There is a select group of big bulbs that we can use to make a bold statement within our garden borders. Growing tall and flowering in spring or summer they will inject a spectacular focal point into any planting scheme they are added to.
Each of these dramatic bulbs stands not only by way of the unusual shape of their flowers but also the colours they introduce. Their exceptional height allowing them to rise up amidst neighbouring perennials and shrubs.
Height is a relative thing and in the spring garden most bulbs and the newly emerging perennials are no more than knee high.Crown Imperials are tall enough to stand out from their surroundings, especially because of their bold bunch of dangling bell-flowers held clear of their foliage and any neighbouring tulips or daffodils. Fritillaria imperialis ‘Rubra’, terracotta and ‘Lutea’, yellow, are the most popular and deservedly so. There is also Fritillaria ‘Raddeana’, a close relative, with sophisticated pale yellow and green flowers for where something especially unique is desired.
Fritillaria persica takes the drama to another level. Here we have a real prima donna. The stiffly upright flower stems rise high, carrying up to twenty plum-purple bell shaped flowers. They hang downwards and from a distance are effectively black. Standing amidst drifts of fresh coloured spring flowers they are nothing short of spectacular. They will introduce vertical accents to an otherwise horizontal planting plane.
The white flowered Fritillaria persica ‘Alba’ is more subtle. The form is identical and it is best appreciated near to hand. When planted together, these black and white Persian Lilies will make a truly sophisticated focal point anywhere in our gardens.
Alliums are deservedly popular in contemporary gardens. The most familiar must be Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ and similar all with the characteristic pompom ball-shaped purple flower heads held boldly atop stiff bare stems up to a meter tall. These are not only exciting when planted in drifts to rise up amidst fields of perennials, but especially useful. They flower just at the end of spring when the garden is in a state of flux. Spring bulbs and shrubs have peaked and the main summer displays have yet to get into their stride - cue “Alliums”.
Taller-growing and therefore having more impact are cultivars such as ‘Ambassador’ and ‘Gladiator’, but it is the less well known ‘Summer Drummer’ that needs your attention. This time we have an even taller growing pompom allium that flowers much later than the others. It can reach more than two meters tall and will start flowering in late June and on into July. Its flowers and subsequent seed heads are perfect for adding to tall-growing prairie style planting schemes using ornamental grasses such as Miscanthus and Panicum.
Eremurus are commonly called Cleopatra’s Needle in Holland which I think better describes them. From the wide spreading starfish-shaped tubers arise vigorous clumps of strap-like leaves in early spring. In early summer, very tall strait flower spikes rise up that are covered in narrow tubular flowers that resemble the wagging tails of foxes to some and bottle brushes to others. The numerous flowers open from the base upwards resulting in a long and effective flowering season. After flowering the plants quickly die down which makes their placement in the garden challenging. The trick with these truly spectacular plants is to find a sheltered spot in the garden that receives full sun in spring, but which becomes hidden by nearby perennials after flowering. I grow mine at the back of a border of large clumps of Miscanthus grasses and Sanguisorba. Both taking their time to grow up in spring and only reach their full height in the second half of summer.
The largest-growing of these bold plants is well named, Eremurus robustus. The flower spikes are easily two meters tall bearing soft salmon pink flowers. Slightly smaller is Eremurus ‘Romance’ in a similar colour tone. Instantly this suggests to me to plant both together in drifts to create a medley of pink tints and tones and subtle size variations. I do this sort of thing a lot as it gives your planting schemes a more natural appearance.
Eremurus stenophylus ‘Bungei’ is in contrast to the others a much smaller plant. The flowers are yellow and will harmonise perfectly with early summer-flowering Euphorbias. In between these two extremes are a number of other Foxtail Lilies that offer yellow and orange flower colour for albeit a short, but nevertheless spectacular, seasonal highlight. I would not be without them.