Time to plan spring plantings

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With a wide choice of spring bulbs now available in garden centres and from bulb specialists, it’s difficult to know which varieties to choose and is often tempting to stay with old favourites.

But there is a number of new bulbs worth trying, according to a trial of daffodils and tulips by Which? Gardening, the Consumers’ Association magazine.

Last autumn, 53 new types of spring-flowering daffodils and tulips were tested, growing them alongside five well-established varieties to use as a comparison. The bulbs were planted in early November and had to withstand sun, high winds and torrential rain in spring.

Among the recommended daffodils were Narcissus ‘Lieke’ (Walkers Bulbs), which was the longest-lasting bloom, whose dainty flowers have a green eye and delicious scent. It bloomed for 45 days, producing three stems from each bulb and three flowers on each stem from April to May, the 45cm stems staying upright despite heavy downpours.

Other daffodil winners included the dwarf ‘Sweet Love’ (Peter Nyssen; Unwins), which produced the best scent, while the small, nodding, cream flowers with a yellow centre shed the rain with ease, and ‘Swoop’ (De Jaeger), another pint-sized type which produced the most flowers of all the varieties. From 23 bulbs, more than 80 stems were produced, with swept-back yellow petals and nodding heads.

Many of the new tulips tested also gave an excellent display, including Tulipa ‘Dior’ (HW Hyde & Son), which began to flower early, in April, producing several large double flowers in a luxurious shade of pink at the top of each stem. If you’re looking for unusual, the tulip ‘Green Star’ (Sarah Raven) may suit, with its slender, elegant green flowers with cream tips held on long straight stems. They were grown in pots with other tulips and found to be great companions for pinks, whites, purples and striped varieties, flowering in May and reaching a height of 45cm.

Other stars included T. ‘Black Jack’ (Peter Nyssen), one of the darkest varieties with blooms with a velvety sheen which flowered earlier than old favourite ‘Queen of Night’ and persisted for five weeks.

Those who want their tulips to withstand pounding rain should plump for T. ‘La Belle Epoque’, whose fully double apricot flowers, reminiscent of a peony, continued flowering through the rain. The best new parrot tulip was ‘Irene Parrot’ (Peter Nyssen), bred from the popular ‘Prinses Irene’ and has mid-sized orange flowers that are frilled, cut and flamed to give an exotic look.