5 top garden designers recommend the best spring bulbs

Five leading garden designers recommend the best spring bulbs to add colour into the garden after the dull winter months.


It may sound like a cliché, but spring bulbs really do add a touch of sparkle and much-needed colour when little else wants to show itself above the cold soil. Five leading garden designers recommend their favourite spring bulbs. 

Annie Guilfoyle, Garden designer
“Plant bulbs in larger quantities than you think you’ll want; that way you will not be disappointed.”

1 Crocus ‘Prins Claus’ A stunning little crocus, with soft-white petals featuring a broad purple flash. Flowers in February. 8cm. RHS H5, USDA 4a-11.

2 Nectaroscordum tripedale has dusky pink flowers gathered in a loose allium form. Flowering in June, it reaches a magnificent height. 1m. USDA 5a-10a.

3 Camassia ‘Blue Heaven’ Finding bulbs suitable for heavy, wet soil is a hard task but these are the answer. Grow the pale-blue flowers in large drifts for maximum effect. Flowers early May. 80cm.

4 Tulipa ‘Red Shine’ The sultry-red flowers dotted through a border looks simply sublime. Flowers in late May. 55cm. RHS H6.

5 Crocus angustifolius This little Ukrainian crocus has rich, golden petals and a dark-burgundy stripe. 5cm. AGM. RHS H5, USDA 4a-7b.

6 Iris reticulata Flowering from January, these tough little beauties are the best plants to bring a bit of winter cheer. 15cm. RHS H7, USDA 5a-8b.

7 Hyacinthoides non-scripta For me, English bluebells are the bulbs that really herald in the spring in April. Perfect for naturalising in those tricky, shady corners under deciduous trees. 30cm. RHS H6, USDA 6a-7b.


Jinny Blom, Landscape and garden designer
“If you do nothing else, buy bulbs. Don’t try to be clever, just pile them in and let them sort themselves out.”

1 Allium cernuum One of the prettiest alliums with upwards of 40 dangling, rosy flowers on each head in June. 
50cm. RHS H5, USDA 3a-10a.

2 Camassia leichtlinii subsp. suksdorfii Caerulea Group This tall quamash with scintillating blue, starry flowers in May, creates an arresting sight when planted en masse. 90cm. RHS H4, USDA 5a-9b.

3 Galanthus nivalis Spring wouldn’t be spring without snowdrops. If you want to be posh, then choose a hybrid, such as the larger Galanthus ‘Atkinsii’, but frankly there’s no need – a snowdrop is a snowdrop. 10cm. RHS H5, USDA 3a-8b.

4 Tulipa sylvestris Beautiful flowers with an elfin grace about them, with two buds per stem each flushed reddish on the outside. Flowers in April. 45cm. RHS H6, USDA 5a-9b.

5 Scilla hyacinthoides Scillas are very pretty and it’s always worth having a few drifts. This one likes poor soil in sun as it’s a Middle Eastern flower. 80cm.

6 Narcissus ‘Thalia’ I’ve lost count of how many of these sweet, pure-white narcissi I’ve planted. It is simply the best and most beautiful in my book – and very reliable too. Flowers in April. 30cm. USDA 5a-11.

7 Crocus tommasinianus I’m always charmed by the starry flowers of this sweet little crocus, which flowers so eagerly in January. Plant great drifts of them, if you can keep the squirrels off. 10cm. RHS H5, USDA 3a-8b.


Alison Jenkins, Garden designer
“It’s easy to overlook bulbs, but they add another dimension that can bring some magic at a dreary time of year.”

1 Tulipa ‘Bruine Wimpel’ Sometimes sold as Tulipa Malaika, this is a subtle, single, late tulip, which fades from smoky-pink to rust. Flowers in April. 60cm. USDA 3a-8b.

2 Narcissus ‘Jenny’ The graceful form and soft tones of this daffodil work well when naturalised in grass. It has creamy-white, swept-back petals with a pale-yellow trumpet. 30cm. RHS H6, USDA 3a-8b.

3 Allium nigrum Flowering in early June, these give height and impact before many of the perennials get going. 75cm. RHS H5, USDA 5a-9b.

4 Muscari latifolium The two-tone flowers are strikingly unusual and look as though they have been dipped in violet sherbert. Flowering in March, they look good popping up through the black grass, Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’. 20cm. RHS H5, USDA 6a-9b.

5 Fritillaria assyriaca Best planted in old terracotta pots so you can bring them indoors where the subtlety of the mahogany flowers, tipped with yellow ochre, and the elegant form of their linear leaves can be appreciated up close. Flowers in April. 30cm. USDA 7a-9b.

6 Narcissus ‘Segovia’ This scented, miniature daffodil has pure-white petals with an unusual flat, lemon cup in March.  25cm. RHS H6, USDA 3a-9b.

7 Tulipa ‘Havran’ An elegant tulip with two to three inky, dark-purple flowers per stem. 45cm. 


Nigel Dunnett, Professor of Planting Design at the University of Sheffield
“The glow of the early layer of bulbs is one of the year’s highlights.”

1 Narcissus ‘Petrel’ One of the best. It is relatively short, scented and extremely graceful. Flowers in April. 20cm. USDA 5a-11.

2 Erythronium revolutum Johnsonii Group Superb mottled foliage – great value. 15-25cm. USDA 3a-9b.

3 Tulipa turkestanica I use this extensively in dry-meadow plantings – I love the dainty, white, star-shaped flowers that are held by the tall main stem. It also has great seedheads and lovely glaucous foliage. Flowers from March. 25cm. RHS H5, USDA 4a-8b.

4 Allium stipitatum ‘Mount Everest’ It’s not just the white globes, which appear in June, that do it for me – especially when they are planted en masse – but the rich-green seedheads that come after the flowers are also extremely ornamental. 1.2m. USDA 3a-8b.

5 Tulipa praestans ‘Fusilier’ Another of my essential plants for steppe plantings: the multiple, bright-scarlet flowers make for a long-flowering display from March. 15-30cm. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 3a-8b.

6 Fritillaria persica A sexy bulb. The upright form and dusky purple flowers that appear in April have it all. 1m. RHS H4, USDA 5a-9b.


Declan Buckley Garden designer
“Bulbs are invaluable for injecting early season colour. The key is to think big and plant in generous quantities.”

1 Nectaroscordum siculum Pendulous umbrellas of up to 30 drooping, bell-shaped, creamy-green flowers, each with purple and pink markings, are carried on stiff stems. As these fade, they turn upright to form spires of erect, shuttlecock-like seedheads. Flowers May to June. 80cm-1m. RHS H5, USDA 6a-10b.

2 Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’ Fragrant, snow-white, bell-shaped flowers tipped with green.  Flowers April. 45-55cm. RHS H7, USDA 6a-9b.

3 Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus Despite its delicate appearance, this deliciously fragrant, late-flowering, wild species with simple, pure-white petals surrounding small, red-rimmed, yellow cups, is tough and sturdy. Flowers April to May. 40cm. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 3a-9b.

4 Tulipa ‘Ballerina’ The beautiful pointed petals of this scented, lily-flowered tulip add warmth to late spring plantings. Flowers early to mid May. 55cm. AGM. RHS H6, USDA4a-8b.

5 Tulipa ‘Burgundy’ Rich, dark-purple, arched petals are carried on strong stems. Perfect for cut-flower displays. Flowers early to mid May. 50cm.

6 Narcissus ‘Rapture’ The golden-yellow, long-lasting flowers of this little narcissus can’t fail to bring a smile to your face. Flowers March. 25-30cm. AGM. RHS H6, USDA 3a-8b.


Useful information

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*Holds an award of garden merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. For information on hardiness ratings, click here



This article was taken from a larger feature in the October issue of Gardens Illustrated (issue 239).

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