Zigzag bulbs

The zigzags is the oldest part of the garden and parts of it predate the landscaping done in the 1770s.

As part of our Inspirational Ilam Project, we have plans in place to transform the gardens to mirror how they might have appeared in the 18th Century. In October 2019, we planted 13,000 bulbs along the zigzag path at Ilam, read on to discover more.

Zigzag bulb planting at Ilam

This Autumn the staff and volunteers at the White Peak estate, along a few enthusiastic visitors and Gardener Lucy Cook from Calke Abbey, have planted just over 15,000 bulbs in the gardens at Ilam Park as part of the Inspirational Ilam project. Lucy Cook gives an insight in to the world of our zigzag bulbs...

Gardener Lucy Cook led the bulb planting activity for the day
Gardener Lucy Cook led the bulb planting activity for the day
Gardener Lucy Cook led the bulb planting activity for the day

Around 13,000 bulbs were planted in the zigzags. This is the oldest part of the garden and parts of it predate the landscaping done in the 1770s. The network of footpaths zigzags down the slope from the Italian Garden adjacent to Ilam Hall to the river. It was designed as a miniature pleasure ground with views to the river and woodland beyond.  These bulbs will help restore the zigzags, bringing early seasonal colour and winter nectar sources for insects and wildlife. 

  • Cyclamen coum will bring early colour in dense shade under yew and beech trees from January until early March.
  • 3 colours of Crocus, ‘Whitewell Purple’, ‘Snowbunting’ and ‘Yellow Mammoth’ have been mixed together and will flower from late January – March.
  • Anemone blanda 'White Splendour' (common name Winter windflower) will flower later, from March – April.
  • Scilla siberica (common name Siberian Squill) will flower alongside the white Anemone also March – April. Scilla has bright blue nodding bowl-shaped flowers.

These bulbs have been chosen to suit the varying conditions in the zigzags, for example, cyclamen in the dense shade, anemone blanda flowers open more in the sun. The white anemone was selected to lighten dark areas in the zigzags. Scilla siberica is known for attracting bees as it has nectar-pollen-rich-flowers.

Our staff and volunteers were out in force planting bulbs along the zigzag path at Ilam Park
Our staff and volunteers were out in force planting bulbs along the zigzag path at Ilam Park
Our staff and volunteers were out in force planting bulbs along the zigzag path at Ilam Park

Growing bulbs at home

All these flowers can be grown in your garden at home. Plant in large drifts, rather than twos and threes to avoid looking dotty, and try to avoid straight lines so they look naturalised. Most bulbs have a pointed end and a more blunt end – plant the pointed end upwards, this is where the shoot will come from.

To help bulbs be more perennial (i.e. come back year after year) then plant them deeply, to at least twice the depth of the bulb. Crocus, anemone, scilla are all small bulbs so these can all be planted with dibbers at depth between 8-10cm / 3-4”. Cyclamen are tubers so they are bigger; plant these with trowels but only 5cm / 2” deep. A good rule for bulb spacing is to aim for at least 2 x width of bulb.

Bulb planting can be a great way to get outdoors and encourage wildlife in your own garden
Bulb planting can be a great way to get outdoors and encourage wildlife in your own garden
Bulb planting can be a great way to get outdoors and encourage wildlife in your own garden

Did you know?

Crocus have contractile roots so the bulbs will pull themselves to the right depth.

How to plant bulbs

A good system is to dib a load of holes, then drop the bulbs in. Then dib again, drop bulbs in. Don’t worry if some end up upside down or not deep enough. The shoots will still find the light. At the end, rake over the completed areas to cover and fill the holes. If you are planting a lot of crocus in grass, lifting flaps of turf is often a bit quicker.

Visitors joined our staff and volunteers for the day and helped with our bulb planting
Visitors joined our staff and volunteers for the day and helped with our bulb planting
Visitors joined our staff and volunteers for the day and helped with our bulb planting

What do insects like?

In most gardens the earliest bulb is the snowdrop, a welcome sight after a cold, dark winter.  Galanthus nivalis is visited for its pollen by bumblebees and early honeybees as they come out of hibernation after the winter. Another early flowering spring bulb is Eranthis, the winter aconite with a bright yellow flower cup, which follows snowdrops. Insects love it as the bowl shaped flower means that the stamens are easily accessible and the pollen available. It bridges the short gap between first snowdrops and the earliest crocuses which are the next bulbs to spring into life in most gardens. Both snowdrops and winter aconites are thought to be best planted ‘in the green’; this means when flowering is over but they are still in leaf. You can easily divide snowdrops at this time too, to spread these bulbs a bit further.

The earliest daffodils begin to flower in March. Instead of the bright bold varieties, try the native and more subtle Narcissus pseudonarcissus, which still survives in the wild in some places. It has valuable pollen for early bees.