The only difficulty with bulbs? Choosing which to plant...

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The Independent Online

Look, here's the essential bit: even really bad gardeners can grow bulbs. You pruned that rosebush you got as a wedding present out of existence? You still qualify. You planted a bush labelled "wisteria" which has still never flowered? Yep, you too. And you who have never grown anything in your paved backyard, unless you count the fern which has taken up residence on your down wastepipe? Yes, even you should grow bulbs.

The argument goes like this: bulbs are really simple. Unlike other plants, they store all their energy and nutrients within the bulb, so don't need feeding. (Unless you want them to last more than a year, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.)

Bulbs are also consistent. They have a smart and luxurious effect, as each variety is made up of plants that are all exactly the same, clones of each other.

And finally, there's their wonderful spring colour. Bulbs come out at a time of year when frankly, we need cheering up. And they do this brilliantly.

So, what do you actually need? Number one is a well-drained container. This means you can use a bucket from the pound shop if you like, as long as you make holes in the bottom (preferably between six and a dozen, at least pea-sized). But smart terracotta is delightful, so keep an eye out for sales at garden centres. Next, treat the bulbs to some proper compost. Yes, you can use garden soil if your soil is OK, but a bag of bulb compost costs less than a fiver.

Now, layer your bulbs at about the right depth. You don't have to stick to what it says on the packet. Those directions are intended to allow your bulbs to live longer, and to stay upright in high winds. If you plant a few centimetres shallower than directed, don't panic. You can add slow-release plant food if you are feeling especially virtuous, but don't feel bound to. Your most important task is going to be watering the tubs once they are done.

Finally comes the only tricky bit: working out what to plant. It's actually genuinely difficult to choose the right combination. It can get really confusing and there's a good case for buying a selection carefully worked out in advance by somebody else. Sarah Raven's Harlequin Tulip Collection is made up of 15 bulbs each of "Ballerina", a fiery bright orange; "Negrita", a good deep pink; and "Recreado", a tried-and-tested purple. Forty-five bulbs, £17.50 (sarahraven.com). She pairs hers with lime-green euphorbia foliage for a particularly zingy effect.

But if you do fancy choosing your own, work out a colour scheme and stick to it. All white works well, so opt for white tulips such as the elegant, peony-flowered "Mount Tacoma" (£7.90 for 10 bulbs, dejager.co.uk) with white hyacinths and muscari (aucherii "White Magic" are £15.65 for 30, also from de Jager).

Whatever you plant, it will make your spring a whole lot nicer to look forward to. Whether you're a bad gardener or a really good one.

Get planting

1. Go Dutch

French Blend is one of the finest tulip blends available. These flowers, direct from Holland, come "as large as a wine glass" in a range of soft pinks. About £25 for 100 bulbs, fluwel.com

2. Turn to the dark side

White a tad too pure? Go for the Dark and Gorgeous Tulip Collection, with 10 bulbs each of four deep and dark varieties. £21.40, avonbulbs.co.uk

3. Heaven scent

For amazing spring perfume, plant narcissi. "Avalanche" was particularly good the past couple of years for me, and also came back repeatedly. £15.50 for 100 bulbs, dutchbulbs.co.uk

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