Delicate Beauties

Every autumn I plant up a collection of small, pretty pots with tiny bulbs. I love seeing bulbs such as scilla, crocus, and muscari in the garden but the weather often spoils the show. One spring the crocuses in my garden were flattened by heavy wind and rain, so I vowed that in the autumn I’d plant some in pots. Planting up some in the garden and others into pots, which overwinter in my greenhouse, hedges my bets, and protected from the rain and cold they tend to flower a little bit earlier than those planted outside, giving me an early display to enjoy.

The real delight of these pots is their portability, allowing me to bring plants like these indoors and enjoy them up close. As the flower buds start to emerge I can place them on my kitchen windowsill or my desk. It’s hard to get close to something that might only be 10cm tall when it’s growing in the garden. In a pot I can appreciate the tiny flowers in a different way. I can see the delicate markings on the petals and, best of all, I have discovered that many of the early-flowering bulbs are scented. These don’t tend to be fragrances which permeate a room, you need to get right into the flower to catch a whiff of the perfume, but it’s worth it.

This year’s bulb display includes Scilla siberica or the wood squill, which doesn’t, as its name would suggest, originate from Siberia, but from south-west Russia, the Caucasus and Turkey. The blue variety is the one you’ll have most likely seen growing alongside snowdrops, but I plumped for the white version, which I’m delighted to discover has a delicious honey fragrance too.

Muscari, otherwise known as grape hyacinths, do look like mini bunches of blue grapes. The dark- coloured blue varieties are most common, but, for something more unusual, I chose the heritage variety Muscari azureum with its powder blue flowers. You could also try the white-flowered ‘Siberian Tiger’ or the unusual ‘Golden Fragrance’ whose flowers are initially purple before fading to yellow. The latter has the added bonus of a gardenia-like scent. Both of these are on my list to order this autumn.

By growing a variety of bulbs that flower at different times you can have a long season of interest. In my greenhouse now there are shoots of fritillaries poking through, which will bloom from late March into April.

If you missed the chance to plant these bulbs last autumn take a look at your local garden centre which should have a great selection of potted bulbs in bloom. It’s a more expensive way to do it but they’ll bring instant colour and cheer. Use them to create a spring container by your front door or pop them in a pretty pot and bring indoors. When they’ve finished flowering plant out into your garden.