It's Autumn, so it's obviously time to think of Spring
The popularity of spring flowering bulbs
The supermarket racks are overflowing with Tulips and Daffodil bulbs
So I guess Autumn is the time of year to choose spring flowering bulbs. Which is just as well as I have plans to transform the small patch of lawn at the front of the house into a haven for butterflies, bees and other insects.
A blank canvas, soon to become our new Butterfly Garden
A little background reading on growing flowering bulbs.
Or to be more botanically correct, growing bulbs, corms, rhizomes and tubers. We shall take a closer look at the specific differences in the forthcoming article on propagation. But for now, they are the swollen root like, fleshy ball or onion shaped “bulbs” that when planted will grow into a flowers.
Daffodils, tulips, alliums, anemones, crocuses and irises are top favourites in UK gardens. Although there are so many others to choose from. All of which provide an array of bright colours to signalling the end of winter, announcing a new year of gardening and a promise of summer displays to come. So they certainly make a welcoming statement.
I would include Hyacinths, but on a personal note, my hay-fever would kick in a bit too early in the year for my liking. I wish I could include them in my garden, they have such a strong scent and would be a great addition to encourage wildlife.
Top benefits of growing flowering bulbs
- Bulbs are perennials, which means they will regrow for several years if given the right conditions. Even then, they can be propagated so you’ll only need to buy them once.
- They can provide a spring, mid summer and a winter display of colour in the garden if planned correctly.
- You can grow different varieties together in pots so that when one dies back another emerges.
- They will grow as an indoor plant in a container, brightening up any windowsill.
- Harvested fresh from the garden they make wonderful cut flowers for the home or as a gift.
- If scattered over the lawn or under trees and buried, a natural looking habitat effect can be achieved, autumn plantings under the lawn will also finish flowering in time for the first mowing in late spring. Although cut back, they will pop up through the post winter grass same time next year.
- Their flowers attract bees and butterflies to your garden
- Bulbs create a varied display of colour with little effort, and will flower over long periods of time. This can be achieved in relatively small spaces by planting different spring, summer and winter flowering bulbs together.
When to plant flowering bulbs
SPRING to early summer flowering. Plant bulbs from October through to December. Be advised, planted too early, young roots may be effected by late frosts in March, so be patient.
SUMMER flowering bulbs should be planted in spring when the soil is warmer.
AUTUMN & WINTER flowering bulbs will also need to be planted in spring and early summer, so a bit of forward planning is required.
Where to grow flowering bulbs
Bulbs tend to grow well in sunnier well drained conditions, so they’re not going to be particularly happy with heavy clay soils in shady areas. If this sounds like the conditions you have to work with, try planting them in containers where you’ll have more control over the soil conditions.
Use a general purpose compost or plant in soil with good nutrition, mix in some grit for added drainage if you think it’s a bit claggy.
Plant bulbs in clumps or scattered around the lawn and under trees, in herbaceous boarders between the herbs or in regimental lines along the path (see ‘A potted history of the Tulip’ below).
How to plant bulbs
Bulbs can be buried up to two or three times their size and about twice their size apart, as a general rule of thumb. But don’t be afraid to experiment a little.
Place the bulb with the top facing up, this should be fairly obvious but if in any doubt place it on it’s side and let nature figure it out. Cover and water.
Take more care when planting in containers, the soil may dry out quicker than expected. The soil should feel moist but not soaked. I’ve read that a liquid tomato feed can also be of benefit.
A potted history of the Tulip
I grew up in the 1970’s and the Tulip for me became synonymous with the more refined front garden, where past the manicured box hedge they provided a parade of red and yellow flowers, lining the pebble dashed concrete path, from latched gates to heavy wooden front doors of the more affluent properties on our council housing estate in Norwich, Norfolk.
In contrast, the Tulip was originally brought over to Western Europe in the 11th century from Asia, and not for the lower middle classes. They were eventually introduced to gardens of wealthy europeans in the 15th century, the Duc van Tol Red and Yellow being some of the most expensive bulbs one could buy.
It was later in the Victorian era of the 19th century that stately homes and gardens were ablaze with the must have Dutch import. As time moves on they cascade through commercialism until they arrive into my 1970’s council estate affluence.
So now I'm all grown up perhaps Tulips will have a place in my garden, contrasting the Allium afros’ with some 70’s disco Tulip dazzle. They might even give the kids on this estate something to aspire to. I’m sure the early spring bee will also enjoy the display.
What kind of flowers will attract butterflies to my garden in the UK?
Well I don’t imagine that I shall be able to please all 59 butterfly species resident here in Britain, of which I would say I’ve only ever seen a handful in the wilds of Essex, or the additional 30 that are documented to migrant to the UK from elsewhere in Europe, but I will do my humble best.
The easy answer is that if you want to attract butterflies to your garden, plant flowers that produce shallow platforms and openings, this will makes it easy for the butterfly to reach the nectar and pollen. Small clumps of flowers work well I’m told.
Here then is a list of my top 12 flowers to attract butterflies.
Which came first, the caterpillar or the butterfly?
Now if you’ve read my blog you’ll know that I have had a slight issue with the Cabbage White, the only butterfly considered to be harmful to my veg patch. You can read up on that story here. However, attracting butterflies to your garden is only one part of the story, how cool would it be to provide a habitat for butterflies of all varieties to lay their eggs, and help feed the larvae.
The flowers previously listed will attract butterflies, but their larvae will probably require different types of plants and leaves to feed on, and they can be rather picky what they eat.
Unless it's a Cabbage White, then any brassica will do.
Plants for Butterfly larvae to feed on.
So, to bring this back on subject, with a more holistic approach to attracting butterflies and creating habitats to support their life-cycle, what spring bulbs am I going to buy to support butterfly larvae?
That's kind of easier said than done, simply because each variety of butterfly favours specific plants. For example, the Monarch will mainly be found on Milkweed and The Red Admiral prefer nettles. Not something you may want in your garden. Although allowed to grow within a patch of mixed wild meadow flowers and grasses, this may not be a bad idea at all.
Spring Bulb Gardening on a Budget
Well, as I’m gardening on a budget I’m going to keep this simple with a dash of the unexpected to nurture the wild side of gardening.
To begin with I'm going for a pre-selected spring bulb collections this year. These packs are more economical and still provide a good show. Luckily I also have a self seeded buddleia and lavender which I need to move and propagate. So with a 'Cottage Garden' seed collection, I reckon I can plant up the front garden with a good varied selection of annuals like the ones I've listed below.
So that’s the front garden in bloom with the potential for supporting all manner of wildlife but especially butterflies for the princely sum of £31.98. Also, as they are annuals all I need to do next autumn is add a few more to build up the display, and continue year on year. I’m happy with that.
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