Dutch courage: It's time to order your spring (yes, spring) bulbs now

It may seem counter-intuitive to be picking out bulbs in early summer, but be brave, for now is the perfect time to plan for next spring, says Emma Townshend
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The Independent Online

I have, I confess, a problem with being sold stuff that I don't need right that second. What's with those television adverts for new school uniforms that start the first week of the summer holidays? Let us enjoy the moment for five minutes, people! And I have an auntie who bans all mention of C******** before 1 November.

But there is one set of people who I can forgive for a bit of out-of-season hassle, and that's the Dutch. Every year around this time, the Dutch start assaulting the mailboxes of British gardeners with luxurious colour magazines on thick glossy paper. And what do these orange men want? They want us to buy bulbs.

But they have our best interests at heart. (Possibly theirs as well... but definitely ours.) Because putting in a spring bulb order, weird and out-of-season though it may feel during, er, Wimbledon, is doing yourself a huge favour. Choosing bulbs might seem bizarre in early July, but it's one fail-safe way to brighten up the grottiness of next spring. At which point you will want to write yourself a nice thank-you letter.

There are a few principles worth sticking to in a bulb order. You will get best results if you grit your teeth and decide to spend around £50 per area you want to have an impact. The reality is that in the bare soil of early spring, 10 tulips can get a bit lost. Order 25, or even better 50, and suddenly you're getting somewhere. Especially if you can bring yourself to get them all from the same variety, or at least the same shade. A garden has an amazing sense of peace and unity when it is humming with just one colour. And I know £50 sounds like a lot. But have you bought cut flowers recently? This is the price of two big bunches of flowers, but will last weeks longer.

Second, do smart ordering. There are bulbs I would encourage even the least green-fingered person to grow, such as the small narcissi that scent the first days of spring. And those I would tell them to avoid, such as the fussier-than-Mariah-Carey Eremurus. Also, make sure you get a spread of flowering times. This entails sitting down and using that thick catalogue or website to plan, so that, for example, you start with little white crocuses, move through fragrant "Paper-white" narcissi, and edge the beds with snow-pale muscari that will multiply over the years.

Lastly, do get round to actually planting them. Ask any gardener and you'll hear stories of bulb planting put off till leftover turkey soup is a distant memory. Give your garden the best chance by starting early if you can. Even if all you do is pick up a packet of "Tete à Tete" daffodils (right) from the supermarket and stick them in a spare flowerpot, do it, do it, do it. It's one bit of off-season trading you won't regret.

Bewitching bulbs

De Jager is not just a big catalogue: the bulbs it sends out are similarly humungous. Particularly recommended for plants such as amaryllis. dejager.co.uk

J Parker, which sells Dutch bulbs from, er, Manchester, has a great list, and you can order wholesale if you spend more than £75, which is bliss, because it just about doubles what you get (although it also doubles the planting you have to do, which some may not see as a positive boon). jparkers.co.uk

The Dutch aren't the only ones to sell great bulbs. Avon Bulbs was the first to get its catalogue on to my mat: a beautiful paper catalogue, and a really fantastic, easy-to-use website. avonbulbs.co.uk

Broadleigh Gardens, which is run by that mainstay of the Royal Horticultural Society Lady Skelmersdale, has a reputation for selling top-quality bulbs and lots of refined rarities. broadleigh bulbs.co.uk