A beginner’s guide to garden bulbs & how to create year-round colour

A beginner’s guide to garden bulbs & how to create year-round colour

Spring bulbs are some of my favourite flowers. However, bulbs aren’t just for spring; they are great at providing colour and interest all year round. There are lots to choose from so here’s my guide on which bulbs to buy and taking care of them.

Bulbs are generally robust, which makes them easy to grow, however they prefer a well-drained soil so if you do have water-logged garden during the winter, make sure you add plenty of horticultural grit and farmyard manure to the soil before planting.

Buying bulbs

I always recommend buying from a reputable retailer or grower as the bulbs will be the best quality and therefore have stronger blooms.  Make sure the bulbs are firm to the touch and not mouldy as they are unlikely to develop. Try and buy them early in the season as they will be better quality too.

How many you need depends on where you are planting them – they are usually sold in packs, which are usually enough for a container, but if you’re planting in a border it’s likely you will need more packs to create a display.

Taking care of garden bulbs

Once planted, it’s unlikely you will get any problems but if you get yellow leaves, it could be down to a virus in the bulb, so it’s best to dig them up and remove them from your garden – don’t put them on the compost heap either as you could be transmitting the virus that way.

Sometimes, you may find that your bulbs don’t flower in their second year. This is rare but could be down to the bulbs being planted in poorly drained soil. Other possible reasons include:

  • Location – they could be in too much shade
  • Lack of food/nutrients during growing season
  • The removal of leaves too quickly after flowering – they need to be able to create food to develop the flower for the following year.

Planting bulbs

As a general rule of thumb, bulbs need to be planted at a depth of 3 x the size of the bulb (you can measure this against your trowel).

As a rough guide if you’re using bulbs that grow to around 45cm tall then plant 10-15 bulbs per square meter.  If you’re using bulbs that grow to around 20cm tall, then plant 20-40 bulbs per square metre and this will provide you with a beautiful display.

You may have heard of the ‘lasagne’ method of planting, which is where you plant a pot in layers of different bulbs which enables you to have either succession planting, and/or different heights of flowers, ie the tallest in the middle which decrease in height to the edge of the pot. These can look stunning.

When creating this style, plant the larger, later flowering bulbs towards the bottom so that the small, early flowering varieties can flower first early in the season, and as they die off the next lot comes through to continue the display.

Styling your garden with bulbs

Starting with the basics – bulbs can be planted in containers, window boxes, or straight into your borders

If you’re planting in pots, strategically place them either side of your front door to frame it or a view.  Think about the style of the container you are using, the colours of the flowers and add some trailing plants such as ivy and maybe an evergreen shrub for year round interest.

If you’re planting straight into your borders, weave bold drifts of flowers to create impact.

Here are three ideas of bulbs you can use

Nerine bowdenii

These are great at the end of the summer when lots of flowers start to fade; these really stand out with their gorgeous pink flowers which bloom from September to November.  They grow to around 45cm tall and 25cm wide, and like a well-drained soil in full sun. They need planting in the spring; however, you will be able to buy them in pots from the garden centre this time of year.

Cyclamen hederifolium

These are great for the front of a border as they are tiny and measure height and spread 12cm x 15cm. There are different varieties available and some are great for naturalising under a deciduous tree. Make sure you buy the outdoor version. Their leaves have a beautiful marble pattern and I love them.

Cyclamen flower from October to November and usually flower before the leaves appear.

Tulipa ‘Black Parrot’

If you want to add some drama to your borders add the Parrot style Tulipa’s to create the WOW factor. These black coloured versions would look amazing with some silver leafed plants such as Artemesia. They do come in other colours such as white, blue and a really striking red/orange called Tulipa ‘Rasta Parrot’.

I’ve created a bulb list which features three bulbs for each season, which you can download for free when you join my Garden Lovers Club.

 

5 Herbs to Grow for Health

Growing Herbs for Health.

With the spring equinox it means there’s more daylight hours than darkness so our gardens will start to come to life quickly now. Perfect timing for everyone whilst we self-isolate. This month, I thought it would share my top five herbs to help with health and wellbeing and how to dry them to make teas and balms.

Calendula officinalis

These are gorgeous orange daisy type flowers and will grow in sun or part sunny gardens and are loved by bees. They’ll flower from June to October and are happy in any poor or fertile free draining soil (but not clay soil) and grow to around 50cm tall. You can grow them easily from seed too – just follow the instructions on the packet. The flower petals are edible and have a peppery flavour, which can be added to food. Or you could dry them and use in salves. To dry them – harvest them after mid-day when it’s dry and cut the flower head off. Bring them indoors (do not wash them) and place them on an old sheet or paper towel (depending on how many you have. Leave to dry in a dark, well-ventilated space for approximately 4 weeks. Then store them in an airtight jar. These can be used to infuse oil to make balms and lotions. The oil of Calendula officinalis is used as an anti-inflammatory and a remedy for healing wounds and skin complaints, plus many other uses. It’s best to seek advice from a trained herbalist to help with any specific conditions.

calendular orange flower

Chamaemelum nobile – commonly known as Camomile

An aromatic plant with finely dissected leaves and daisy-like flowerheads with white petals and yellow centres. Traditionally used to help with stress and calm the nerves – chamomile tea before bedtime is very soothing. These are mat forming plants, that loves the sun or part shade, happy in all soils except clay and will grow to around 50cm tall. Flowers from June to August. To dry them – pick the flowers when in full bloom, ie when the white petals are still in place. Remove any bugs. Make sure it’s a warm dry day. Leave in a dry dark space for approximately 4 weeks then place in an airtight glass jar. Can be mixed with Lemon Balm to make your own tea infusions.

Melissa officinalis – commonly known as Lemon Balm

Amazing lemon-scented, light green leaves which grows to around 1.5m tall. Loves full sun or part shade and will grow in any well drained soil. They flower in June with spikes of tiny, pale-yellow flowers, which fade to white or lilac. Loved by bees and the leaves can be used in salads and soups. Pure lemon balm essential oil is valued for its properties in aromatherapy where its considered to be uplifting and calming. Ideal in herbal teas too.

Ocimum basilicum – commonly known as Basil

basil leaves herb

Most people know this herb from having it with their tomato soup, pesto or pizza. It can be easily grown from seed on a windowsill or container in full sun. Using normal loam compost. Depending on the variety (there are plenty to choose from) they can grow to around 50cm tall. If you want to dry basil so you have herbs all year round, follow the previous instructions for Chamaemelum. The best time to pick basil is just before flowering. If you want to dry the herb quicker, you can do it using the oven too.

Oven-dry method

  1. Wash the leaves and dry using a paper towel
  2. Place leaves (no stems) on a baking tray, one layer, and not touching/overlapping each other
  3. Oven temperature should be on the lowest setting possible
  4. Cook for 20 minutes (or until they are crisp and break easily) then leave in the oven overnight
  5. Put them in a sealed container such as a glass herb jar

Basil has many medicinal benefits and is generally beneficial to health, for example it is renowned for helping digestion and bug bites. However, it can also thin your blood if eaten in large amounts.

Thymus vulgaris – common name Thyme

Thyme

Thyme is a bushy dwarf shrub with small ovate, aromatic, dark grey-green leaves with small white or pink flowers in early summer. Its evergreen so ideal for a cottage garden as well as an herb garden. It prefers full sun and will grow in all soils except clay to around 40cm tall, so best suited to the front of a border or a pot on the patio. Another herb that is easy to grow from seed. Thyme can be turned into essential oils which is traditionally used as an antiseptic and an insect repellent. Thymol (the compound in Thyme) is a common meat preservative, and olive farmers often combine thymol into the oil that preserves olives in the Mediterranean. With all herbal medicines, it is best to seek the advice and guidance of a professional.

Grow your own cocktail with my herb kit

Contains two packets of herb seeds – Basil & Thyme, plus snips to cut the leaves and a recipe card to make a cocktail (or you can leave the alcohol out). With a pencil & two wooden plant labels, packed into an A6 size kraft box that easily fits through a standard UK letterbox. £12.50 including free P&P Buy direct from my shop https://borderinabox.com/product/herb-seed-gift-box/

thyme basil border in a box herb kit

Cacti & Succulents – A popular houseplant gift

cacti succulents pink flowers

If you’ve been given a cacti or succulents houseplant as a gift and now wondering what to do with it, here are some top tips and advice by my friend and expert, Ian Thwaites who is the Chairman of the British Cactus and Succulent Society.

The common linking characteristic of cacti and succulents is the ability to store water in the leaves or stems enabling them to survive in arid habitats. All cacti are succulents, yet cacti are defined by the presence of areoles (specialised sites where spines form) whereas succulents have none.

Succulents – the camels of the plant world

In magazines they look amazing all crammed in a pot or terrarium together, but this really isn’t the ideal growing conditions for them. This may encourage insect infestations and/or mould. It also creates too much competition for water and food – therefore it’s best to repot them into their own pot and put them in a sunny windowsill.

The most common type of succulent house plant is the Crassula ovarta, commonly known as the Money tree, Friendship tree or Jade tree as you often see them in Chinese restaurants.

Crassula ovarta

cressula ovata money tree jade plant

This is a bushy evergreen shrub that grows slowly to 2m (it will take 5-10 years to reach this height). It has rounded fleshy dark green leaves sometimes edged with red, and flat clusters of small starry white or light pink flowers in late summer.

These plants are simple to propagate, and it will get children hooked onto growing their own plants. Simply pick off a leaf, tell them to leave it by their bedside so they can chat to it when they get up every morning. After a few weeks the leaf will sprout some roots, so pop it into some soil (from the garden will be fine) and gently cover the roots with the soil and firm it in and then leave it on the windowsill and after a few more weeks it will start to grow.

Echeveria elegans

Echivera succulent plant

Otherwise known as the Mexican gem. The elegans variety is a perennial and forms a clump of evergreen rosettes of spoon-shaped, whitish-green leaves and has lantern-shaped pink flowers, tipped with yellow, in late winter and spring.

These look great in a pot for the patio table as they only grow to around 10cm tall. They also don’t need much attention so if you go on holiday for a few weeks, you don’t need to worry about watering them.

Succulent care:

All succulents like a well-drained soil/compost. Its best to add a third/half grit (or perlite) to the compost to make sure the soil is open and well drained.

They prefer a sunny windowsill but some of them are happy outside in the summer months. Generally, they like warm sunny spots.

Feed them regularly during their growing season with a high potash feed such as Tomorite. Use half strength and feed regularly during the growing season. Do NOT use Miracle Grow.

The compost should be allowed to dry out slightly between waterings, rather than keeping it constantly moist. Succulents hate having their roots in water, so don’t leave them in a dish or tray of water. Ideally use tepid rainwater for watering. The minerals in tap water builds up in the soil and can cause deposits on the leaves of succulents.

Best time to re-pot them is in the spring.

Cacti

All cacti originate from the Americas – so all the ones you see in Europe come from the Americas.

Christmas cactus

christmas cacti pink flower

This plant is named because it flowers around Christmas time, so they make a pretty gift. These cacti originate from Brazil, so they also like a hot dry climate.

Once it has finished flowering, give it a water with half strength feed (such as Tomorite) and then give it a dry rest for 2-3 months. In the spring place it in a hanging basket and hang in a tree in your garden. Remember to water occasionally with food. It loves dappled sunshine under the tree. Make sure you bring it back into the house before the frosts start. Then water and feed it again and keep the compost moist.

If the flower buds drop off, this is due to the plant drying out, so simply water and feed it again. Keep it in a cool place when in flower as this will intensify the colour.

If you want a flowering cactus, buy a globular version as the columnar varieties need to grow to a certain height before flowering.

Mammillaria cacti pink flowers

Repotting:

Like all plants, they need to be repotted, especially when they have outgrown their pots. You can use leather gloves to protect your hands from the spikes. Or alternatively you can use lumps of polystyrene by adding them to the spines which makes them much easier to handle. Simply repot to the next size up in a free-draining compost and then place gravel around the top.

Gravel is needed for various reasons, firstly aesthetics as it looks much nicer. Secondly, it protects the neck of the plant from damp soil and thirdly, it stops the white spines discolouring.

succulents planted in brown laceup gardening boots

Great use of worn out old gardening boots!

Biography:

Ian Thwaites is the Chairman of the British Cactus and Succulent Society (www.bcss.org.uk) and they have over 70 branches around the country.  The principal objectives of the BCSS are to promote the study, conservation, propagation and cultivation of cacti and other succulent plants. Ian has grown plants all his life and in particular Cacti and succulents. Ian is also a professional plant and garden photographer.  You can contact him via his web site www.ianthwaites.com.  Ian is a committee member of the Garden Media Guild.

 

 

 

 

 

Perennials for Pots

perennials for pots border in a box

 

Spring and summer are traditional times to create containers full of seasonal bedding (annuals) to add colour to the garden, however, by using perennials, it can add more texture and interest.

What is the difference between an annual and a perennial?

An annual is grown from seed, blooms, produces seeds, and then dies all in one year. Whereas perennials will last several years – it usually dies back over the winter and regrows each spring.

By planting perennials in pots, you can add structure and height along with lots of texture with different shaped and coloured leaves.

Pots are ideal to fill in gaps in the garden borders and if you’re living in temporary accommodation it is one way to create a beautiful garden that can move with you.

Other advantages of using pots are taking care over winter – they can be moved into the greenhouse, porch or closer to the house for protection. Also you can use different soil which will enable you to grow any plant you choose.

When it comes to planting perennials in containers, it is better to choose a bigger pot due to having larger root systems than annuals, so they require more space to grow well.  It’s also ideal to have pots in odd numbers and different heights which creates further interest and are easier on the eye.

What perennials look good in pots?

Choose plants that have interesting leaves and flowers for long periods – here are three plants that will create a lovely display together:

Heuchera

heuchera in flower

I love these plants due to the colour range of the foliage, the long thin stalks with tiny flowers on top and they simply look great in any garden. They like full sun and part shade and are mound forming so are ideal for the front of a border, or in a pot, clumped with other pots. Variety ‘Plum Pudding’ has striking dark purple foliage with a dusting of silver. *Top-Tip* buy immature plants to make your budget go further – here is an example of a 2L pot compared to a 9cm pot, the juvenile Heuchera will soon mature to the size of the 2L pot.

Penstemon

purple penstemon

Another favourite – especially the ‘Pensham ‘ series. These were developed by Edward Wilson, who sadly died in 2009, but his legacy of Penstemons lives on through Hayloft Plants in Pensham (a local company to me).  An ideal variety to go with the Heuchera is Penstemon ‘Pensham Plum Jerkum’ which flowers from July to October, with tall flower spikes of dark purple with white throats, which are very striking.

Artemisia

Artemesia silver leaf plant

The third pot for an attractive contrast to the Penstemon & Heuchera is Artemesia ‘Powis Castle’ with its aromatic, silvery coloured fern like leaves. It’s also semi evergreen so it will remain over winter, but will lose a few leaves. It grows to around 70cm tall and prefers full sun. It will flower in August with small insignificant yellow flowers, which look great with purple.

Other perennials you could use are Salvia’s such as the ‘Caradonna’ variety with dark square stems; Helleborus for spring flowering, and Lavender for it’s amazing scent.

 

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pink tulips

Container gardening using thrillers, fillers & spillers

Whether you have a small balcony or a sprawling country estate, containers can be a really useful way to add year-round colour and interest to your garden.

You can grow plants in just about any kind of container, as long as it’s large enough to hold compost to suit the plants’ needs, and it has drainage holes in the bottom. If you live on a windy site, consider the stability of the plant and the pot, particularly if you’re growing something tall.

Containers are great in that you can move them around the garden to fill empty gaps and create seasonal displays. Concrete or stone pots are more difficult to move but are sturdier. Plastic pots are less stable, but easier to move. One way around this is to place a plastic pot inside a stone pot to make it easy to interchange plants through the seasons.

When I’m creating a garden, I take into consideration the plants, the pots and their location, along with colour schemes and style. There’s a lot to think about! Here’s an example of how one plant – a pittosporum – can look different depending on the container and the background. The traditional terracotta pot stands out much more against the blue background than the brick wall, while the white pot contrasts well with both backgrounds and has a more modern vibe.

For drama and impact, choose colours opposite one another on the colour wheel such as red and green, yellow and purple, or blue and orange. For harmony and tranquillity, choose similar colours that tone well together, such as purples and blues. Here’s an example of a harmonious pot, with a burgundy phormium combined with pink scabiosa and forget-me-nots.

So, what do we mean by thrillers, fillers and spillers? The thriller is the star of the container – the attention-grabbing, dominant eye-catcher. The fillers do exactly that, and fill the pot around the thriller, while the spillers are the trailing plants over the side of the pot.

Now the weather is warming up and frosts are less frequent, you can fill your containers with summer bedding plants. Try a pelargonium (thriller), combined with petunias (fillers) and trailing lobelia (spillers). If you need plants that are pollution tolerant, try dwarf buddleia, or evergreen skimmia, yew or berberis. For hotspots, you can use more exotic plants such as cannas or ginger lilies.

One last thing to bear in mind is watering. Container plants need watering more than those in the ground, so add water-retaining crystals to the compost and mulch the surface to minimise evaporation. Smaller pots will need watering more often than larger ones.

 

summer bedding plants in a pot

patio pots in a large garden

white flower pot with plants blue background

 

 


 

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