Gardening: Bulbs to light up the winter garden: Spring flowers should be planted informally, here densely, there sparsely, to achieve a natural look, says Stephen Anderton

One of the greatest pleasures of January and February is watching the snowdrops come through and deciding where to plant more of them. It is a lean time for flowers, and it is a rare garden indeed that cannot take more snowdrops, either as an underplanting in formal borders or 'naturalised' in grass or under trees. But naturalised is too easy a word.

It is often said that a plant is naturalised in a garden because it is planted to look as if it were occurring naturally. But a truly naturalised plant will seed itself, and over time will put itself where it wants to be. The problem with bulbs is that those which do not increase from seed will eventually become solid clumps which will look less than natural. The little wild daffodil, Narcissus pseudonarcissus, seeds itself prolifically, even in mown grass, and my colonies always have seedlings coming on among the mature flowering bulbs; whereas the summer snowflake, Leucojum aestivum, while perfectly happy in moist turf, never seeds for me, but builds up solid individual clumps.

Planting snowdrops or anything else to look natural is never easy. A useful set of guidelines might be:

Never plant a perimeter line, however informal the shape.

Never plant in evenly-sized groups.

Never plant those groups at the same density on the ground.

I once asked somebody to plant daffodils 'in a sort of whale shape; you know, nothing too formal, narrow at one end, wider at the other'. What I got the next spring was a yellow whale covered in dots. It has taken several years to 'naturalise' things again, by making holes mostly in the edge of the whale, but also in the middle, because varied density is really what makes bulbs look naturalised.

The textbook method of 'natural' planting used to be to take a handful of bulbs and to roll them out across the grass or soil, planting them exactly where they landed. It is a good theory. But suppose you are planting colchicums in late July into a patch of ornamental grass such as Hakonechloa. If the grass is to look attractive and stand up until December, you cannot sling anything there. With snowdrops, the time to split and move the bulbs is immediately after flowering, with the leaves on, so you cannot roll these out either. (Always buy them 'in the green' if you can, either potted or freshly lifted. Snowdrop specialist nurseries insist on it, for snowdrops hate to be warm and dry.)

The way to gain that casual look is to plant at varied densities. Consider where the focus should be. There you should plant the bulbs much closer together - sometimes two, sometimes a few in the same hole, but still at random rather than at equal spacings. You may feel you are putting in too many - usually a good sign. If planting under a tree, make the focus around or just forward of the trunk, as if the bulbs were seeding forwards like a shadow from the darkest place.

Then start to plant outwards at increasingly large, but still random, spacings. Leave the odd patch unplanted, and make a second, much smaller focus somewhere if you like. Towards the edge of the planting area, let your bulbs peter out, perhaps with the odd satellite one well beyond the main area. If you have bulbs to spare, put them into your main focus. It is easy - I've done it myself - to undo your work by going back over the whole area, adding in here and there until, before you know it, you have an even, all-over cover.

The double snowdrop is widely sold nowadays, and no wonder. The bulbs increase like dough left to prove. It is a cheerful, generous plant, with flowers like tiny perfumed cabbages. It does not have the poise of the single variety, whose petals hang so white and demure, but it is fun to have around. Like any double flower, it never looks so comfortable naturalised in turf as does a single. But if it is weight of colour you want, it is more than obliging.

The double form also comes to look congested in its clump long before the single, because the flowers are so much chunkier. If your idea of naturalising is to plant once and leave it at that, the double snowdrop will make you want to interfere again well before the single. If you do use it in grass or under trees, split it into very small clumps in the first place - say ones, twos and threes.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
News
peoplePerformer had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer
News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Media baron Rupert Murdoch owns News Corps and 20th Century Fox
theatrePlaywright David Williamson is struggling to find a big name to star as the media mogul
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling will not be releasing a 'romance' novel anytime soon
books
Life and Style
tech

Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
One of the 'princesses' in the video
videoYouTube reinstates sweary video after takedown for 'violating terms'
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Systems Tester - Functional/Non-Functional/Full Life Cycle

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Systems Tester - Functional/Non-Func...

SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfordshire - £350 - £360

£350 - £360 per day: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfor...

Business Intelligence Consultant - Central London - £80,000

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Intelligence Consultant - C...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£70 - £85 per day: Randstad Education Group: SEN Teaching Assistants needed in...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?