I am in the midst of exciting planning for the spring, to make sure that I have a colourful and scent- filled few weeks at the beginning of the gardening year. I have been selecting my bulbs for planting in the garden and also in pots; you need to get them soon if you have not already chosen, as they fly off the shelves and there are some shortages reported this year. The Dutch had a difficult summer with flooding and this has meant that there are reported shortages of some bulbs and a total lack of others, as they spoiled in the floods.
I am planning to plant a bulb lasagne – a term coined by the Dutch to describe a cornucopia of different bulbs in one pot. This is achieved by planting in layers, hence the name lasagne. Before we explore what you need for a successful lasagne, and how to put one together let’s think about the different types of bulbs you might wish to choose for your pot. You need to select bulbs that flower at different seasons. Well, you say, there are daffodils that flower from early March to the end of May, there are tulips that reflect the same timescales. How do I choose? Essentially you want to ensure that you get a succession of flowering from as early as possible to as late as possible, all in one pot. Bulb catalogues and online sites will help you to select colours which look well together and when the different types are likely to flower- weather permitting.
You will need some crocks, some John Innes No 2 compost and a suitably large pot in which to layer your bulbs. Ideally do this by early November, not to worry if it’s a bit later, but this is the best planting time as this allows the bulbs to develop their root system when it is still relatively warm.
Bulbs, above all, like to be well drained and not sit in soggy compost, so the first element in your pot will be some crocks over the hole(s) to enable rainwater to drain away. Crocks are usually bits of old terracotta or clay pots and are helpfully round allowing you to cover the base and not to block the holes in the bottom of your pot. Then you can add 3-5 cms of compost and plant the first of your bulbs. The ones to choose will normally be the ones which are last to flower. These may be your tulips or they may be late flowering daffodils and should be pushed gently onto the soil, pointy end up which means that the flat surface is in contact with the compost and will develop the roots of the plant. I usually plant in a large circle around the outside of the pot for the first layer. The bulbs should not touch each other, as any diseases especially mould and rot can affect others nearby.
Add some compost to cover first layer. Your next layer is likely to be Narcissus or Daffodils, also in a circle, with the pointy end up. Don’t worry too much if they seem to sit on top of the lower layer, the plants very cleverly bend their shoots around things in their way which are preventing them getting to the soil surface and the sunlight. Follow on with further compost to cover the second layer well.
Many people suggest that there should only be three tiers, but I always want to push the possibilities of my bulbs and my pots and I therefore put in a layer of hyacinths at this point. They have delicious scent, a variety of cheerful colours which contrast well with the other bulbs and are a joy to see and smell. I would suggest that three hyacinths in the centre of the pot will enable you to build the last layer of crocuses around the outer ring, very comfortably. They will flower first, followed by the hyacinths and daffodils and finally the tulips. Cover the hyacinths and crocus bulbs again with compost, filling up to almost the top of the pot perhaps leaving 1.5 cms below the lip of the pot. Leaving a little space at the top of the pot allows watering so that the compost is not washed away. Also if you can bury the crocus bulbs as deep as you can from the top of the compost i.e. 5-6 cms you are less likely to get squirrels feasting on them in the winter months.
You can label the layers, so that you can repeat the effect or choose new colours for next year by remembering what you planted! If the weather is dry, give your lasagne pot a good watering and then wait for it to show promise with the first shoots. The vast majority of bulbs come from mountainous regions of the world and are completely frost hardy, so you do not have to protect them any further. Your large, now heavy pot can be placed in an outside position giving it a little shelter if you can, although this is not essential. A sunny position will be useful for when the bulbs start to flower, but otherwise is not necessary.
There are many other types of spring bulbs which you can choose for the early flowers, from late February onwards to late March such as crocus, scilla, chionodoxa, muscari and anemones. Mid- season bulbs (late April/ early May) include narcissus, hyacinths, and early tulips and finally the late flowering bulbs in mid- to -late May are Daffodils/ Narcissus, Tulips, Alliums and Camassia.
There you have it! A gorgeous pot of potential to bring joy to your spring garden.
For more bulb-related inspiration we have some pics of great bulb and especially tulip combinations: https://northleedsgardendesign.co.uk/colour-keukenhof-style/.
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