Planting dwarf bulbs

Val Bourne / 21 August 2012

A reader asks gardening expert Val Bourne: 'I would like to add some unusual species to my collection of small, spring-flowering bulbs. Any ideas?' Read Val's advice

There are lots of smaller bulbs that should be grown much more widely. One of the earliest is a pale-blue scilla that appears with the snowdrops - Scilla mischtschenkoana. It’s easy and grows in the same positions and each starry flower has a darker-blue midrib. Introduced by Tubergen in 1931, it grows in NW Iran and the Caucasus, this flower pushes through the ground before the leaves.

Later-flowering scillas include S. siberica and this bears cobalt-blue bells held above bright-green leaves in March or April. ‘Spring Beauty’ is a darker form.  It also grows in shade and self-seeds, although it isn’t rampant, unlike the violet-blue Scilla bifolia. This is only for a wild garden, or underneath large shrubs where little else grows. 

Muscari vary widely and some will colonise large areas. However they make a great cut flower and an early bee flower. The rampant M. armeniacum produces leaves in autumn too - not always welcome. However I do like the Cambridge-blue form ‘Valerie Finnis’ and ‘Blue Spike a double-blue form. Supplier Peter Nyssen -

More bulbs for September planting

Plant all at twice the depth of the bulb.

Muscari azureum AGM
Compact with a tight green thimble that unfiurl from the bottom to produce pale-blue bell-shaped flowers with much neater foliage than most. Need a sunny position and good drainage - similar to crocus in position. From Avon Bulbs - (15 cm/6 in).

Muscari latifolium AGM
A taller muscari with a two-tone flowerhead. Purple rounded bells at the bottom are topped by brighter-blue, more upright bells supported by wider leaves. Easy, but prefers some moisture (22cm/9in).

Ornithogalum nutans AGM
Very good in grass, as it covers the untidy foliage, and best in light shade so that the colour is not washed away.  This spiky bulb looks almost ghostly with its greyish flowers that appear in April (30 cm/12 inches).

Narcissus ‘W.P. Milner’
An old variety and wild-daffodil look alike with pallid buttermilk flowers. Good in grass (25 cm/10 inches).

Iris ‘Gordon’
Early grey-blue iris with purple shading, that’s sturdy and repeat-flowering every February (15cm/6 in).

Chionodoxa luciliae AGM
Large-flowered blue chionodoxa with longer-lasting flowers - good in grass (10 cm/4 in).

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