Gardening: Small wonders

Early spring is the perfect time to appreciate that some truly wonderful things come in very small packages. Big isn't everything and it's definitely not always the best.

Midget Gem: The delightful spring iris Purple Gem is a deep plum purple shade.
Midget Gem: The delightful spring iris Purple Gem is a deep plum purple shade.

While many plants are still stretching their roots after a winter’s sleep, there are some midget gems making the most of what they’ve got and creating some stunning patches of colour.

Welcome to the world of miniature bulbs, those little lovelies capable of transforming the fronts of beds and borders and bringing spring to rock gardens, screes and pots and troughs throughout the garden

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It pays to be generous with these bulbs – plant them in groups and give them the ideal site and soil.

The vast majority like a well-drained soil that incorporates grit, and plenty of sunshine.

Start with crocuses, many of which barely reach six inches in height but which come in a multitude of colours – from deep purple through to outrageous yellow.

And if yellow is your favourite, add miniature daffodils (Narcissus minor) and the exquisite Iris danfordia, a perennial bulb which is unlikely to top more than four inches in height but which makes up for its lack of stature with its vivid blooms.

Sadly, it has a bad habit of flowering well the first season or so and then vanishing, but it’s still worth growing.

In complete contrast is another tiny iris, the remarkable ‘Purple Gem’, whose blooms are deep plum-purple, highlighted by yellow and white markings.

These usually flower throughout late February and March.

Scillas, notably bifolia, also produce blue/purple blooms, but these are star-shaped, while Chionodoxa forbesii, the aptly-named glory of the snow, goes one better with star-shaped flowers with white ‘eyes’.

There’s even a ‘giant’ – ‘Pink Giant’ to be exact.

Even with that name it’s not the biggest of early spring bulbs, but it is a stunning addition to the garden.

Grow it in a rock garden or let it naturalize ; given the right conditions, it will form large clumps up to six inches in height which can be lifted and divided after they have finished flowering.

And if you simply must have tulips then plump for T kaufmanniana, whose flowers are cream or yellow, flushed pink or red on the outside.

They appear in March and like a warm sheltered spot where they can make the most of any spring sunshine.

At 10ins tall, they are among the ‘giants’ of the rockery.