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It's time to sing the blues; Whether you go for deep ocean hues or paler sky-like tones, pick and plant your bulbs now to create a vivid sea of colour come next spring.

ONE of the colours that most reminds me of spring is blue. In my shed there is a big net of one of my favourite blue spring bulbs. They are camassias from North America and Canada which, despite being hardy, very easy to grow and beautiful, are seldom planted here.

The bulbs are chunky and I can imagine people biting into them, which is what used to happen.

They were an important source of food for several tribes of Native Americans. Bread was made from them or they were steamed and eaten with meat or fish.

Camassias had a wide distribution, growing in wet meadowland all down the west coast of America.

As happened in this country with native plants that used to thrive in marshy fields and damp places, it''''s had a tough time as its wild habitat has disappeared.

Enlightened municipal authorities, recognising its value and beauty, have planted it on verges and road reservations.

Camassia leichtlinii is the tallest of this group of plants. If you''''re looking for something unusual to naturalise in grass, this is an exciting addition. If allowed to set seed it will quickly multiply. I''''m not trying to persuade you to eat it, but to grow it.

If your ground is heavy and wet, many bulbs will find it tough going - but not camassias.

Stately spikes up to a metre tall are wrapped with tight buds that open up in succession into starry, bright blue flowers, livening up herbaceous beds when most perennials are just waking up.

I''''m going to be planting my bulbs over the next couple of weeks, adding to scores that have been in the garden for years.

In our brick garden, they are planted in great waves. On the outskirts of our woodland they take the stage as our gracious single white peonies are just awakening.

The blue haze they create is so welcome in spring. Even if there''''s no room for camassias or you don''''t have soggy conditions, you can create pools of blue in shady places from midwinter to late spring.

Scilla siberica - or squill - is one of the easiest, earliest and brightest stars in the spring firmament. It''''s ideal for a rock garden or filling gaps among aquilegias, foxgloves and their ilk under shrubs or between trees. It is one of the bluest of all blue flowers. Its individual flowers are bigger than most bulbs and although its stems are only a few inches high, its luminous colour makes it stand out clearly.

The one you usually see is scilla "Spring Beauty". The bulbs are relatively large and each produces several flowering stems. It will multiply quickly, sometimes by seeding itself around and sometimes by the bulbs dividing spontaneously.

If scillas colonise quickly, they dawdle compared to all forms of muscari.

The grape hyacinth, so called because its bells are almost spherical and clustered tightly round their stems, is regarded by some gardeners as a pest. To me it is a boon, especially in inauspicious spots where few plants seem to like growing.

If you choose varieties carefully, they can create a display from New Year until February and follow on with mid-season and later spring species and cultivars.

It is not a good idea to mix them. Keep them separate so that as one group fades another assumes the focus of interest.

Muscari "Valerie Finnis" flowers later. It was named after the photographer and plantswoman. It has charming pale blue flowers that distinguish it from the deeper blue of most muscari. Muscari "Jenny Robinson" - which is often called "Baby''''s Breath" - is similar but has neater leaves. All are happy in sun or shade, although the pale colour of the flowers lends itself to mixing with the silver emerging leaves of artemisias and lambs' lugs or stachys lanata.

Chionodoxa sardensis is sometimes called "Glory of the Snow". It flowers early and I have seen it in Devon, pushing blue stars through snow. Each year it increases until there is quite a carpet underneath hazels and trees. Its brilliant blue flowers have a small white centre. Bulbs that appear early are particularly valuable.

Puschkinia libanotica arrives as the snowdrops fade and, like snowdrops, it''''s always a reassurance that spring is making progress. Each pale blue petal has a charming deeper blue central stripe. In common with so many members of the hyacinth family, it appears in a rush.


Scilla siberica

Chionodoxa sardensis sar

Muscari Valerie Finnis

Spring border in the brick garden at Glebe Cottage
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Nov 23, 2013
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