Growing bulbs is an easy way of brightening up the garden with decorative fragrant displays.
The bulbs that are grown in the garden are dominated by hardy favourites like crocuses, daffodils and hyacinths.
Seasons of interest
The main bulb season is from early spring to early summer, but many other bulbs flower outdoors or under cover at other times of the year. For colour in winter when most of the garden is dormant, early bulbs such as the pink cyclamen coum, and white snowdrops may be grown outdoors, and other bulbs forced indoors. Bulbs that flower in summer or autumn are often larger, and of more exotic shapes and hues than the spring bulbs.
Where to grow bulbs
If given the well drained soil that they need to grow and flower well, bulbs are among the easiest of all garden plants to cultivate. There are numerous cultivars and species now available that thrive in all aspects except deep shade.
Many bulbs in cultivation come from areas with a Mediterranean climate, so they need to be grown in sunny sites and prefer hot dry summers, although a huge range of bulbs flourish in the open garden in regions with summer rainfall.
Bulbs that would normally grow in woodland thrive in moist, light shade. Many others, including bulbs described as sun loving, are happy in light shade cast by nearby shrubs, walls or trellises. Even dry shade is tolerated by most hardy cyclamen. Bulbs with white or pale flowers appear almost luminous in dusky light, so look very effective when planted in a shaded site.
Whatever the setting, bulbs look best planted in groups of the same species or cultivar, whether jostling shoulders with other plants or forming a single, swaying sea of colour in a formal bed or in grass.
The different types of bulbous plant
The term bulb refers to all bulbous plants, including corms, tubers and rhizomes as well as true bulbs. The terms corm, tuber and rhizome are used only in their specific sense. With all bulbous plants, a portion of the plant is swollen into a food storage organ that enables the plant to survive when dormant or when conditions are unsuitable for growth.
True bulbs are formed from fleshy leaves or leaf bases, and frequently consist of concentric rings of scales attached to a basal plate. The outer scales often form a dry protective skin or tunic, as found in daffodils Reticulata irises and tulips.
Corms are formed from the swollen bases of stems and are replaced by new corms every year. They are common in the family Iridaceae, which includes crocuses, gladioli and Watsonia.
Tuberous is a term applied to many plants with swollen, often irregularly shaped stems or roots used for food storage.
Rhizomes are swollen, usually more or less horizontal, underground stems found in Iridaceae, notably in irises, and in Liliaceae.