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Bulbs, for many people, are associated only with spring. In fact, they can provide colour all the year round. All the same, the spring favourites - Narcissi (including Daffodils) and Crocuses - will probably remain the most popular first choice.
There are many varieties of Narcissi and Daffodils which can be grown in pots and between them provide colour for nearly three months of the year. Florists sell many different types, usually when the plants are just in bud. The two varieties most commonly grown from bulbs planted in the autumn are the Paperwhites and Soleil d' Or, since they are particularly easy to start under home conditions. Keep pots of Narcissi (at least 3 bulbs to a pot) cool, dark and slightly damp until the shoots are 4 inches high and the flower buds well in view. If the flower buds stay hidden, remove the side shoots when transferring the pot to a warmer room. Spray the buds lightly until they have opened.
Crocuses provide a bewildering choice of brilliant colours. The two-colour varieties form a particularly decorative group. Vernus Violet Vanguard blooms very early when other flowers are few. Its colouring is particularly charming: a pretty blue with delicate French grey outside. It is just one of the many large-flowered varieties (height about 4 inches) but there are smaller species which are particularly effective planted close together in a large bowl or crocus dish (a special pot with holes in the sides as well as at the top in which
to plant bulbs so that when they flower the Crocuses form a colourful 'mound'). Another dimunitive flower which gives a welcome splash of colour as soon as winter is over is Chionodoxa, Glory-ofthe-Snow. One of its most elegant varieties, C. gigantea, has enormous flowers of a pale violet with an ice-blue centre. Plant the little bulbs in a group. Other attractive ones are C. lucilea rosea, with pink blooms, and the lovely deep gentian-blue C. sardensis.
The Schizostylis coccinea or Kaffir Lily, which is not a true lily at all, is a striking bulb for spring flowering. It grows up to 3 feet tall and bears a graceful spike of about a dozen red or pink flowers.
Other bulbs to plant for spring blooming include: Muscari (Grape Hyacinths), Puschkinia scilloides (Squills) and Scillas. All of these are small and blue. The starry little Sparaxis and Ornithogalum are also small, and the former is available in many colours, while the latter is usually white. Among taller plants, many of the Allium family flower early in the year (with big globular heads of; little flowerets), and there is a choice among Irises, Lilies and Fritillarias. Be sure to select varieties suitable for growing indoors. Richardia (Arum Lily) and Ixia (African Corn Lily) are even more spectacular where there is space to show them off well.