John says that his bulb meadow does not require that much maintenance. By June things look a bit ragged, so he has started using a grass specific herbicide to control the taller more rampant grasses. Last year he burned off the top growth, and the results were encouraging, with improved growth and flowering of many species. He says that purple vetch has been a problem but, other than that he has few weed problems. A planting such as this is likely to need some hand weeding, and which weeds are problems will depend a lot on the area and climate you live in. In my area, surrounded by fields, I am definitely going to have weeds from seed blowing in.
Initially, John didn’t want a lawn at all, but since his wife preferred the look of a more traditional garden, a compromise was reached, and he decided to have turf laid in his rear garden. This part of his garden is north facing and fairly moist, and he hadn’t expected to be able to grow anything in it other than shade loving plants or bulbs that emerge before the trees leaf out in spring. He had 25 tons of topsoil delivered which he levelled out, then right after he had prepared the area there were two weeks of torrential rain, turning it into a quagmire. Undaunted, he had the turf delivered at the same time as his bulbs. He scattered 1000 Fritillaria meleagris, 500 each of Scilla bifolia (both pink and blue), Scilla Sibirica and Chionodoxa luciliae over the bare soil and laid the turf over them. In addition there were about 200 Crocus, 200 Galanthus and Cyclamen coum. He said you could hardly see the soil for the dense carpet of bulbs. He had initially planned on a Fritillaria meadow because of the dampness, but the results were somewhat disappointing in this regard, particularly since the display was rather short lived.
Coordinating the delivery of the turf and the bulbs made the planting of thousands of bulbs a relatively straightforward task, whereas hand planting this many bulbs would have been almost impossible. The initial planting took place in December of 2010, and since that time he has added many other species. In 2011 he added Sparaxis, Ixia and Gladiolus byzantinus. They were all successful and flowered in 2012, and that provided the key to the addition of other species. He scatters the bulbs in drifts and plants them by lifting the turf with a flat crowbar, occasional disturbing bulbs that are already there, but not doing any significant damage.
The bulbs he has added to his meadow are as follows: Hermodactylis, Aemone blanda and A. pavonina, Dodecatheon, Pasithea caerulea, Ipheon, Cyclamen, Narcissus, Tulipa, Triteleia, Dichelostemma, Sparaxis, Homeria, Ixia, Tigridia, Sparaxis, Moraea, Muscari, Fritillaria, Erythronium, Ornithogalum, Camassia, Tecophilaea,Olsynium, Gladiolus, Romulea Lapeirousia and Iris (and I think I saw a few others in his photographs!). There is continuous bloom from January to July or August.
A customer in the midlands of England kindly sent me pictures of his garden, which mostly consists of a lawn that is densely planted with bulbs. It is common in England to plant bulbs in lawns, usually crocus, but the lawn has to be left a bit ragged until the foliage of the bulbs has died back before it can be mown again. Most people just plant patches, but John Davies has taken this several levels beyond that and planted his entire lawn with a very wide variety of bulbs. The result is stunning, a veritable tapestry of color that changes throughout the season from January to July or August. He has been successful with many species that I would have thought impossible, species that are usually left completely dry in summer, and some species that are also quite tender.
I asked him for details as to how he had established this wonderful meadow, and also the climate in his part of England. Temperatures range from about 0C (although he tells me they have had dips as low as -18C ) to highs of 30C (about 85F) in summer. Rainfall occurs fairly evenly throughout the year, a little more in winter than summer, but with significant summer rains of around 15mm per month (about ¾”). He feels that the turf protects the bulbs from deep freezing and also keeps the soil relatively dry in summer, plus provides the bulbs with a fibrous open texture that they like.
John shared with me how he established this beautiful bulb meadow, and I will post the the details in the next part.