Gardening: Get the blues

TRUE BLUE: Muscari are among the earliest of spring bulbs.
TRUE BLUE: Muscari are among the earliest of spring bulbs.
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Muscari may be small but they pack a punch.

Muscari, aka grape hyacinth, are among the earliest of spring-flowering bulbs, and one of the most popular, although their size tends to demote them in the pecking order of spring bulbs.

Nevertheless, grown in a container in a sheltered spot, they can be blooming in early February, when, in a normal year, there are few other plants ready to offer a welcome burst of colour.

Although they are unlikely to top six inches or so, their intense blue flowers make them one of the most visible of spring bulbs.

In the open garden, plant them in full sun in a fertile, moist soil. Established clumps can be lifted and divided in early summer to stop them from becoming invasive.

The variety commonly seen around now is M armeniacum but there is a late-spring variety, not as well known and not as wildly cultivated as its spring cousin, which is a much hardier little beast more than capable of withstanding the average British winter.

M latifolium is an unusual grape hyacinth – it has a spike of small, bicoloured, urn-shaped blooms. The lower flowers are deeper coloured, the upper blooms a much lighter pale blue.

This is a bulb that likes a sunny site where the soil is well-drained – rockeries are ideal. Alternatively, because M latifolium can be killed by a prolonged frost, grow it in a container.

Anyone with a liking for blue-flowered spring bulbs should also take a look at dwarf irises, notably Iris histrioides Major’, whose vivid blue flowers appear in early spring. The lower petals carry a yellow splash surrounded by dark blue lines.

This isn’t a big plant – if it grows taller than six inches then it’s been on steroids – but it’s a showstopper ideal for rockeries, raised beds and containers.

The same can be said of another very early iris, ‘Joyce’, even smaller than ‘Major’ but often seen blooming in late January. It has sky-blue flowers with a flash of yellow.

For something a little more restrained (just), Iris ‘Cantab’ comes with very pale blue flowers, again carrying a vivid yellow flash.

It can flower from Christmas onwards, but in a ‘normal’ year expect to see it in January or early February.

So, while yellow is often regarded as the true colour of spring, blue can put up a strong argument to the title.

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