There are several design and planting practices that will make your bulb plantings more effective. I have found that the technique of color echoing is one means of achieving this result. For instance, I always cringe when I see a front yard with a pink flowering Magnolia but red and yellow tulips. For better color coordination, I would have added pink and purple tulips, or perhaps pink and rosy red tulips. In my back yard, I have an Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Viridis’. Although the summer color is green, the new foliage is an orangey-red and in front of it, there is one surviving coral pink tulip. Obviously, it would look even better if there were a grouping of the tulips but even one tulip of the right color makes a lovely vignette. A friend of mine created a striking example of color echo with pink and white lilies in front of a pink ornament.
Sometimes an effort to coordinate house and floral colors fails for lack of another color. An example of this is white tulips planted against a white house. What is needed is something as simple as a green hedge to provide a dark background for the white bulbs so that they don’t fade into the house and thus become almost unseen or another color that could be provided by the foliage of a bulb, perennial, or shrub. One of the most effective color echoes I’ve seen is a gray house with a yellow door echoed by yellow Narcissus and yellow tulips.
Maximizing space is another issue that needs to be addressed. I have three techniques that I find particularly useful in this regard. The first is planting bulbs with perennials that bloom at the same time. Masses of Tulipa Lady Jane’ and ‘Lilac Wonder’, Anemone blanda ‘Blue Shades’ and ‘White Splendour’ in Arabis caucasica (Rock-cress), intensify the color of each. Another eye-catching combination is red tulips such as ‘Red Shine’, a lily-flowering type, planted among lberis sempervirens (Candytuft). Thus the lberis serves as a base from which the tulips emerge. One could also use Muscari (Grape Hyacinth) and Myosotis alpestris (Forget-Me-Not) in a weaving pattern, thus creating a flow of shades of blue.
The second technique involves planting bulbs between perennials with leaves that enlarge later to hide the dying bulb foliage, which is always unattractive. A good example is planting tulips between Brunnera macrophylla (Heartleaf Forget-Me-Not). First the Brunnera emerges; then the tulips bloom. At first, the leaves of Brunnera are relatively small, the better to see the tiny flowers, but they enlarge to three times their initial size, ably hiding the dying foliage of the tulips.
The largest foliage for hiding bulb foliage is that of Hosta, which makes it invaluable for hiding tulip leaves, which are larger and stiffer than that of other bulbs. In addition, Hosta foliates late and many tulips are among the latest blooming bulbs.
The third technique, which is alluded to with the Hosta/tulip combination, is planting bulbs among perennials that foliate late and thus allow full enjoyment of the bulb bloom before hiding the dying foliage. Examples of such combinations are Narcissus among Aster frikartii, Narcissus between Iris siberica, Narcissus and Scilla sibirica between ornamental grasses such as Pennisetum (Fountain Grass) and Scilla sibirica at the base of Spiraea and rose canes.
Try some of these techiques to improve your spring show!