Hannah Stephenson looks forward to summer blooms.
The daffodils may be blooming, but if you want to dazzle your visitors with summer colour, you ought to be thinking about planting summer bulbs throughout spring.
While most spring-flowering bulbs can be planted at any time in the autumn, summer flowering bulbs need more care.
Lilies should be planted in early spring before the bulbs dry out, while dahlias, cannas and begonias are not frost-hardy, so if you want to plant them early, start them off in pots indoors.
While dahlias have sprung back into fashion in recent years, the once-gaudy gladiolus, a favourite of Dame Edna Everage, is also making a comeback in more subtle colours that would suit most tastes.
The delicate-looking Gladiolus callianthus 'Murielae', originally from central Africa, has been crowned the 2008 summer bulb of the year at the annual event hosted by The Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Centre.
Industry experts voted it the "must have" bulb to plant this spring, for blooming in summer 2008, because of its appearance, versatility and ease of growing.
It also has a delicious perfume to be enjoyed on mild late summer evenings.
This upright perennial with fragrant white flowers and distinctive purple markings in the throat, has sword-like grassy leaves about half as tall as the 18-24-inch arching flower spikes.
The flowers look particularly dramatic against a dark, leafy backdrop of summerflowering evergreens such as cistus or escallonia or the deep plum-leafed Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Purpureum'.
It flourishes when planted 10-16cm deep in fertile, well drained soil and in full sun. The flowers bloom from August to September. Plant
it in an accessible area of the garden, such as beside a pathway, where you can enjoy the fantastic scent.
It can be grown outside over summer, but
often there's insufficient time after flowering for the corms to mature for the following year. Consequently, many treat it as an annual and grow it fresh each year in border groups or pots.
Gladioli can also be used to fill gaps in borders, especially the late-flowering types, which provide a burst of colour when many other flowering shrubs and perennials have faded.
All gladioli - and many summer-flowering bulbs in general - like rich, free-draining soil in a sunny, sheltered position. Plant gladioli in clumps of five to seven corms, 10cm (4in) deep and 10cm (4in) apart, during March and April.
If you're growing bulbs in heavy clay soils, lighten them with compost and sand or grit, to ease drainage.
Large-flowering gladioli can be difficult to incorporate into mixed beds because their tall, heavy spikes can look incongruous against other plantings, but smaller species and hybrids are lighter and prettier and blend in more easily.
Try Gladiolus communis subsp. byzantinus, a cottage garden favourite with 90cm spikes carrying bright magenta flowers above the sword-shaped leaves. This one will spread to form large clumps if left undisturbed, which are easily lifted and divided.
Another good variety is Gladiolus x colvillei 'The Bride', producing elegant, ivory-white flowers on 60cm (2ft) stems, which are great for cutting, or G. 'Prins Claus', a slightly larger variety with soft red-pink markings on the petals.
These two types are often sold in a mix of G. nanus varieties, and look good in groups of 10 or more at the front of a border. They also look good against silver shrubs or at the foot of a ceanothus.