When the detail brings delight, not the devil

Tulipa saxatilis and simple cream freesias in the rockery this week

Bulbs play a major role in our garden. We use a huge range of bulbs, many no longer available commercially. Some never were readily available. Very few of those we grow are the larger, modern hybrids which are generally what are on offer these days. We prefer the simpler style of the species or at least closer to the species.

Added to that, seventy years of intensive gardening across two generations has built up the numbers most satisfyingly. Most of our cultivated gardens have bulbs incorporated in the plantings. Or at least bulbs, corms, tubers or rhizomes to cover the range.


We have a fair few that are fleeting seasonal wonders in our climate but we just adjust our expectations. The cute erythroniums – dog’s tooth violets – are maybe a 10 day delight and can be taken out by untimely storms but that is just the way things are.

Meet Beryl. Narcissis ‘Beryl’ with cyclamen, nerines and even a Satyrium coriifolium in the bottom left corner

I don’t grow any in containers now although the same can not be said of Mark. His bulb collection is currently sitting in limbo for us all to see the scale as his inner sanctum – his Nova house – is currently being relocated. He hasn’t taken good care of them in recent times but he is determined to keep some of the rarer, touchier varieties alive. It is possible to maintain a more comprehensive bulb collection if you are willing to faff around with growing them in containers in controlled conditions. I am not so dedicated. My interest wanes if we can not grow them in garden conditions.

Gladiolus tristis popping up unexpectedly in our parking area

It is the random bulbs beyond the gardens that are currently bringing me pleasure. Some of these have been planted. Some have popped up from our nursery days. When trays of bulbs were being repotted, Mark had a strict rule that fresh potting mix was to be used (granulated bark was our chosen medium). Hygiene, he would explain. The old potting mix was spread around the place and at times it had seed or tiny bulbs within it. I am guessing this is how the Gladiolus tristis, a species gladiolus, came to be at the base of a cherry tree. I certainly don’t remember planting it there and I can’t recall it flowering before.

Ipheions at the base of an orange tree

When we plant bulbs beyond the cultivated garden areas, we try and select spots where they can establish in fairly undisturbed conditions. At the base of trees is good, as long as there is plenty of light. Around old tree stumps, on margins that don’t get mown often, or in little spots where we can walk past and be surprised to see them in bloom.

Trillium red with bluebells down in the park meadow
And trillium white with Lachenalia aloides tricolor and snowdrops to the right on the margins by a stump

We have rather too many bluebells now, to the point where I often dig out clumps to reduce overcrowding. The Spanish bluebells or the ones that are crosses between the vigorous Spanish and the more refined English species are definitely rampant, bordering on weeds. That sea of blue is very charming in their flowering season but sometimes it is the one seedling escape flowering bravely on its own that makes me smile as I pass.

The simplicity of a self-sown bluebell
Common old Lachenalia aloides where a tree stump used to be

It is both the transient nature and the detail that makes bulbs so interesting in a garden context. Far from simplifying our own garden as we age, the more we garden, the more we like to add fine detail. That is what keeps it interesting for us.

Bluebells and narcissi at the base of gum tree
Narcissus bulbocodium with bluebells

14 thoughts on “When the detail brings delight, not the devil

  1. Mark Boyd

    Hi Abbie, your collection of unusual bulbs must be a constant delight. It always amazes me that you can grow trilliums. I always thought they were suited to cooler climates!

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Not from us. We closed down our nursery over a decade ago. Best place to try may be Trade Me where some of the less common bulbs come up from time to time.

  2. Dale Lethbridge

    Such delightful bulbs. I am afraid I don’t admire bigger better and double moderns that have lost their charm and delicacy . Some not a memory of ‘fluttering and dancing in the breeze’. I wonder if you can tell me about narcissus fly as my old species are hard to flower. What can I do??

  3. Paddy Tobin

    Bulbs are very enjoyable when they increase to large numbers – and that dark-flowered trillium is especially good!

  4. Rose Petal

    Hi Abbie, Beautiful photos! I especially like your bluebells and narcissi under the gum tree. I wish mine would naturalise like that. I can’t imagine ever needing to cull them, but that is probably because I pick some of the flowers for the house. I have a vase of bluebells on my desk at the moment :)

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Do you pick ALL the flowers? If you leave a few, they will seed over time. But the bulbs should be increasing. I could give you plenty of you were local!

      1. Rose Petal

        Hi Abbie, I pick only about half of my bluebell flowers (I can’t resist it to cheer up my desk). The rest I leave in place in the garden under the trees. They have definitely been self-seeding because some white mutants have appeared (not onion weed). Thanks very much for the kind offer of bulbs, unfortunately I am far away in Auckland. Hugs Rose x

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