The classical garden

The classical garden is characterised by a romantic atmosphere and a stately appearance. The first words that come to mind when thinking about a classical garden include symmetry, topiary and beds marked off with box hedges. Luxuriant borders, colourful flowerbeds and neatly mown lawns may also be part of the formula.

Colour

The classical blue garden aims to create a charming and romantic impression, with combinations of various blue flowering bulbs in borders or tubs. Baskets made of wicker, zinc or traditional earthenware also match this atmosphere. Crocus tommasinianus is the earliest of the blue-flowered bulbs, followed by light blue Scilla mischtschenkoana and dark blue Scilla siberia. Pure blue is provided by Muscari of all types, from the dark blue M. latifolium to the light blue M. "Valerie Finnis". Anemone blanda "Blue Shades" also features on this list of blues, and forms a lovely background for creamy white tulips. There's a selection of blue hyacinths for scent, while among the less usual blue flowers are Anemone coronaria "Mr. Fokker" and Scilla peruviana, both preferring the shelter of perennials to help them survive the cold. The list closes with Allium caeruleum, an azure blue decorative onion which flowers at the end of May and is seen to best effect among silver grey lavender.

A variegated classical garden combines a wide range of coloured subjects in large numbers for optimal effect. Hyacinths are often used in classical flowerbeds because all cultivars reach roughly the same height so that the total impression is always restful, even with different colours. Their greatest charm is perhaps the almost intoxicating scent. Tulips and narcissi also go wonderfully well together because of the way their flower forms can be harmonised - the more modest and natural-looking narcissus alongside the proud and regal tulip. Both groups also have plenty of nuances of shade to allow the creation of a perfect composition. Yellow with orange, yellow with shades of white and mixtures of white with reddish pink and purple are always effective. The density of bulbs per square metre will also determine the end result. In the classical combination there will be at least 40.

The white classical garden features various shades of white. There are infinite variations on the white theme, allowing surprising combinations to be produced. White grape hyacinths go marvellously together with white hyacinths for example, the latter showing greenish shades at the early stage of flowering. The multiplicity of shades of green found everywhere around a spring garden also provide a lovely background for white flowering bulbs, for example pots filled with narcissus "Erlicheer", dazzling white clouds with a superb perfume. Then there is Leucojum aestivum "Gravetye Giant", graceful summer bells which are most at home in and around ponds. Narcissus "Thalia" is another classic: appearing in April at the same time as the white bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis "Alba"), with which they combine wonderfully.

Simplicity is often the best solution, and there are all kinds of ways to achieve it: greenish white tulips "Spring green" surrounded by tightly clipped box edging, in pots with double-flowered tulips "Cardinal Mindszenty" or with a border of tulips "White Dream" waving among the emerging foliage of good old Iris germanica.

Summer flowering bulbs

Summer flowering bulbs can easily be added to areas planted with annual summer flowers as they require planting at the same time.  Begonias, Canna and Dahlias as well as Ornithogalum, Mirabilis and Tigridia are ready summer-flowering species which can transform such an annual bed. Summer-flowering bulbs are also a simple way to extend the flowering season. Dahlias and Crocosmia for example can provide structure and colour well into the autumn. Regular dead-heading of dahlias will be rewarded with seemingly endless flowering right through to late summer.

Mini gardens

So-called mini gardens can be a useful addition to the classical garden: pots or tubs are filled with early-flowering shrubs with an underplanting of "instant" bulbs and biennials. The shrubs and biennials, for example violas and myosotis, can retain their beauty for as long as eight weeks. The bulbs will then need to be replaced in the interim, but this will be amply rewarded by great results.

A mini garden in lilac, pink and red

Suitable for: large circular pots or bowls with a minimum diameter of 1 metre. Three small shrubs are planted in a rough triangle in the centre of the container, in this case Viburnum tinus 'Eve Price'.  Around 20 pot-grown Christmas Dream tulips are then planted in a triangular strip around the shrubs.  The remaining space between the tulips is filled with 30 to 35 small-flowered rose pink and red bicolour violas.  The small-flowered violas have the benefit of standing up to poor weather conditions and they will continue to flower through to May. Like the Viburnum, they can be used as a fixed planting element in the bowl or pot. The tulips can then be replaced two or three times in the interim.

Companion plants

Plants which rapidly gain height in the spring and put on a good amount of leaf make the most suitable companion plants for tulips, as they draw the eye away from the foliage of the bulbs as this dies back. Suitable subjects include Amsonia, Dicentra, Geranium, Helianthus, Inula, Kalimeris, Thalictrum, Thermopsis, Veronica longifolia and Veronicastrum.

Superb gladioli for the garden

Small flowered gladioli play a different role to the large flowered type. They deserve to be included much more frequently, and on a larger scale, for example in borders. They are more friendly and appealing than the large-flowered types, making them more suitable for sophisticated border planting combinations. The colour palette is highly diverse, and new colours continue to appear on the market, primarily in shades of purple and deep red. Problem-free, natural-looking small-flowered gladioli include: the white, scented callianthus (syn. Acidanthera), "Atom" (red with a silver-white border), "Irish Gold" (with a greenish gold flower), "Dusted Red" (early flowering, decorative with a silvery bloom on the foliage), "Flaming White" (multi-floral, very early). There are also winter-hardy gladioli like Whistling Jack. The superb deep red papilio "Ruby Red" and the white "Fiona" are perennials.

Care

Flowering bulbs are low-maintenance compared to many other types of plants.

Apart from weeding and fertilisation of perennial planting, they require very little specific attention. Care should be taken when hoeing borders and beds, as this may cause considerable damage underground. If a lot of hoeing is required it may be wise to plant the bulbs a little deeper than normally indicated. Annual planting schemes require no extra care at all.