The delights and changes of bulbous plants

SPRING FLOWERS: Beginning to appear

By Clodagh and Dick Handscombe, Spain’s best known gardening authors living in Spain for 25 years.


AS spring starts to exert itself one of the delights beyond the almond blossom is the flowers of bulbous plants in both gardens and the countryside.

With careful choice and care they can add welcome stars to all gardens and apartment terraces throughout the year.

Bulbous plants store growth hormones moisture and nutrients in a variety of forms.

  • Thin skinned fleshy bulbs such as daffodils and tulips.
  • Clumps such as tulbaghias and day lilies.
  • Multi layered fleshy bulbs such as lilies.
  • Harder skinned corms such as crocuses, gladioli and cyclamen.
  • Deep rooted rhizomes such as mirabilis.
  • Shallow rhizomes such as flag irises.
  • Thick skinned bulbs such as Dutch and Spanish irises.

Some problems and solutions

A collection of bulbous plants can add seasonal stars to any garden but bulbous plants are not without problems.

Over the past 25 years we have spent quite a lot of money attempting to establish a collection of bulbs including some of the rarer varieties from around the world, but not all liked the microclimate of our garden. In general those that failed were soft skinned fleshy bulbs.

As a result we now suggest that you follow these guidelines.

  1. Plant mainly tougher skinned corms and rhizomes and take special care of tubers and bulbs.
  2. Bulbous plants can be planted in rich loamy but well draining soils in flower beds, orchards, raised beds, rockeries or containers.
  3. Place some grit or sand at the base of planting holes.
  4. In general plant bulbous plants a few centimetres deeper than you would in northern Europe.
  5. Mulch areas planted with bulbous plants with compost or fine volcanic or stone chippings to slow down the drying out of the soil and to deter slugs and snails.
  6. Incorporate a little TerraCottem water retaining gel into the soil before planting bulbous plants.
  7. Avoid the thirsty dahlias and Canna lilies unless you have a permanently damp patch.
  8. Mix a little neem powder into planting holes to deter slugs plus an ecological snail bait such as the one marketed by Neudorff on the surface.
  9. As leaves die back remove them as damp, fleshy material can attract snails and slugs.
  10. Mark where you have bulbs if your memory fails you so that you do not inadvertently damage or dig up bulbs.

The easiest to raise include agapanthus, clivias, cyclamens, crocuses, daffodils, freesias, gladiolus, grape hyacinths, irises, lilies, san diego de noche and tulbaghia,

See chapter 4.11 in Your Garden in Spain for more details including photographs and botanical English and Spanish names.

If you want to try something special look up the catalogues of The Heritage Bulb Society and Chiltern Seeds. If irises interest you look up the website of The Marnes Iris Garden, located near Benissa in Alicante province, which has amazing displays from March to May each year.



(c) Clodagh and Dick Handscombe

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