When planting bulbs for spring, you don’t have to stick to the usual single-colour tulips and golden daffodils. There are so many more unusual types to try.
They’re no harder to grow than the common varieties and at this time of year you get great bargains.
Instead of daffodils try Narcissus. The wide-open flowers of Oxford Gold are more like buttercups than daffs and, at only 20cm high, they’re exquisite in a window box.
Elegant Pheasant Eye, with its deep orange centre and white petals, is a cut above, too, while Rip Van Winkle is an exploding star.
For tulips to knock your socks off, Orange Dynasty and Aleppo have lava-like orange centres and outer petals of searing pink.
Tulips Angelique and Copper Image think they are flouncy dahlias, Peppermint Stick is seaside rock in flower form and the extraordinary acuminata has long orange and yellow petals, delicate as spider’s legs.
For maximum colour in a window box, try multi-headed yellow tulip Antoinette with up to 10 flowers per stem.
Evergreen, a pure green tulip that will flower into June, is the height of sophistication
Green Wave is perhaps the most flamboyant of all, its ruffled green and pink petals like a gathering of underskirts.
We all know those lollipop purple alliums, but Spider is far more dramatic, with spiky filaments exploding from a tall centre like a firework.
Grape hyacinths don’t have to be blue. Grape Ice is purple, green and white while Golden Fragrance is yellow with a scent of banana.
For a sultry spectacle, there’s just time this year to fill dolly tubs with the brooding, almost-black fritillaria persica Adiyaman.
I always think bulbs are at their most beautiful on a table top or shelf where you can get close to their delicate flowers and capture their scent
Plant these in pots now and you’ll have a gorgeous Lilliputian display in a few months.
The right containers
Shallow enamel or galvanised metal bowls from eBay or vintage shops make great outdoor table centre-pieces
Drill holes in the base for drainage, because bulbs will rot in soggy compost.
For a beautiful display fill staggered iron staging (Plant Theatre, £129 at sarahraven.com) or wall-hung shelves (Auricula Theatre, £135, budtoseed.co.uk) with terracotta pots of bulbs (small vintage terracotta pots, 10 for £36 at long-toms.co.uk).
Fill pots with compost mixed with a third horticultural grit and plant your bulbs to around three times their depth.
Pack them in so they’re almost touching then add a sprinkle of grit or pea shingle to the top for a smart finish.
Go for grape hyacinths, crocus tommasinianus, tulip Purple Doll, fritillaries, dwarf daffodils and anemone coronaria Single Caen.
“Plant 10 anemones now, 10 in January and 10 in April and you’ll get them in sequence,” suggests Chris Blom of Bloms Bulbs.
If you struggle with winter blues, iris reticulata should be on prescription.
The perky blue flowers of Pixie, Harmony or Scent-sational appear when January and February are at their soul-sapping bleakest and, if you get right up close, will fill your nose with the delicious scent of violets.
Water your containers of tulips from January until the buds have set, says Chris Blom, and they should put on a brilliant show.