I have been planting spring bulbs as long as I have had a garden but I still view them as prepackaged miracles: in the fall you put a bulb in the ground and in the spring, after you all but forgotten about it, leaves emerge and boom! Flowers! It is as fool-proof as gardening gets.
Even though my garden is planted mostly with edibles, I consider early flowering spring bulb an essential morale booster for the gardener. They give a splash of color right at the beginning of the season, luring you outside and making the garden an already welcoming place. Because they flower early, they are also an important source of nectar for bees.
There are bulbs scattered throughout our backyard and there are narcissi, tulips and tall Dutch irises planted in neat rows for cutting on our allotment. But every year I also plant several containers with different kinds of bulbs and set them close to our back door so that they are visible from the kitchen and the first thing you run into when going outside or coming home.
Super fun is planting bulbs in containers in layers: like lasagna. If your container is 25 cm (10 inches) deep, you can plant 2 layers. If it is at least 30 cm (12 inches) deep, you can get away with three. Planting bulbs in layers means that one container can provide you with bloom for months on end, all for the expense of a few bulbs and about an hour of your time spent on the pleasurable task of planting.
Close to our backdoor stands a large tub that I plant with different things every year. Last fall I planted it with tulips, narcissi and crocuses and this spring it flowered from March till May. When the bloom was over, there was still plenty of time to replant the tub with a mix of edibles.
The tub is 70 x 55 cm (28 x 22 inches) and 30 cm (12 inches) deep which means it requires a huge amount of potting mix. I fill it with a mixture of commercial potting soil to which I add a substantial amount of homemade compost and sand and a bit of lime. This mix drains well, yet retains moisture and because most bulbs prefer like neutral pH, a little lime helps to correct the acidity.
BULB LASAGNE: HOW TO
To ensure good drainage, I drilled 5 holes in the bottom of the tub. I covered the bottom of the tub with a layer of small stones (from our garden path). The stones were covered with woven landscape fabric to keep the soil from washing out and keep the two layers separate, so that the stones can easily be reused later.
On top of the fabric I added a 5 cm (2 inch) layer of the potting mix. On top of that, I planted 20 tulip bulbs. The variety I chose is “White Triumphator” which is an elegant lily-flowered, white (obviously) tulip. I spread the bulbs evenly, making sure they weren’t touching, and not too close to the side of the container where there’s more risk of them freezing dead.
After covering the tulips with a second layer of potting mix and watering thoroughly, I added 13 narcissi bulbs. I chose “Sir Winston Churchill”, which has scented double flowers and multiple blooms per stem.
After the narcissus bulbs were covered and watered in, I planted 2 kinds of crocuses: the pale lilac “Vanguard” (20 bulbs) and the deep purple, large-flowered and slightly later flowering “Flower Record” (30 bulbs).
5. Final layer & mulch
After covering the crocus bulbs with a final layer of potting mix, I mulched it with hazelnut shells (just because I had those – other mulch like cocoa shells can be used). If there are mice in your garden, it is a good idea to cover the whole container with chicken wire mesh. The container is in a sheltered spot, next to the fence and close to the house, so I do not bother with additional protection.
This year I am going for a white-yellow color scheme and planting two different varieties of tulips, two of narcissus and two of crocus:
10 bulbs Tulip “White Triumphator” (lily-flowered, white tulip)
10 bulbs Tulip “Yellow Purissima” (large yellow fosteriana tulip)
9 bulbs narcissus “Ice Follies” (large cupped, cream white + yellow cup)
10 bulbs narcissus “Hawera” (pale yellow, multi-flowered, flowering over several weeks)
30 bulbs crocus “Jeanne d’Arc” (large-flowered and pure white (what else?))
20 bulbs crocus “Yellow Mammoth” (large-flowered and yellow)
I prefer to order bulbs online, directly from the grower. When you buy bulbs in a garden center, they have probably been sitting on the self for some time, in a too warm environment which means they start growing too soon. When you order from a grower, you typically get a huge variety of premium quality bulbs that were stored at the correct temperature until shipping.
In the Netherlands, I like to order from:
Eurobulbs (website also in English and they ship within Europe)
H.M.Meeuwissen (many varieties of wild tulips and other specialty bulbs, shipping within Europe)
Ecobulbs (organically grown bulbs, not sure if they ship abroad)
For UK readers:
Sarah Raven can be counted on to have the most beautiful bulbs in her online shop:
If you have other favorite bulbs for pots, I would love to hear about them!
And in the spring, I’ll be sure to share pictures of the container in bloom.