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Gazing out the window the other day at yet another unseasonal snow flurry I spotted what I thought was a piece of blue paper caught under one of the shrubs. Putting on my clogs, I went out to pick it up only to discover it wasn't a piece of paper at all (my eyesight isn't what it used to be) but was a little patch of squills I'd planted years ago and which always manage to surprise me every Spring.
Siberian Squills or scilla sibirica to give them their Latin name, belong to the same family as the good old English Bluebell, and the horribly invasive Spanish one, too. As bluebells go, the Siberian Squill is a very unassuming variety compared to its showier cousins. For a kick off, it's about half the size, standing only about 5 or 6 inches high at the most, and rather than having a stem full of bells, squills generally only carry four or five flowers at the most which actually look more like downward facing stars than bells. In fact, instead of looking anything like its other bluebell relatives, its flowers resembles a blue snowdrop or even more like the summer snowflake and the leaves, too, are short, stiff and sword shaped very similar to those of the snowdrop. Individually unassuming they may be but when planted in clumps they take on a beauty all of their own and provide a welcome splash of Spring colour into the bargain. As the flowers mature, their faces become more upward facing and this changes their entire appearance into a cluster of Earthbound stars gazing up at the sky.
The colour palette for the Siberian Squill is fairly limited and is confined to various shades of blue plus a white variety. The blues range from a very pale washed out blue often with darker stripes through to a deep indigo. There are named varieties but generally speaking these bulbs are simply sold as Siberian Squills and it's a case of pot luck as to the colour you get. Mine are not quite deep indigo but are more of a dark azure, a colour which really shows up well, especially against the dark green background of shrubs. As the head of the young squill hangs down the inner beauty of the flower is only visible once lifted upwards. The centre of the flower tends to be much paler, sometimes with a white throat and with tiny yellow stamens at the centre.
These little bulbs should be planted in the late summer, around the end of August or September, at a depth of about 2 or 3 inches and roughly 3 inches apart and then just left to do their own thing. They're quite unfussy with regard to soil type although if the soil is too heavy or wet, there's a possibility that the bulbs will rot away. These hardy bulbs don't seem to fall prey to any diseases, probably because they grow during the cold Winter months.
These pretty little plants thrive in either full sun or semi shade and look particularly good planted under larger shrubs where there's also less chance of digging them up by mistake. If you're lucky enough not to have any pesky squirrels (who seem to dig up whatever I plant almost immediately and replant it wherever they feel like) they should happily stay there for years, multiplying every season and eventually providing a pretty blue carpet that provide a real pop of colour against the bare soil.
Like most Spring bulbs, Siberian Squills are incredibly easy to grow. Just plant the bulbs and leave them to do their own thing and you'll be rewarded every year with a show of glorious colour in March or April.
As far as propagation is concerned, simply divide the clump after flowering and before the leaves die back and replant. They'll quickly re-establish themselves and then happily romp away again.
I've had my Siberian Squills for so long that I can't remember where I originally acquired them nor how much they cost. The bulbs are pretty widely available, however, and usually sold in packs of about 20 or 25 bulbs from larger garden centres and also online and you should expect to pay around £4 or £5 for pack. That's a very small price to pay for something which will grow back year after year and reward you with your own little surprise every Spring.