Great, isn’t it, when you see colourful and cheerful photos of crocuses, daffodils, and tulips appear on social media in March and April? Do you want that same early flowering in your garden next year? Then plant your spring flower bulbs now! I tell you how, and share some secrets from a famous Dutch bulb garden designer.
For me it is an annual ritual. As soon as the first frost arrives and my dahlia plants let their heads hang, I take them out and put bulbs in the vacated spots. It is a kind of farewell to the summer and already a welcome to the new growing season.
Last week I attended a lecture at our regional garden club from Dutch garden designer Jacqueline van der Kloet. She is a popular ‘bulb planner’. Like no other she knows how to bring colour power in your garden from February to May. She works in The Netherlands, but also in countries as Germany, China, and the US. She also cooperates a lot with another famous Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf, who is well-versed in summer and autumn gardens, so they complement each other well.
I have written down all Jacqueline’s secrets, and show you how to plant bulbs.
Bulb tips from Jacqueline van der Kloet
- See the trees, shrubs, and hedges as the frame of your garden. Inside you put perennials in places where they do well. Between them, you can casually sprinkle a mix of different bulbs that follow each other in bloom.
- You make that mix in a bin or wheelbarrow and throw the bulbs haphazardly in the border. You plant them where they fall. This gives you a very natural effect and all the colour in your garden from February.
- Note the colours in the surroundings of your garden. Yellow wall and red window frames? Plant yellow and red. What colours do the perennials have in your border in March to May? Try to match with those colours: go for a popping contrast or a soft ton-sur-ton.
Plant bulbs in a natural way à la Jacqueline
Plant early bloomers such as snowdrop, crocus, and winter aconite in late September to early October. Alliums can still be planted in December. Plant tip: snowdrops like moist and shade. Crocuses are best placed on a spot where they see enough sun in March and April. Too late? My own experience is that even in mid-December you can plant fine tulip bulbs – provided the soil is still soft.
- Buy flower bulbs in succession of flowering.
- Remove the bulbs from the bag immediately after purchase, or give them air and store them in a place where it is not warmer than 15 degrees. But: preferably plant them immediately …
- Make a mix in your wheelbarrow or a large container. From tulip bulbs, you need 7 to 9 on a square meter border if you put them between perennials.
- Sprinkle the bulbs in the border.
- Plant the bulbs at a depth of 3 x the height of the bulb.
- If you see the tips coming up in the spring: sprinkle cow dung (pellets) for extra nutrition.
To do after flowering
- Snowdrops > Dig the plants up, divide and replant.
- Crocuses > Increase automatically. So let sit in the ground. The first few weeks don’t mow the foliage when they are on a lawn.
- Daffodils > Let the bulbs sit, leave the ugly leaf. Don’t braid or bind those leaves, because they have to get light for the bulb development. Make sure there are enough perennials around it that can cover the ugly leaves.
- Tulips> Discard wilted old flowers at the highest point of the stem. This allows the bulb to feed for next year.
- Alliums > Let the bulbs sit in the ground. You can take the flower for decoration in a vase, or leave it in the garden. Ugly leaves can be cut off all times by the way.
I myself sometimes take bulbs out of the ground, because they get in my way when planting other plants, or because I want to create a different look next year. I also took bulbs from the ground, because I wanted to move them to another garden. Some people suffer from mice that eat the bulbs or suffer from too much moisture during summer. The bulbs that I get from the ground, I store in a pot with earth in the barn during the summer.
The sequence of spheres
You can keep this sequence if you want the early spring colour in your garden. Look at the flowering period on the packaging when you purchase.
- End of February> Snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils.
- Early March to April> Daffodils, tulips. These can bloom for weeks and continuously follow each other.
- May and June: Alliums.
Which to choose?
There are thousands of flower varieties for sale and every store sells others. A few species that Jacqueline van der Kloet uses:
- Crocuses> Burden of mice in the winter to fix all your bulbs? Plant the farmers’ crocus (Crocus tommasinianus) because they do not like it …
- Daffodils> The very early February Gold is a strong species and blooms a week or 5. Then Jenny and Topolino follow. A beautiful white long-flowering horse is the Sailboat. At the end of April you still have the yellow-orange Sabine Hay. Also to look out for: Bridal Crown (creamy white), Romy (charming white-yellow), Pink Charm (pink heart).
- Tulips> Classic red: Jacqueline, Marvet and the beautiful dark red Jan Reus. Another fun is the white-red Carnaval de Nice. Elegant orange is the Ballerina, or choose the double tulip Queensday, or late bloomer Orange Emperor. If you want yellow, look forward to the Westpoint. Another fun tulip is the Daydream, which changes color from apricot to orange-yellow and back again. The Black Hero, Queen of Night are very dark, almost black tulips. Very special is the Candy Club, with multiple flowers. Fun choices are also Ice Cream and Milkshake.
- Alliums> Allium nigrum is white and stays beautiful after flowering. The Violet Beauty will flower at the end of May. Beau Regard has a beautiful leaf in contrast to other species.
- Gladiolus calianthus
- Anemone blanda, can be planted in various places. The globules resemble cat biscuits. Soak them for a few hours in a bucket to make them swell.
- Allium ursinum
- Frittalaria imperialis
- Leucojum vernum
- Lily (Lilium)
- Grape (Muscari) in purple, blue, white or pink. A nice one is the Valerie Finnis.
- Ornithogalum ponticum
IDEA: make a surprise garden
Surprise a loved one. Plant a corner of the garden full of bulbs, secretly. As soon as they come out you put a sign in: These are for you!
Discover spring bulbs
Look in the garden of Jacqueline van der Kloet herself. The garden designer organizes a Flower Bulb Festival every 3rd weekend of April in her own garden. The garden is full of flowering spring bulbs in surprising combinations and you can also buy plants and bulbs from various growers in the country.
The garden of Kasteel Amerongen manages the National Plant Collection of muscari’s: grapes.
In Eastern Groningen there’s an early spring flower bulb fest in the gardens of Tuinfleur, Wubsbos, City Channel Garden and The Stone Farm 6 Sundays are dominated by bulb plants:
- snowdrop days: last Sunday of February and the first Sunday of March
- crocus Sunday: third Sunday of March
- daffodils, tulips and more: last 3 Sundays of April
Read more about spring bulbs