Gardeners’ World presenter Adam Frost shares 5 top spring bulbs

TV expert and author Adam Frost tells Hannah Stephenson about his favourite spring blooms...

Gardeners' World presenter Adam Frost
Gardeners' World presenter Adam Frost Gardeners' World presenter Adam Frost

IF YOU haven’t planted your spring bulbs yet, it’s time to get started, if you want a riot of colour next year.

Gardeners’ World’s Adam Frost takes a slightly different approach, planting bulbs in the green (while they have leaves) – unless he’s naturalising something in a meadow, in which case he’ll plant the dry bulbs directly into the ground.

He buys his bulbs in August and September, plants them in little pots and then plants them out the following spring or winter, when they are in leaf.

“By doing that, my success rate improves rapidly – so if we have a really wet winter or something is eating my bulbs outdoors, by controlling the environment to start with, it means that the following year, I end up with more bulbs,” says Frost, whose new book, How I Garden, incorporates bulb-planting ideas.

If you don’t have room to plant dry spring bulbs in pots in autumn, you can buy them in the green from January to April from specialist nurseries and online retailers.

Climate change has affected when bulbs need to be planted, Frost agrees.

“A lot of things we are told were written quite a long time ago and as our weather is changing, November can be more like early October. Four out of the last five springs have been incredibly dry.”

Gardeners need to be more reactive about what’s going on outside their back door, he says.

“It’s instinctive, but maybe make notes. When did the bulbs come up last year? Is it wetter this year? When you understand your region, you’ve half a chance of understanding your garden. Understand your space, your soil and the light levels in your garden, where the cold winds come from, where it stays a little warmer and where the frost doesn’t disappear in winter,” he adds. “What is your regional rainfall? Pay attention to the weather.

“A lot of bulbs want slightly different soils. Something like an Iris reticulata, for instance, might like more free-draining soil. Work out what bulbs will work in your soil. If you want to grow beautiful alliums and you have cold, wet winters, things are going to rot away.”

Frost, who prefers delicate blooms, shares five of his favourite spring bulbs…

Tulipa sylvestris: “This tiny little species tulip is lovely. I grow it under hedges, or little meadow grassy areas or the edge of woodland in semi-shaded areas. It will grow to just under 1ft, producing beautiful hanging bell flowers which move in the wind and it carries an incredible scent.”

Blooming in March and early April, he suggests growing them with early wild geraniums and ferns or in grassy areas.

“It will slowly seed around and develop itself. Unlike more highly bred tulips, it just gets better. It spreads and if you are naturalising it, your clump will just get bigger. Species tulips can be easily grown in a container, and will come up year after year.”

Narcissus poeticus: “This is a beautiful little white daffodil with a red-rimmed yellow eye. It’s a character. I don’t like big, flash daffodils. This one is delicate and I’d put it in borders or grass areas in sunny conditions. These hard-working bulbs will mature as time goes on.” This species daffodil is also fragrant and ideal for naturalising in grass, as well as pairing with other native wildflowers including cowslips and snake’s head fritillaries.

Camassia: “I love camassias because they are slightly later to arrive and I was lucky enough to see them growing in a meadow at Highgrove. I started experimenting with them a bit, using various colours in grass and borders. I’ve even planted them in gravel gardens. I like the fact you haven’t just got this spiky flower. The foliage is quite prominent as well, so the bulbs pack an architectural punch.”

Snowdrop: “I love snowdrops in pots. As they are coming into flower in the garden, dig a little patch of them out and put them in small terracotta pots and bring them in the house. At that time of year, if seeing a snowdrop on your dining room table or windowsill doesn’t make you smile, you need to rethink what does makes you smile.

“Snowdrops are better grown in the green. I’ve had a lot more success potting up snowdrop bulbs to get them going and then planting them into my garden later.”

Allium sphaerocephalum: “This little drumstick allium is a really deep, rich purple and very different from regular alliums, with fine spiky foliage and lovely drumsticks at the top, which interplant beautifully with ornamental grasses and work well in borders. I have even naturalised them but when you do that, they have competition with grass. The head tends to be a bit smaller on them.”

Growing to around 50-60cm, depending on the quality of your soil, they flower in late spring to early summer. “I don’t cut them back because I like the soft, sandy heads which remain until they fall over,” Frost adds.

How I Garden by Adam Frost is published by BBC Books, priced £22. Available now.