22 September 2014
Snake's heads in the grass
With autumn now well and truly in the air our minds as gardeners
start to shift towards next spring. Maybe it's a delaying tactic
which encourages us to look beyond the imminent winter and the
difficult weather it invariably brings, but it is also the time to
be planting spring and summer flowering bulbs.
Most garden centres now stock quite a broad range of bulbs both suitable for borders and also for naturalising into grassland. It's surprising to me as a professional gardener to see so many of the varieties used in historic houses up and down the country so readily available to buy at local garden centres and nurseries. In fact this great egalitarianism represents something of a dilemma for the gardener; do you search ever more widely for new varieties which can't be so easily found, or do you embrace the range of bulbs which is now fairly easily available to all?
Here at Allt-y-bela we are taking the middle line. We are planting great bulbs which are available to all alongside some which you may not have seen before.
The naturalising of bulbs into the margins of a garden is a great way to add a sense of age. Here at Allt-y-bela it is a process that Arne has undertaken right from the start of his time here. Over the years he has planted tens of thousands of snowdrops and daffodils into the areas towards the edge of the garden.
Over the last few days I have started adding another layer to this spring bulb matrix by planting 3,000 snake's head fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris) into the common and the orchard. These amazing flowers have chequer board like patternation on the flowers and in such numbers form a carpet in mid March, quite unlike anything else. These bulbs must be planted as fresh as possible so if you do go and buy some then make sure they are planted out as soon as you can.
We are also planting Iris 'Autumn Princess' into the common to give us a splash of orange later in the season. We have planted a range of orange flowered plants in the garden which reflect the distinctive colour of the house, and this relatively small iris (50-65cm) should be a great eye-catcher in amongst the long grasses before they are cut down later in the spring. And up amongst the trees we are planting Fritillaria imperialis 'Aurora', a deep orange/red variety which will act as beacons of colour under the dappled light through the alders.
In addition, we are planting white autumn crocus (Colchicum
speciosum 'Album') under some of the trees around the streamside
and the common but these will not flower until this time next year.
They will add a great late burst of colour alongside the autumn
flowering cyclamen we planted into the Courtyard last week.
On the back lawn we are adding Crocus 'Prince Claus' to the spring bulb meadow. 'Prince Claus' is a stunning white Crocus with purple striping to the outside of the petals. It is a bunch-flowering crocus which quickly forms into drifts.
On the margins of the driveway we are again planting orange; this time to act as a teaser until the house comes into view; Tulipa whittallii major is a very beautiful species tulip with an almost bi-colour appearance of deep orange and copper. It has a much darker base and should sit beautifully against the purposefully rough grass approach.
If you are thinking of naturalising bulbs in grass it is worth remembering that the flowering period of the bulbs will restrict your mowing regime. If you are planting crocus in a lawn then there will be almost no disruption to mowing as the bulbs will have flowered and died back before the main mowing gets underway in the spring. If, like us, you are planting snake's head fritillaries then you will be unable to mow the lawn much before mid April.
I would also suggest that if you intend to naturalise bulbs that you stick to a relatively small number of species and use large numbers and scale to give the best effect.
Whatever you choose to do, planting perennial bulbs is fantastic value in my opinion. They require very minimal care and will serve the garden year in year out for a generation or more and all for just a couple of pounds spent and very minimal effort to plant. On that note I'd better get back to planting!
Words: Steve Lannin, Gardener at Allt-y-bela
Photos: Britt Willoughby Dyer and William Collinson