Exotic alternatives to daffodils and tulips

Ornithogalum magnum. Picture: Broadleigh Bulbs/PA.

Ornithogalum magnum. Picture: Broadleigh Bulbs/PA. - Credit: PA

Autumn is bulb-planting time, so splash out on some more unusual bulbs which will add a riot of colour and form to your garden in Spring

Allium 'Purple Rain'. Picture: Broadleigh Bulbs/PA

Allium 'Purple Rain'. Picture: Broadleigh Bulbs/PA - Credit: PA

If you want lashings of spring and early summer colour, but fancy something more unusual from the standard daffodils and tulips which are abundant in garden centres, take a look at some of the more exotic bulbs to plant this autumn.

Bulb specialists and retailers have contributed to this line-up of alternative beautiful bulbs to get you into the planting mood.

1. Hyacinth ‘Dark Dimension’ (directbulbs.co.uk; broadleighbulbs.co.uk)

This almost black hyacinth offers a dramatic but no less fragrant alternative to the classic pink, mauve and white varieties, flowering in March and April. Place them close to your patio doors or windows where you can enjoy their spring perfume.

Uf Anemone 'Royal Blue'. Picture: Broadleigh Bulbs/PA.

Uf Anemone 'Royal Blue'. Picture: Broadleigh Bulbs/PA. - Credit: PA

Tim Woodward, owner of Direct Bulbs, explains: “These deep blue bulbs are best grown in well drained containers in odd numbers of three, five or seven.

“They are superb when grown with fragrant white daffodils such as ‘Bridal Crown’ (height 35cm) or ‘White Cheerfulness’ (height 35cm). The hyacinths and both of the daffodils are highly fragrant and will flower together in March/April. Plant two daffodils for each hyacinth.

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2. Allium ‘Purple Rain’ (broadleighbulbs.co.uk)

“I’ve always found that ‘Purple Rain’ comes up year after year, flowering in May,” says bulb expert and author Christine Skelmersdale, of Broadleigh Bulbs.

Allium 'Mount Everest'. Picture: Broadleigh Bulbs/PA.

Allium 'Mount Everest'. Picture: Broadleigh Bulbs/PA. - Credit: PA

“The purple globes look brilliant grouped through borders and are fabulous matched with orange geums, or planted in the middle of a border amid Stipa tenuissima, which will mask the allium leaves when they fade, before the blooms appear.”

Other unusual alliums include the white ‘Mount Everest’ and the shorter ‘Powder Puff’, which can be planted nearer the front of the herbaceous border.

3. Crocus ‘Orange Monarch’ (dobbies.com; directbulbs.co.uk)

This specie crocus, which has citrus orange petals marked on the outside with purple-black feathering, reflects the colours of the Monarch butterfly.

Flowering in January/February, it’s ideal for growing in the garden but also works really well in containers. It also looks good with other specie crocus including ‘Cream Beauty’, whose creamy pale yellow flowers compliment the ‘Orange Monarch’ really well, or ‘Snow Bunting’, a pure white variety with a bronze-yellow centre.

‘Orange Monarch’ will also create instant impact planted in swathes, on slopes or banks, in rockeries, beds or borders.

4. Anemone ‘Flaccida’ (broadleighbulbs.co.uk)

“The ‘Flaccida’, the Japanese version of our wood anemone, has very interesting leaves beautifully marked with bronze when they first appear. They bear large white flowers, much larger than our own native wood anemone,” says Skelmersdale.

She adds: “Wood anemones are fantastic because they sit happily in shady spots underneath shrubs. There’s a lovely bright blue variety called ‘Royal Blue’ which smothers itself in flowers and is excellent for naturalising under trees and shrubs.

5. Camassia Leichtlinii ‘Broadleigh Belle’ (broadleighbulbs.co.uk)

From the small bulb specialist’s own cultivars comes this beautiful mixture of lilac, pink and white camassias which are later-flowering and taller than other varieties, growing up to 75cm (30in) and flowering in May, which makes them an excellent crossover plant for spring to summer.

They make a good foil for the creamy varieties and provide early colour to the herbaceous border. They can be naturalised in grass and are traditionally used around the base of fruit trees. Plant the bulbs 15cm (6in) deep in the autumn.

6. Tulipa ‘Copper’ (directbulbs.co.uk)

If you like blousy flowers, look out for this peony-flowered tulip, whose double flowers have an unusual copper colour flushed with salmon.

Double late tulips, which flower taller and much later than their early counterparts, are useful border plants but can also be used in containers and put to great effect if planted in groups of 10 or more. Plant bulbs 10cm deep (up to 15cm in sandy soils), adding grit or well rotted humus matter to heavy soils to aid drainage. Plant them later in autumn when the ground starts to cool down.

7. Allium ‘Fireworks Mix’ (suttons.co.uk)

If you’re after fun, consider this striking mix of the three alliums in shades of fuchsia pink, canary yellow and ice white, whose myriad blooms explode into colour like emerging fireworks.

Holding the RHS Award of Garden Merit, they flower in July and are attractive to pollinators, bringing a splash of colour to contemporary gardens, with flower heads which provide eye-catching shapes. They are great in pots on the patio or planted straight into the ground.

8. Narcissus ‘Snow Baby’ (directbulbs.co.uk; broadleighbulbs.co.uk)

This is a less well-known variety bearing tiny pure white trumpets and petals in February and March. Growing to a height of 20cm, it will naturalise from year to year and is a good partner for Chionodoxa forbesii ‘Blue Giant’ (height 15cm), where the narcissi rise above the bed of blue.

9. Ornithologalum ‘Magnum’ (broadleighbulbs.co.uk)

The exotic tall white flower spikes of this native of South Africa look superb in mixed borders, pots and containers, naturalising and thriving in either full sun or partial shade. It’s a robust plant , with star-shaped fragrant flowers borne in dense clusters on stems up to 90cm (3ft) tall. Ideal for extending the season, it flowers in May.

10. Fritillaria imperialis (Crown Imperial) ‘Garland Star’ (squiresgardencentres.co.uk)

Add a crown of orange to your borders with these majestic bulbs which reach up to 70cm (28in). The scent discourages moles and mice from ruining gardens, so it may deter unwanted visitors. Plant them at a depth of 15cm around 20cm apart between September and November and they will flower in April to May.