Even though the temperatures are back in the high eighties and fall has not yet arrived, those who want early spring color need to think ahead. Incorporating bulbs into the garden is a very effective way to add color and lengthen seasons.
Consider using several different types of bulbs. We often neglect many of the so-called “small bulbs” in favor of Narcissus and tulips that give us bright blasts of color. With little effort, you will find many other bulb types that, used in masses, are just as attractive.
For example, Eranthis (Winter Aconite) and Galanthus (Snowdrops) are the first harbingers of spring, blooming before most perennials have even begun to push their green tips out of the soil.
Most of us use the large Dutch Crocus (Crocus vernus), but I love the Snow Crocus (Crocus chrysanthus) that are bi- or tri-colored, such as ‘Advance’, which is bright yellow on the inside and bluish violet and white on the outside, ‘Gipsy Girl’ (a bright yellow with feathers of deep bronzy purple), ‘Ladykiller’ with purple violet petals and white edges, and ‘Saturnus’, a dark yellow with dark purple stripes. Snow Crocus offer a greater range of color and they also better withstand the vagaries of winter weather than the larger Dutch Crocus. Take care to use greater masses of them since they are smaller.
I also like to use species tulips because they frequently perennialize, unlike their larger brethren that should be treated as annuals. For years, I’ve used Tulipa bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’, a pale pinkish-lilac with a yellow center, because my garden is based on a pink/purple/blue/white color scheme in the spring. Another pink species is Tulipa pulchella (humilis) ‘Persian Pearl’, a real eye-catching magenta pink! It did not come back the following year, but that may have been my fault. They were planted near a sprinkler head and thus may have rotted.
Many other species tulips are in shades of red or yellow. Most species tulips are found in the wild in dry habitats; therefore, to grow them successfully, we need to duplicate that habitat as closely as possible, i.e.excellent winter drainage.
In a previous post, I wrote about the small blue bulbs: Chionodoxa (Glory-of-the-Snow), Puschkinia libanotica (Striped Squill), Muscari (Grape Hyacinth), and Anemone blanda. Planting these little bulbs in tandem with larger ones (Narcissus, tulips and hyacinths) that bloom at approximately the same time provides wonderful displays.
I must emphasize the importance of carefully selecting the cultivar for timing in order to make this work. When digging the holes, dig large ones to accommodate several bulbs at a time rather than individual ones. Plant the larger bulbs first, approximately six to eight inches deep. Cover them with a few inches of soil and plant the small bulbs right on top of them, then finish filling the hole. At bloom time, you will have a carpet of tiny blossoms through which emerge the larger ones to provide sometimes analogous color and sometimes, complementary color. Whichever type of color scheme you choose, spring glory will brighten your spirits.