NEVER underestimate the importance of shrubs, bulbs, and corms and aim always for the choicest varieties.
Shrubs, when carefully chosen, can add a substantial presence and give gravitas to a border which might otherwise look spotty and flimsy.
The corm and bulb family are the gardener’s best friend, and these will give a rewarding long-term return over many years.
My list of likeable shrub characters must qualify on three basic fronts: texture, colour, and shape.
There is no whimsy in asserting that a plant is more than the sum of its parts.
Those I could well live without include hypericum, stranvaesia, and forsythia.
The indispensable life enhancers are those rich in scent: any Philadelphus, Azalea ‘Persil’ and Daphne odora in summer, Viburnum, Daphne ‘Jacqueline Postil’ and Christmas box for winter.
Roses are in a class of their own which I leave to those who know and tend them in a fashion I could never match.
The largest bulb at Villa Marie and the king of the spring border is indisputably the Crown Imperial sold as Fritillaria 'imperialis', for it stands sentinel-like to three feet needing neither corsetry nor stays.
A group of the popular yellow form would look striking on their own against any dark background, but a lovely tangerine strain is also available.
Three bulbs should be the minimum number per grouping, even though each are going to cost a couple of euro.
However, the expense will be the best investment you will ever make, and they’ll remain with you for half a lifetime given that you feed generously, during and especially after flowering.
The pendant bells of flowers surrounded by a tufted crown of leaves (much like those of exotic pineapples) have an interesting story.
If you upturn one of these and look inside, five distinct drops of nectar will be visible.
These, the story goes, are the teardrops the plant shed following its refusal to bow its head at the crucifixion of Jesus. Its head has been bowed ever since!
The crown imperial is an early riser and although no signs of growth will be visible until early spring, the roots become active from September.
It is well known that these prefer sharp drainage so when planting at six to eight inches add some organic humus for soil enrichment purposes, and a generous fist grit to improve the drainage.
As well, rest the bulbs at a slight angle so they lie to one side without creating an air pocket around their base.
Personally, I like to stand the bulbs upright but on a generous fist of grit before backfilling with enriched friable soil.
Feed before and after flowering with any liquid food especially those based on seaweed extract.
Finally, buying the largest crown imperials you can find for size is important for this superb species.