Small blessings: Look out for the tiny buds of spring
Spring’s big-hitters are around the corner. For now, it’s the turn of the mini marvels
Sunday 04 March 2012
In just a week or two it will be the turn of the big daffs and tulips. But right now on centre stage, for a few days only, it's all about the tiny. The minuscule world of finger-high blooms with that air of having been shrunk by Japanese miniaturisation experts wearing white coats in million-dollar laboratories. Tiny narcissi, irises, muscari and tulips begin the flowering year, opening up with a concentrated blast of colour and offering cheerful respite to those glad to see the back of February.
In fact, due to 2012 weather conditions, all daffs with "February" in the title were roundly beaten this year into second place by "Tete-a-tete", the tiniest daff in my garden – tiny, but with a garden gnome-ish sense of solidity and not-budging-an-inch.
"Tete-a-tete" has been particularly great in the past few weeks, having been snowed on right in the middle of opening and surviving absolutely nonplussed. And it goes on flowering for a fortnight, minimum.
"Jack Snipe" will be next, in creamy white, and "Segovia" in April, white with a yellow centre. Both are really sweetly scented, so that on a still, sunny morning there will be perfume outside the door from a pot or two.
To grow them from bulbs, place an order in midsummer for autumn delivery and planting, so put a date in the diary now (Broadleigh Gardens has a really good choice at broadleigh-bulbs-autumn.co.uk). But if that seems way too long a wait, most garden centres will have narcissi for sale growing "in the green" at the moment, which makes them more expensive, but on the other hand, instantly enjoyable.
Elsewhere in Miniature World of Spring the little irises, the reticulata species, are a world away from the grand bearded varieties that flower in midsummer. At about seven centimetres tall, they look their best at eye level. The finest ones come in deep blues and purples, with amazing striped bee-landing strips up the centre of the petals. Unlike the tiny daffs, these irises look really good for only a few days, but they are so completely amazing when in bloom that it's worth buying three different kinds and putting in three different pots, so that you can bung the one to the front that's looking the best. "Harmony", "Gordon" and "Pauline" are all dark and lovely, and will be available after June from Avon Bulbs – and again, if you want them now, take a trip to the garden centre.
Finally, there are miniature tulips and hyacinths. Big garden tulips were bred from tiny wild species, and there is none more delightful than Tulipa sprengeri, the last wild tulip to flower, with a bright scarlet flower. Just 15cm tall, it nonetheless possesses proper poise and eye-catching colour. It can be hard to get hold of, though – much easier is a pretty pot wedged with muscari in white or deep blue, guaranteed to bring a smile. Plant thickly for best effect. And cram them in! These tinies actually seem to like it.
Top planting tips
Sweeten the pot
All tiny bulbs will do well planted in shallow pots – sometimes called "pans". A beautiful terracotta example will set you back £10 (plus postage) from terrapot.co.uk
Tiny bulbs need really sharp drainage. Cover the hole in the bottom of the pot with broken pots so it can't get blocked, then add a 5cm layer of horticultural grit. £5.48 at B&Q, diy.com
For peat's sake
Now add your tiny plants or bulbs and surround them with compost. To smarten the look of your finished pot, add a final centimetre layer of gravel. £2.40 a bag at B&Q, diy.com
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