The atmospheric garden

An atmospheric garden has an intimate and relaxing feel, and may be cosy, romantic or fresh in appearance. Different people, different tastes, and luckily there are flowering bulbs to suit any setting. There are many approaches to the design of an atmospheric garden. How about a romantic retreat, with a selection of blue flowering bulbs in a border? Or a carefully balanced classical look, setting off multicoloured bulbs against the fresh greens of spring?

Summer bulbs can transform the atmospheric summer garden in surprising ways. Pick and mix successively flowering varieties for months of gorgeous flowers.

Lawns

Grass is the neutral backdrop par excellence. Lawns lend themselves well to geometrical planting: broad or narrow strips, lozenges, circles and any other shape you might fancy. The controlled and linear nature of a lawn makes it the ideal backdrop for flowering bulbs.  One possibility is to lay out strips of a single type of bulb in a range of colours, closely planted to provide cheerful ribbons in spring. Strips of one or more types of bulb of the same shade with some spacing between can also produce an attractive effect, as though a coloured wash had been laid over the lawn.

Another idea is to cut fanciful shapes into the lawn, to create intriguing planting beds that might be filled with a mix of bulbs, planned to flower successively for weeks of ever-changing colour. Lozenge shapes planted with bulbs in contrasting colours are better suited to the more classical garden.

To create "dots" of flowering bulbs, plant them in equally-dimensioned circles in the lawn. The flowers will be set off beautifully against the green of the grass. Borders filled with early-flowering subjects which return every year can also work well. A mix of perennial bulbs flowering in succession gives a pleasing effect, particularly when combined with other plants and flowers of varying colour and form. And of course it is also possible to plant naturalising bulbs in the grass, using a criss-cross pattern to achieve a cheerfully informal effect.

Pots and containers

A few pots or tubs filled with flowering bulbs can provide instant colour and atmosphere, and containers like these offer plenty of opportunity for creativity. They allow you to create a number of intriguing little corners, each with its own atmosphere. It's important that the plants can stand up to the wind, so go for reasonably short stems. The key concept here is "compact", and species like crocus and grape hyacinth as well as low-growing tulips and small-crowned narcissi fit the bill nicely. Scilla and Chionodoxa do outstandingly well in pots and tubs.

Bulb lasagne
Plant up a pot or bowl with a single variety or several different varieties, selected to flower successively. In the lasagne system the earliest-flowering bulbs are placed in the upper layer, with the later flowerers below and the latest varieties right at the bottom. A single pot of bulbs arranged this way can provide weeks of colour in a garden or out on a balcony.

Another planting known as a "mini garden" takes a little more effort, but will reward you with a highly attractive result.  Pots or tubs are filled with a number of early-flowering small shrubs with an underplanting of "instant" bulbs and biennials like violas, daisies and forget-me-nots. The shrubs and the biennials will provide a show for some six to eight weeks, the bulbs will require replacement in the interim but the result is amazing.

Planting

The easiest method is to use raised beds for planting. Spread the bulbs out and cover them with 10-15 cm of earth. Rake the bed level after planting and if necessary apply a 2-3 cm mulch of organic material. This will help prevent the soil from freezing, drying out or compacting.

Prefer a more natural impression? The way to achieve this is to simply strew the bulbs around, and plant them where they land. Bulbs can also be planted into grass. Lift a section of turf to plant each group of bulbs and replace it to cover the planting hole afterwards. Bed the turf down well and a few days later there will be no trace left of your planting activity.

Care

Annual bulbs require no additional feeding, they have everything they need stored inside the bulb.

Perennial bulbs extract a lot of nutrients from the soil, so they do need supplementary feeding.  Artificial fertiliser is the best choice during the growing season. Self-propagating plants and flowering bulbs are in their natural location and do not require additional fertiliser.

If a lot of hoeing is required it may be wise to plant the bulbs a little deeper than normally indicated.

Tip

1. Naturalising bulbs can certainly be the sole protagonists in a bed, but they also combine wonderfully with trees, shrubs and ground cover plants. Narcissi, Scillas and Leucojum can work miracles in such a setting.

2. A border of herbaceous perennials or low-growing shrubs makes an outstanding combination with flowering bulbs.  Just as the bulbs reach the end of their flowering season the perennials begin to colour up, providing a touch of beauty in the garden from early spring onwards.