Choosing spring bulbs for your cutting garden

If you’re a keen gardener you’ll no doubt appreciate that there’s rarely a time when you can kick back and forget about your garden.  Even as summer draws to a close and it feels like there’s a chance to relax, it’s already time to be preparing next year’s garden.  Spring bulbs need to be planted from September onwards (although Tulip planting should wait until mid October or November), and that means it’s now time to decide what you want to plant and to get your bulb orders under way.

If you have a dedicated cutting garden or just want to add to your mixed borders, then there are a number of really good spring bulbs which will ensure you have a constant supply of cut flowers throughout the season.

Tulips are the mainstay of the spring cutting garden – and for good reason.  They offer an enormous variety of colour, and provide cut flowers in April and May.  Tulips are divided into ‘groups’ which flower at different times, and which come with different flower shapes and sizes.  Generally, the best groups for cutting are Triumph, Viridiflora (multi-coloured), Lily flowering, Parrot flowering and Double Early Tulips.

If you are looking for elegance, I would recommend trying creams and whites (such as ‘Spring Green and ‘White Triumphator’) and the beautiful dark purple of ‘Queen of Night’.   And Lily flowered Tulips are a particularly lovely shape.

Tulip ‘Jan Reus’

For intense reds and oranges, go for ‘Jan Reus’, ‘Havran’ or ‘Abu Hassan’.  In the purple and pink range, try ‘Recreado’ or ‘Shirley’.  One thing to bear in mind when planting Tulips – they need good drainage, so if you garden on heavy soil, do add grit below the bulbs.


Daffs (or ‘Narcissi’ to be technical) are also invaluable as cut flowers as they provide blooms right through from February to May.  They range in height from about 20cm up to 45cm, and colour-wise from pure white through to golden yellow.  If you are adding them to a mixed border, or aiming to naturalize them in grass, then make sure you plant them in groups and think carefully about planting different varieties which will extend the season of interest in your garden.  There’s little point in planting dwarf Narcissi where they won’t be seen, or buying bulbs especially for scent unless you are cutting the flowers for the house or positioning them where you can appreciate their fragrance.

If you are looking for scent, go for a variety such as the lovely white ‘Thalia’ which flowers in March and April.  If you prefer smaller varieties, then ‘Tete a Tete’ and ‘February Gold’ are perfect.  One of my favourites (as I’m not too keen on the big yellow varieties) is the ‘Pheasant Eye’ Narcissus. It flowers quite late and is a lovely understated plant which will brighten up any border in May.

‘Pheasant Eye’ Narcissi

Hyacinths are invaluable to bring scent in to the house.  I’m personally keener on the multiflora varieties of Hyacinth which have (to my eye) a more natural look than the varieties which are more generally available. I think that’s down to the fact that their flower heads are less dense – though still highly scented.  Hyacinthus mulitflora ‘Anastasia’ is a particularly attractive blue variety.

Fritillaria Imperialis

For a bit of drama, try growing Fritillaria imperialis (the Crown Imperial).  With yellow or red flowers in April, growing to a height of about 3 foot, they look fantastic in a tall vase.  In the garden they are also very attractive to bees.

The great thing about planting spring flowering bulbs such as the ones I’ve mentioned is that it needn’t cost the earth, and can be done on any scale – even if it’s just in a few pots.  The key is to experiment and see what works for you.  And if you’re interested in creating a cutting garden for yourself, then please get in touch.

Photo credits: Firgrove Photographic

Fabulous plants for September

Here’s a small selection of wonderful plants I’d recommend for the garden in September.  When I drew up the shortlist I hadn’t realised that most of them hold the RHS Award for Garden Merit (AGM), but that just helps to indicate what great plants they are.  No need to just take my word for it!!

Tricyrtis formosana
Such an exotic looking perennial for a shady border.Trycirtis formosana by Firgrove Photographic

The ‘toad lily’ has stunning flowers in August and September and is ideal for a woodland garden with reasonably moist soil.  My own garden is a bit too dry to grow it unfortunately (and I’ve tried a couple of times) so it’s one of those plants I always lust after at this time of year when there aren’t that many perennials which flower this late on in shady conditions.  Tricyrtis gets to about 80cm high and 50cm wide, and will die back over winter.

Aster x frikartii ‘Mönch’ AGM

Aster Monch by Firgrove PhotographicPerfect for the late summer border, this sun-loving lavender-blue perennial looks great with pretty much anything including ornamental grasses.  It grows up to about 90cm tall and about 40cm wide, so may need staking, but otherwise is pretty much trouble free.  Asters generally need fertile soil to do well but this variety can cope with some dryness.  Plant in big groups for maximum effect right into the autumn.

Pontederia cordata AGM
If you have a pond or pool, this is a lovely aquatic plant to grow for its attractive spear-head leaves, and its deep blue spiked flowers in late summer.

Pontederia cordata, Firgrove Photographic

Growing to a height of about 1.2m, it’s a plant which works well if you want something quite architectural either in, or on the margins of, your water.  I particularly enjoy the sight of this plant later in the day when the bright green leaves glow in the evening sun.  It’s a plant that will spread so if space is an issue, plant it in a basket.

Stipa gigantea AGM
Stipa gigantea (or ‘Golden Oat grass’) is a fabulous statement plant for a sunny garden with well-drained soil.  It has an evergreen base of leaves with tall flowering shoots (up to 2.5m high) which glow in the sunshine.  This is a grass that provides height and movement in the border without blocking the view.

Stipa gigantea

It starts to flower as early as May and continues on into autumn so it’s a very valuable plant to include in the garden.  What’s more, you only need to cut back the old stems when they start to collapse, and that’s pretty much it as far as maintenance goes.  Neil Lucas of Knoll Gardens, which specialise in ornamental grasses, particularly recommends the variety ‘Gold Fontaene’.

Eucomis bicolor AGM
This is a bulb with a difference.  Eucomis bicolour is commonly known as ‘two-coloured pineapple lily’, and it’s not that hard to work out why!

Eucomis bicolor by Firgrove Photographic

The flower grows on a spotted stem (about 50cm high) above a low rosette of fleshy leaves, and it adds a bit of a tropical flavour to late summer planting schemes.  Eucomis needs a sunny sheltered spot, and it is generally recommended to mulch it over winter for added protection as it’s on the tender side.  That said, it has survived in my garden (albeit quite sheltered) for years with absolutely no special treatment!

Indigofera Heterantha AGM
This is such an attractive shrub with slender arching branches, delicate foliage and gorgeous deep pink pea flowers which last for weeks and weeks.  I grow it against a fairly sunny fence in dry soil, where it’s tied in to horizontal wires, and it looks lovely.

Indigofera heterantha

It reaches a height of about 2-2.5m, and if grown as a free-standing shrub (with an arching habit) it would spread about the same amount too.  Indigofera lose their leaves in winter, and although a hardy shrub, it can be quite late to come into leaf, but it’s definitely worth the wait.

For details of other plants which are great for this time of year to see, click on the links
Leycesteria Formosa AGM
Dahlia ‘David Howard’ AGM

Picture credits:  Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic

Jobs for the garden in September

Mid to late September is an ideal time to start autumn planting as the ground is still warm, and plants should be able to establish well before winter kicks in.


Clean your greenhouse & coldframes to help prevent pests over wintering, and move tender plants under cover as the night time temperatures drop.

Treat perennial weeds (such as dandelions and bindweed) with weedkiller  such as Glyphosate, if you can’t dig them out at the roots.

Trim soft growth of ivy, clearing it away from walls, windows and doors (more severe pruning should be carried out in spring).

box balls

Give Box hedging and topiary a final trim before the end of the month (or any likely frost) if you feel the need.

Keep up with deadheading of late flowerers such as Dahlias.

Lift and divide herbaceous perennials which are too big or which need a new lease of life.


Narcissi by Firgrove Photographic

It’s time to think about next year’s spring-flowering bulbs, so if you haven’t already done it, get your orders underway asap.

This is a good time to turn your attention to lawn maintenance.  Reduce the height of the mower as the grass will be slowing in growth and more susceptible to wear.  Scarify and spike the lawn and apply autumn lawn feed, add top dressing particularly if your garden is on clay, chalk or sandy soils.

Repair any bare patches in the lawn by sowing extra grass seed.

Pictorial meadow

This is also a good time to sow a wildflower meadow.   For more information, take a look at our blog about creating meadows.

Net ponds before leaf fall gets underway, and keep water levels topped up if necessary.

Don’t forget to water your pots in dry spells.

If frost if forecast, protect or move more tender plants such as Pelargoniums and Fuchsia.

Continue to deadhead annuals such as Cosmos and Sweet Peas.

Sow hardy annuals in to the ground now for early flowers next summer. This applies to flowers such as Nigella, cornflowers and Calendula officinalis (Marigold).

Start to clear up plant debris in borders to prevent fungal diseases over winter.

To avoid Vine weevils damaging your pot plants in particular (they love to munch plant roots), apply nematodes in September & October to treat freshly hatched grubs (check out

NB this information applies to gardens in the UK and you need to take account of your own local weather conditions when carrying out any work in the garden.


Picture credits:  Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic

Jobs for the productive garden in September

My seasonal tips if you’re growing fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers for cutting

Keep deadheading annuals and late-flowering Dahlias & Salvias to prolong flowering (and don’t forget to support them as the plants get bigger and top-heavy).

Direct sow hardy annuals (such as Nigella, cornflowers and Calendula officinalis) in to the ground now for early flowers next summer.

Teasels by Firgrove Photographic

Dry seedheads of Eryngium and Teasels to use in flower arrangements.

Tulips by Firgrove Photographic

Order your spring bulbs now if you haven’t done it already – if you leave it too late you may find it hard to get exactly what you want.   If you’re looking for ideas on what to plant, take a look at my blog on choosing bulbs for the cutting garden.

Move tender plants under cover as the night time temperatures drop.

Keep on top of your harvesting to beat damp weather which can damage produce.

Pick sweetcorn as soon as it’s ripe, and if frost is forecast, harvest tender veg. such as courgette, peppers and tomatoes.

Plant out any new strawberry plants now.

Let squash and pumpkins ripen in the sun.

Sow fast-growing oriental greens such as Mizuna and Pak-choi.

Cover leafy vegetable crops with bird-proof netting.

Before slug damage spoils them, dig up any remaining potatoes and store in a cool, frost-free place.


Take up the last of this year’s onion crop and leave them to dry before storing.  You can now sow onion sets to mature next summer.

There’s still time to sow green manures which will release nutrients back in to the soil when they are dug in over spring.

Clean your greenhouse & coldframes to help prevent pests over wintering.

Start to clear up plant debris in borders to keep fungal diseases at bay over winter.

To avoid Vine weevils damaging your plants apply nematodes this month and next, to treat freshly hatched grubs (I get mine from


Picture credits:  Janet Bligh & Firgrove Photographic