Arthur's Blog: Autumn Bulbs

24th October 2016

Arthur's Blog: Autumn Bulbs

These are my must-have bulbs that I’m planting in the garden over the coming weeks until Christmas. Don’t just plant tulips – combine them with some of the bulbs below for an even more beautiful spring to early summer display.


I like alliums more and more every year. They are cheap to buy as bulbs and if they are planted in well-draining soil, where they don’t get soggy over the winter, they’ll prove to be surprisingly perennial assets to your garden’s late spring and early summer look. If you garden on heavy clay soil (which they won’t like), then add spent compost or grit to their planting hole – this acts as a filter below the bulbs so that they don’t rot. Alliums look best when planted in groups of at least seven. Their leaves can look tatty and brown at their ends, but you can remove these after a few weeks without causing harm to the mother bulb. Alliums are onions, so if you’re using them as cut flowers, it’s vital to add a little bleach to their vase so that the water doesn’t become smelly.

I’ve saved all the allium flower heads from this year – they have now all dried, and I will be spraying them gold and silver to use as Christmas decorations and in dried winter flower arrangements in the shop and café. Alliums are also very good for bees and butterflies. I plant alliums with my tulips, so that containers in the garden beds are overtaken by the alliums, or I plant late tulips so both the flowers clash together – ‘Blue Parrot’ is very good for this. Plant one allium for every three tulip bulbs.

- Purple Sensation: the classic allium, with dense purple flower heads.
- Violet Beauty: the only allium with a noticeable sweet scent of beautiful washed violet.
- Nectaroscordum siculum: a towering, candelabra-like mass of flowers that the bees dance under all day long.
- Sphaerocephalon: the drumstick allium and the very last to flower. Because it’s so late to bloom, I plant it as a bulb now in pots and then plant them out into the garden in May with the summer bedding.


Hyacinths are expensive bulbs, but three to five in a pot near to the back door are worth indulging in, due to their unbeatable scent.

The pot can be brought inside during the day, but put them back outside at night time as they will fade alarmingly fast when faced with indoor heat. When planted outside, they do need to be planted under the soil (not half way out of the soil) as if a hard frost touches them, the bulbs will rot if not totally protected by compost.

My favourite is a variety called ‘Woodstock’: it’s a deep, cut-beetroot dark purple.

Cheaper are the grape hyacinths. I plant these into tiny terracotta pots that fit into a metal auricular stand. Their blue flowers last for weeks. In the garden border, grape hyacinths will form natural blue rivers as they multiply naturally.

Gladiolus communis subsp. byzantinus

A delicate, perennial species gladioli, found as naturalised as a wildflower in Cornwall and the Scilly isles. Unlike its larger summer flowering cousins, it is hardy, flowers in May and is set as autumn bulb. It is a beautiful pink, almost like an exotic orchid in its flower form. It looks arguably at its best in long grass, so plant it around the edge of your lawn or in the middle and allow the grass to become a meadow.


I never used to like narcissi that much, and I’ll never like them in the traditional rubber-duck-yellow form. They take a long time to die down in the garden, and you have to leave them to go yellow before cutting them back – I don’t like fading things in the garden having to be left, so I have resisted them for a long time. Two, however, have won me over due to their scent and look once cut for the vase. Certain narcissi look beautiful and natural in grass; they become more elegant and ethereal here. The species Poeticus “Pheasant’s Eye”, with its ring neck, pheasant-breast-orange centre and the multi-headed Yazetta type “Geranium” both flower late, and have a beautiful rich fragrance. The Pheasant’s Eye is a must-have bulb to plant in a meadow area of the lawn, where it will naturalize.

All the mentioned bulbs are available to buy via mail order from

The next blog will be about the tulips that I’m excited about planting this winter.

Happy gardening,

24th October 2016