Naturalising Bulbs

28. September 2020 by Isabelle Van Groeningen
Categories: About gardening, Autumn, english, News, Seasons, the garden academie | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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Crocus tommasinianus verwildert unten Viburnum

Flagge Deutschland für deutsche Übersetzung auf Deutsch lesen – This week saw the start of autumn: the halfway point to the shortest day of the year. The summer weather has really held until this point, but the forecast for the weekend shows it is well and truly over. Much cooler day-time temperatures, much needed rain and chilly nights. I must admit I am now ready for this cosier time of year, where one can stay indoors without having a bad conscience. Time to catch up with all the indoor tasks that have been put aside, waiting for a rainy day.

Planning the new season

Crocus sativus

Part of this cosy weekend will also be spent planning the new season. Which new bulb mixtures we will be planting where. The possibilities are endless. As I look at all the bulbs, my mind is already busy in the spring season. Looking out those that emerge first, not long after Christmas, like the Anemones, Snowdrops, Crocuses and Winter Aconites. Then follow the endless succession of small bulbs that are all great naturalisers like the Scillas, Puschkinias and Muscari. Then comes the time for the showier bulbs suited for the border like Hyacinths, Narcissus, Tulips and as final crowning glory: the delightful Alliums.  Which to plant in the sunny borders, which will fit well in between shrubs, and will colonise the bare soil before the shade-loving perennials planted as groundcover come into growth. Then there remains the tricky question, which bulbs to plant in the grass?

Naturalising bulbs in grass

It is possible to plant bulbs in a lawn, without loosing its lawn-like character. They can also be used to increase the flowering diversity of meadow areas, where they will spend their lives in amongst taller grasses and other flowering perennials, which will be mown once or twice later in the season.

Spring detail view

At first this seems easy. Whilst choosing these spring charmers, one has visions of delightful flowers waving in amongst grasses in early spring, before making space for the perfect lawn that provides summer-time enjoyment. The dilemma is that the grass must be left un-mown for at least 6 weeks after the bulbs have finished flowering, to give them sufficient time to build-up energy before withdrawing into the soil again. This leaves unsightly, scruffy patches. The longer into the season they stand, the more difficult they become to mow, and the longer these patches will take to become presentable again. The first weeks after mowing the area looks pallid, devoid of chlorophyll, and the texture is coarse. It usually takes 3 to 4 weeks before it starts to look a little more presentable. Some garden owners find this eye-sore too much to live with and will mow too soon, robbing the bulb of the chance to regain the necessary energy for next year’s flower.

How to integrate bulbs in a lawn

Avoid planting bulbs in the foreground or the middle of the lawn. Remember that at the time of flowering, little else is going on in the garden, and you will see them well, also from away. Place them towards the edges of the grass areas, in front of shrubberies, or at the base of trees, where they will be less noticeable when no longer in flower. Choose early flowering bulbs. The sooner they fade, the sooner the foliage will have died down, the sooner you can mow again. If the daffodils flower early to mid-March, then by the end of April you can mow, causing little disruption in your normal mowing regime. Later varieties, such as the elegant and scented pheasant’s eye Narcissus actea will delay the first cut to late May or even early June, by which time the lawn will resemble a meadow, and will take much longer to recover.

Ideal are the early charmers such as crocuses, spreading their petals wide to welcome the early sunrays and foraging bees. Their thin, grass-like leaves will soon disappear and blend in with the grass. Autumn Crocuses, such as the Saffron Crocus, C. sativus, is perfect, as are the early-season C. tommasinianus and C. chrysanthus hybrids.  These will all be gone by the time serious spring-mowing starts.

Roadside planting

Roadside planting

A few years ago, we undertook a planting action, filling the gras strip along the roadside outside the Garden Academy. We skimmed off the grass, and densely threw in hundreds of bulbs. Crocus, Grape Hyacinths, Scillas and Chionodoxas created a continuous wave of white, pale to darker blue and purple flowers for many weeks and cheerfully greeted all visitors as well as passers-by. As we worry about selfish flower thieves, we avoided planting later, taller flowers that could easily end up in a vase on somebody’s table.  

Bulbs in Meadow

Enriched flower meadow

When the grass area is intended to be an enriched flower meadow, where the flowering perennials are supplemented by bulbs for early effect, the issue of mowing and appearance after mowing becomes less relevant. Small bulbs such as Scilla siberica and Scilla bifolia can start the season, followed by Chionodoxa lucilliae, Fritillaria meleagris, Narcissus ‘February Gold’, N. ‘Peeping Tom’, Bluebells, Camassias and the dainty white Allium neapolitanum.

These will also cope with light shade. Wild tulips, such as Tulipa turkestanica and T. sylvestris are also lovely for naturalising in grass, leaving attractive seedheads as they dry.

Wild tulips

How to plant

Throw them onto the grass, and plant them as they fall. Sometimes they will be in small groups, sometimes they will go in as singles. Some areas will have higher concentrations, others will be thinner populated. With time these bulbs will increase to make larger flowering patches.  Avoid straight lines!

Please, avoid straight lines!

Small bulbs, that do not need to be planted deeper than a few centimetres, can be planted by lifting patches of turf, and placing it back on top like a blanket, treading it down gently. Alternatively, use a small mattock to dig holes in the grass.

As for all bulbs, it is vital to ensure they are planted at the correct depth. A general rule is three times the height of the bulb. If too shallow, the bulb will invest energy in growing further down into the soil, rather than producing new flower buds for the following year.

If you have not made your bulb list yet and bought them, it is time to do so now: they really should go into the earth in the next 6 to 8 weeks! Have a look at our new online shop for inspiration!

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