The most beautiful summer bulbs to plant in your garden now

Dahlias will bloom from summer through to the first frosts

Dahlias will bloom from summer through to the first frosts - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The spring flowers are out. Their charming, colourful displays are a sign of warmer days to come. Easy to care for, and repeat flowering year after year, bulbs are a great investment for the garden. And if you act now, you can create your own stunning display this year.  

Tracey Coyne of Anglia Bulb Company, one of the region’s leading mail order bulb wholesalers, has a huge passion for the plants. Tracey has years of experience under her belt, including a spell working in the Netherlands, and only stocks and sells the biggest, highest quality products, with more than 600 in the collection, including lots of rare and unusual varieties. 

She shares her advice with us. 

When should we start to plant summer bulbs? Is it ever too early or too late? 

It’s all weather dependent. Last year in May there was quite serious cold weather and we had frosts. If you’re planting dahlia tubers for the first time, they up to 99% water, and frost can cause a lot of damage. I think people can be caught out with dahlias if they plant them too close to the surface. They need to be deep, away from chance of frost, and I’d wait until you’re sure of good weather. 

I often say people should plant dahlias and begonias in pots first and plant them out when it’s warmer – then they’ll flower beautifully from mid-July right through to the first frosts. They’re one of the garden’s biggest assets. 

Do you have any tips for making plants grown from bulbs look their best? 

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Definitely. You can give the soil a boost by adding a bucket of chicken pellets. Since I tried it it’s completely transformed my dahlias. The growth is much stronger, the leaves are greener and the flowers more luscious. It’s my top tip for improving especially sandy soil. 

You can give bulbs a boost during the growing season with liquid Growmore as well. 

Dahlia Cafe au Lait flower 

Dahlia Cafe au Lait flower - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Should we lift our bulbs, or leave them in the ground? 

Try and leave them in unless you’re sitting on heavy clay. Really the general rule is they should stay in because it’s a rigamarole trying to lift and store them. 

I’d also remind people to leave the stems and foliage for as long as possible after flowering. Foliage feeds flower bulbs, so although they might look scruffy for a bit, leaving the plants be will keep energy coming into the bulbs to help give them a boost for the following season. 

What’s popular in the world of bulbs right now? 

Dahlias are definitely having a heyday. I love them. There are so many different colours and shapes, heights and varieties to choose from, and you can make a really good scheme in your garden with them, with cut flowers right the way through to winter when everything else is dying back. 

In my borders I have hundreds of bulbs coming up at different times in the same spot. When the dahlias are up, I know that’s it for the rest of the summer. 

There are quite a few that I really like. There are some stunning orange ones with a dark stem, which look very striking with Red Cap. Cactus dahlias are quite charming, with a huge range to choose from. And you can’t beat a dinnerplate dahlia. The flowers can get to 22cm across, which is very large. Those ones do need a bit of support as they grow. 

Pink with yellow flower of the tigridia group

Pink with yellow flower of the tigridia group - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Which bulbs would you recommend for sunny gardens? 

African plants work well. Like agapanthus and amaryllis belladonnas. Anemones and begonias are fabulous, of course. And canna. They are quite spectacular. I also have crinum bulbs. They’re clump-forming and grow very well with dahlias in hot beds. 

What about in the shade? 

We have quite a range of those. Unusual ‘elephant ears’ with huge foliage. Astilbe. Kniphofia and hostas. Ligularia is an interesting one as well. We have a couple of varieties. ‘Rocket’ grows to about 140cm tall. 

You specialise in rare and unusual bulbs. Which ones do you think have the biggest wow factor? 

It’s more suited to the greenhouse or in the home, but I adore Eucharis Amazonica. It is absolutely beautiful with a grey/green glossy foliage and perfumed white flowers that have a green trumpet throat. They are so heavily scented and the flowers are slightly waxy to the touch. I’d say they’re probably the best house plants I’ve ever seen. We also like to supply the egret orchid (Habenaria Radiata). It needs a little dedication and care to grow, but if you stick to the guidelines they are a fascinating and interesting plant to have. 

A cluster of bleeding hearts (dicentra spectabilis) in the garden

A cluster of bleeding hearts (dicentra spectabilis) in the garden - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

What are your personal favourites? 

I adore Pleiones, (rockery orchids) from Bhutan. They are spectacular and multiply quite nicely as well. And Bletilla, Chinese ground orchids, are quite charming and will be with you for years. They’re very low maintenance. I’ve had a pot of those on the back steps for years and never watered it or done anything. The flowers just appear every year.  

I would say, no matter the size of your ‘patch’ using bulbs you can have interest all-year-round. I don’t plant annuals! You have snowdrops and winter aconites and anemones in January and February, then into March crocus and daffodils and early flowering tulips, feeding into April. Then the alliums pop up, followed by dahlias. I think the only month you’ll ‘lose’ is December. 

Tracey’s ideal summer bulb border 

Front of border  

Tigridia – flowering July to September 

Zantedeschia- flowering June to September 

Mid border 

Iris Sibirica – flowering June to July 

Liatris – flowering August to September 

Dicentra – flowering May to June 

Eucomis – flowering July to August 

Crinum Powellii- flowering July to October 

Back border 

Galtonia – flowering July to August 

Hymenocallis – flowering June to July 

Dahlia- flowering July to first frosts 

Canna – flowering July to September 

Amarcrinum – flowering September to October