As a general rule, it’s wise to look to the southern hemisphere for summer-flowering bulbs. Another South African native that can be planted now for impressive impact indoors is blood lily (Scadoxus multiflorus). Amand describes them as “a big ball of fiery orange red”, and says they’re just as beginner-friendly as amaryllis.
He warns that they can seem deceptively sleepy, saying: “They’re one of those things you put in a pot and it doesn’t grow, then you’ll come down one morning and the thing’s in flower.” In six weeks, Amand says, it will be “nothing short of spectacular”.
More experienced growers may want to try to get their hands on the last of the lachenalia bulbs, or leopard lily, which also hail from South Africa. Amand recommends keeping them cool until they’ve rooted and await a riot of colourful tubular flowers in July or August. If you missed out this spring, buy fresh bulbs in autumn – they will flower next February or March.
Enjoy lilies inside
Then there are lilies. Arthur Parkinson, who conjures an eruption of floral goodness out of dozens of dolly tubs in his paved front garden in Nottinghamshire, knows a thing or two about bringing colour to small spaces. He recommends lilies, specifically the Asiatic varieties, which work well in sun or dappled shade outside and can be picked up cheaply. “They like to be planted deeply into good, well-draining soil,” he says.
To get the most from them, Parkinson suggests moving lilies inside for the three weeks while they’re in flower – but plant them up in trios in tall, Long Tom-style terracotta pots. “The scent is divine in the evening, so place them close to the door in any case,” he says.
Parkinson advises against being put off by the pesky lily beetle (“it’s a silly reason not to grow them”), but warns that vigilance will be necessary: “Take the red adults off the plant, usually while they’re mating, and then use baby wipes to smear off the grubs that cunningly develop on the underside of leaves. It will have to be a daily task, though,” he explains.
As for varieties, he suggests ‘Tiger Babies’, which is saffron orange with leopard-like spots, ‘Pink Flavour’, which is a warm, coral pink and the dramatic ‘Landini’, an inky dark maroon flower set off by anthers laden with orange pollen.
Matthew Pottage, curator of RHS Wisley, meanwhile, names ‘Golden Splendour’ – a butter-yellow trumpet of a flower; Lilium regale, which is white and sophisticated, and any of the Lilium martagon cultivars, which offer a torrent of pretty, smaller flowers from tall stems, all of which are still available to buy as bulbs. For bonus points, there’s the pink-and-white striped Crinum ‘Cintho Alpha’, which Pottage calls “a lovely oddity to look out for”.
“Scour online nurseries or call up mail order bulb nurseries and find out what they have left: if you plant lily, crinum, ixia or tuberous begonia now, they will still flower later this summer,” says Pottage.
Begonias, while tubers rather than bulbs, can be very rewarding, he adds, thanks to their enormous flowers, success in pots and equal contentment in full sun or part-shade. Gladioli emerge from corms, rather than bulbs, but are nevertheless the easiest to get hold of at the moment.
“They’re brilliant value for money and will still flower happily later this summer with their huge spears of unapologetic colour,” adds Pottage.
Whatever you find, he says: “Many of them will have been sitting around in a desiccated state for several months now, so soak them in a bucket of water overnight before planting to help rehydrate them.”
And ration out the planting, too. “Should you manage to get your hands on a good number of bulbs, plant them at two-week intervals to give you a succession of flowering pots,” says Pottage.