosmetic damage.

Narcissi are very easy to look after, In the spring take away the mulch you used to plant (if used) and let them grow! A feed of high potash food is beneficial but not vital for flowering but don't use it until buds are forming. Keep the soil slightly moist because in dry conditions the flowers can sometimes abort.

After flowers go over, they should be removed to encourage re-flowering in the next year and leaves should be left up for 6 weeks after flowering. This is the most important time to feed plants, and should be fed with a balanced feed such as growmore or vitax Q4 for best results.

Daffodil bulbs can be planted in the lawn to great success but remember where you planted them because stepping on them in summer can compress the soil around them and cause poor flowering in the future.

Crocus are one of the first flowers to form in spring, a herald that warmer weather is on its way. They have a huge variation, from one-colour large flowered crocus to the smaller species crocus that often have multi-coloured flowers. They are a cheap versatile bulb to grow, and fill up corners well, with their short height making them an excellent companion plant to the larger Narcicci and Tulips, especially as with the huge range of colours they are easy to match.

Crocus have a fair spread of flowering times and their leaves and flowers are waxy, protecting them from the frost. This means if there is a temporary thaw in the winter, they will generally not suffer too much damage if there is a sudden frost.

There are also 'Autumn Crocus' like Colchicum which are actually not crocus but can flower before being planted!
Crocus Sativus is the saffron crocus which is a true autumn crocus and produces the most expensive spice in the world!

Large flowered Crocus

Species Crocus


Saffron Crocus

Saffron Crocus is a true autumn crocus which produces flowers before the leaves. The deep red stigma are the saffron strands and have a very short harvesting time for a good yield.

Given how little saffron is produced, you can see why it's so expensive!
Crocus should be planted about 10cm deep, interestingly they form corms every year, on top of the exhausted remnant of the previous year's growth, In soft soil this can lead to them pushing up, but it's rare and if this happens then just push them down again. They appreciate sunny well drained soil that is not too rich so underneath a deciduous shrub (or in a well lit area) is ideal and will help protect them from a damp summer.
Many crocus naturalise prolifically from seed, this can cause them to be weeds in some borders, however if this is a problem it is a simple matter to dead-head them. Crocus look after themselves well enough that you can generally plant and forget them until they appear.

Alliums come in various sizes, from the tall 1.5-1.8 to short 20cm plants but all naturalise readily. The first thought that comes to mind when thinking of alliums is the giant purple ball alliums (purple sensation), which although they provide a fantastic display are a small selection of the alliums available!

These bulbs come in a range of colours from blue to purple to even white, and there are a few really unusual flowers that can be found, like the Necteroscodrum.


Allium Purple Sensation

Alliums are spectacular plants that make great feature points in the garden. They have a strong onion-garlic scent and are good when used as both flowers and seed heads.

This is the archetypal allium bulb people think of when they want an allium in the garden, and for good reason!

Purple Sensation is easy to naturalise, reasonably inexpensive and provides a fantastic display.

The one thing to remember with alliums is the tips of the leaves often start to die back before the flower, so they are best planted behind other plants to hide this and take full advantage of their colour.
As with all Alliums, they appreciate a well draining rich soil and in these conditions can naturalise happily. Plant at double the depth of the bulb or deeper to anchor them well as the taller bulbs can be blown around a bit. The tall bulbs are best at the back of a border where they do not obstruct other plants. They do well either in clumps or as specimens.
Alliums rarely get diseases or pest problems and are very hardy. The only problem that is seriously damaging to them is white mold which you can get on edible onions as well, so try not to plant both on the same area. As flowering alliums are planted deeper in the soil than edible onions, where it is dryer, they are less prone to the disease unless it is in the soil with them already.
Small Bulb Selections
These bulbs are not as widely grown as the big three above, but are none-the-less fantastic for most gardens and provide some of the best colour you can get, in the right size to plant in your lawn, under trees or in borders.
Scilla Siberica
Scilla, also known as squalls are found in many places, and indeed english bluebells were once classified as these and should be treated like them. These poorly known plants are fantastic for growing in lawns because they flower in early spring, providing incredible blue swathes of flower, before setting seed and bowing down . Unlike many bulbs, after flowers have started setting seed they can be mown over just in time for the first cut of the lawn.

Scilla Siberica

Scilla is a very overlooked bulb, it thrives both in the lawn and in shaded poor soil. It can create vast drifts of blue that look stunning set against the green of lawns.
Scilla grow well and naturalise in either full sun or light shade and should be planted between 8-10cm deep. As with most bulbs they grow best in a well drained semi-fertile soil.
These bulbs are easy to maintain and they are generally trouble free. Remember they naturalise well from seed so clumps form rapidly and can spread prolifically.
Chionodoxa forbesii
Also called Glory of the Snow, this bulb is fantastic. It is well deserving of its award of garden merit. These plants are best in slightly shady soil but can cope with full sun as long as the soil doesn't fully dry out. They are (much like the Scilla) well suited to growing in a lawn or as a companion to other spring bulbs or underplanting shrubs. Over time they will spread and form clumps. They flower in early spring.
Chionodoxa luciliae Glory of the Snow is an overlooked bulb that works well in a variety of locations and is very tolerant of shade.


Bulbs should be planted in September for best results as small bulbs do have a tendency to dry out. Plant them about 8cm deep and try to avoid very dry or very wet soil.
There are no pests or diseases that normally pose a problem to these plants, just allow the foliage to grow after the flower so it can recuperate for next year. Over time they will multiply and can be split and replanted elsewhere.
Anemones are well known and sought after, these are small Anemone rather than the large Japanease species but like the large ones they provide great colour and naturalise well, often walking across the garden. This group benefits most from woodland style light, dappled and flower early in the year, before tree leaves have appeared in full.
Anemone Blanda Anemone Blanda is a well known anemone that provides pastel colour without being garish and grows in almost any location. It has a fantastic flower to leaf ratio and is well suited to shady gardens
As with most bulbs, Anemones appreciate good drainage and are well suited to provideing colour underneath trees whilst they are dormant. Rarely, they may suffer from powdery mildue and minor slug/snail damage, but this is unlikely to actually harm them.
Plant anemones shallowly at 3-4cm depth as they are small bulbs. Do not plant in waterlogged soil .
About - Care - Planting
Puschkinia are very simmilar to the Chinonodoxa and Scilla but tend to be white/blue and have a more delicate flower. They will naturalize happily in lawns and go dormant in the spring. They are well suited to cool dry areas and will tolerate hard cold. They are often overlooked which is a great shame.


This is another squall that will happily naturalize into a lawn. It is much paler than Chinonodoxa and Scilla Siberica which makes it a good alternative to Snowdrops, but much more reliable!
Pushkinia need very little care and are tollerent of all conditions except for waterlogged ground and they are afflicted by no real pests or disease. They are one of the easiset bulbs to look after but do appreciate being planted in september or early october.
Plant 8-10cm in slightly damp soil. They grow well under trees or shrubs and in the lawn.
Galanthus is a welcome plant in the winter, it is one of the most requested and most often planted of the small bulbs. A typically english plant (although actually not native) it has long been regarded as a sign of the end of winter (hence the name snow drop or hope flower)

Galanthus Nivalis

Snowdrops are one of the earliest spring plants to bloom, often breaking through snow, to flower and are often linked to the start of spring.
Bulbs should be planted as early as possible due to their small size. Bulbs will dry out rapidly and decrease in viability. It is sometimes possible to get large snowdrop bulbs which are then less prone to failing. Bulbs should be planted in moist but not waterlogged soil at about 6-7cm depth. This is ideally in light shade but they will cope with full sun.
Snowdrops are easy to look after, once they have survived the first year of growth this is why some people like to buy them 'in the green'.  As with all bulbs, try not to step on them after they have finished and leave the foliage alone after flowering to make sure it maintains flowering next year.