Perfect partners for spring borders


Gardening writer Karen Murphy’s top five perennials to partner with spring bulbs for dazzling  borders

Russell Lupins

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These colourful flower spikes create a bold impression at the middle and back of borders, or planted in groups at the edge of woodland areas. Not so much a planting partner as a bulb replacement, as the emerging lupin foliage quickly fills the spaces left after the final tulips have finished in late April. Tall spires of tightly packed flowers rise above clumps of foliage to form a distinctly elegant hardy perennial that will not need any staking. 

Growing tip

Choose a sunny or semi-shaded position in moist, well-drained soil and work some well-rotted manure or garden compost into the soil. Dig a hole wide enough to accommodate the root when spread out and deep enough so the crown of the plant is just a few centimetres below soil level. Backfill with soil and firm the plant in gently. Leave a slight depression around the plant to help direct water towards the roots. Don’t forget to protect young growths of lupin from slugs.


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Cheerful, pert, yellow daisies with fresh oval foliage which lasts for weeks, Doronicum also makes a good cut flower. For dwarf bulbs, partner with the compact variety ‘Little Leo’. 
Height: 60cm (24in)

Growing tip

Doronicum will grow in any soil but particularly enjoys a moist, humus-rich, well-drained soil, in partial or dappled shade. In wet soils Doronicum caucasicum may suffer from root rot, particularly during the cold, winter months. Cut down stems after flowering to encourage new shoots. 


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Primroses and polyanthus are ideal partners for shade-tolerant daffodils and muscari. A wide variety of colours and heights are available, but the wild, pale-yellow primrose still takes some beating.
Height: 30cm (12in)

Growing tip
Plant the rosettes of the primroses to enable the bulbs to grow through. Keep plants looking their best with regular pruning of dead leaves and spent blooms. For best results,  feed plants with a weak solution of tomato fertiliser every ten days from the time the buds start to form until the first flowers open.

Lathyrus vernus

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Bushy perennial producing purple-blue pea flowers on emerging shoots between March and May. Available in a range of varieties from white, pale pink, cerise to electric blue.
Height: 45cm (18in)

Growing tip

As the plants die back, use summer perennials to fill the gap. Lathyrus will grow in any soil as long as it’s not too wet or too dry


Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’

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Although most wallflowers are biennial and grown as bedding, ‘Bowles Mauve’ is more perennial – especially when grow in well-drained, poor soil in full sun. An ideal partner for tulips.
Height  0.75cm (30in)

Growing tip

Take cuttings to have plants on hand as replacements. 

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