How to create and make a bulb meadow
What they are and how I make them
What this update was going to be:
I had some gardening surprises to share with you
I promised that I really would read aloud one of the poems that you suggested
More what-not-to-dos in the garden this month as here, back in January
And another nursery to share
A hint about some news I’m going to be announcing soon
However, all these are for another time; reshuffling and rescheduling has taken place, as here on The Gardening Mind we’re dealing with Nature, who follows her wheel of the year in a very general sense but often, in the manner of the tape deck on an old hifi tower I once had, surprises us with a bit of fast-forwarding here and stalling there.
Last August, I spent a very lovely day at The Bell, a pub with a garden with a difference, and I underline here that the reason for my spending a whole day there wasn’t all about the aperols. It was a very proper day in fact (not that aperols are improper); I was there filming with the legend that is Joe Swift for the legend that is Gardener’s World.
Being August, the grasses and the dahlias were having their moment, and I’ll be writing about the actual design of this garden another time, which may even coincide with the episode airing at the end of the month. The filming took place in the August moment in a year of highlights; the reason I’m bumping all the other TGM scheduled posts is that this garden’s Spring highlight has well and truly arrived. The bulb meadow is in flower, very conveniently popping out to coincide with a long holiday weekend.
If you’re new to gardening, you may wonder why things don’t behave as the instructions say they will.
You may have planted a March-April flowering clematis to flower before a May-June flowering clematis yet have noticed that they are both blooming their socks off right now. Together. Please, be reassured that this is totally normal. You’ll find, and other gardeners here will help out with their own experiences, that the unusual is usual, and surprise is a daily event.
Whatever you plan, be prepared for something to just nudge that planning sideways. (There’ll be much more on garden surprises coming next month).
It appears that this year, the bulbs have decided to do it all at once.
The early- (March), mid- (March-April) and late-flowerers (May) have all decided to go for it at once. A hot March got them all going, the tulips taller this year than last due to the Spring rains necessary for height. Then the weather became cold again, which held suspended everything that had popped into bloom, as if they’d all been put in a fridge.
In a bulb meadow such as this one in this pub garden, this all-at-onceness is an unexpected but absolutely welcome surprise.
Crown imperials, narcissi, anemone and tulips dot along and through this meadow - here, I mean ‘meadow’ in the sense that a mix of plants are allowed to grow and flower.1 I’ll experiment with perennials in this way too, shaking things up and letting it all hang out, not controlling, instead simply providing the space and occasionally helping out where necessary.
The pick of colours is key, and as shown by a year such as this one, it’s a good idea to bank on nothing and everything: take a look at your list when you’re making it in October, and imagine a picture of everything in flower all at once. If this image ‘works’, go for it. If there’s one variety that you think is a bit of a gamble, drop it. Make a note of it, and include it next time with something else.
Don’t be scared of untidy baby leaves and spots of bare earth. The plants which follow on from the early meadow also need their space to emerge and then breathe, so bits of brown soil here and there are completely fine. You’re allowed to have a bit of untidiness in your garden: take it from me, this way you manage your stress levels (one less thing from the to-do list gets shifted to the not-to-do-list), the invertebrates will thank you, and the hedgehogs will almost throw you a party in gratitude.
Include some showstoppers, some flamboyant attention-grabbers who may look slightly ridiculous in the catalogue but whose exotic forms can look strangely at home against more usual forms in exotic colours.
Putting my money where my mouth is, over in my own garden, I do the same, just on a smaller scale. In this corner below, soft pastels and a bit of burnish all coming up through the ungainly rose twigs whose red-orange leaves are the reason for dotting a couple of similarly-coloured tulips here. The grape hyacinths are still out, as are the tiny just-visible scilla and chionodoxa.
Random but not at all random, there is indeed method in the bulb selection, and if you’d like to know what I’ve used in some of these images, please do read on.
You do need to be a paying subscriber to access this information below: I’m going to be sharing a lot of lists over the next few posts and so I do assure you that you get a lot in return for becoming a paying supporter. And I thank you for this too; I am genuinely grateful - your support enables me to spend the time putting together everything for you, as well as answering your questions. I also realise that I say the following every time: I LOVE the conversation, and you’re all chatting with each other in the comments now and imagine how happy that makes me feel!
Here we go then….
Here, the showstopper is Fritillaria Imperialis ‘Orange Beauty’ (Crown Imperial). Dusty orange bells create enormous flowerheads that hover above everything else in a very satisfying manner.
As a haze of blue in the background, we have Anemone Mr Fokker. I’ve talked about the importance of the job the colour blue performs in the way it makes a garden seem to recede - you can just see how it does that here with its smudge of violet-grey sidling off and away into the distance.
The narcissi are still holding on: having come out early, their light but not white shades add to that idea of a meadow that is naturalistic, dare I say, rather than full of formal bands of colours. Here, we have Narcissi ‘British Gamble’, ‘Reggae’, ‘Furbelow’ and ‘Blushing Lady’, with buttery yellow petals or pink trumpets to pick up the yellows in the Crown Imperial.
It’s this Crown Imperial, this bride of the show, which then gives the cue for the types of tulips I need to choose. Not orange I know, but another deep, warm rich colour, it’s Tulipa ‘Alison Bradley’ who has the most sumptuous of crimsons and reds, scattering a touch of bold across the scheme. Her double flowers are strong and bold enough to hold their own against the fritillaria’s orange forms, and that’s all the bold I need. Enough. Some gentle pastel is now needed to relieve the whole thing and tie up and in with the daffodils.
Tulips ‘Poco Loco’ and ‘Apricot Impression’ bring this pastel in well, the pinks tones in their petals highlighted by their companions. Tulipa ‘Aafke’ does have a touch of lilac in it, which in theory might make me question its proximity to the fritallaria, but I was pretty sure that Alison Bradley and Mr Fokker would make these lilac-violets feel welcome, and I think they did. (I think so, but as always, feel free to disagree). I’ve also popped in Tulipa ‘Valentine’ for some proper pink.
This scheme isn’t over by any means, though. Although I’ve said that everything’s out at once, there are still yet more flowers from bulbs to come. In this meadow, the giant bluebell-like camassia will start to send up spires as the tulips fade: I’ve planted Camassia leichtlinii subs. leichtlinii, and after that, the alliums will have their moment.
Could you be tempted by a bulb meadow? Let me know. I’ve got so many planting lists and plans to share with you all, different ideas for different spaces; I’m hoping that some of our community here might be tempted by this plan for a patch of bulbs. What are your thoughts - anyone planning this? Or are you planning something else you’d like to share?
Also, please, if you think of anyone you know might enjoy this post but might not know about The Gardening Mind, please do share the link with them - we continue to grow and I’m loving how you’re all sharing your own experiences and knowledge.
Thank you for joining in, and see you very soon… with a poem, and some news!