Every avid gardener lusts for as much color as possible in the landscape. Integrating bulbs into the landscape is a very effective design tool for extending and intensifying the amount of color.
We often neglect many of the so-called “small bulbs” in favor of the large Narcissus and tulips that give us bright blasts of color. For example, Eranthis (Winter Aconite) and Galanthus (Snowdrops) are the first harbingers of spring, blooming before most perennials and ornamental grasses have even begun to push their green tips out of the soil. Most of us use the large Dutch Crocus, but I love the Snow Crocus (Crocus chrysanthus) that are bi- or tri-colored. They offer a greater range of color and better withstand the vagaries of winter weather. Take care to use greater masses of them since they are smaller. Plant a minimum of one hundred.
Narcissus is next in the bulb succession. While I love the large daffodils, I also am very fond of the dwarfs and miniatures. The dwarf ‘February Gold’ (8-10”) whose name belies its bloom time, doesn’t bloom for me until mid-March but its bright golden yellow certainly brightens up the garden. There are several small daffodils in the cyclamineus division, ranging in size from 8-14” and in time of bloom from March through late May. They are all excellent naturalizers. My ‘Jack Snipe’ has naturalized so well that it became overcrowded and I had to dig some up.
However, I am particularly attracted to the miniatures. Some of them look like smaller versions of well known, larger Narcissus but some are quite unique. They range in height from three to eight inches. One of my favorites is ‘Rip van Winkle’; it has been described as “having a bad hair day”. In fact, it has multiple narrow petals that go every which way. I had one client who loved it so much that I had to order and plant a lot more of it the following fall. The bulbocodium types look like small funnels and the jonquilla types have multiple flowers on each stem. If you pick your miniatures carefully, they can bloom from March through May. Be aware that their dimunitive size will be lost unless you plant them along edges where they can be easily seen.
I also like to use species tulips because they frequently perennialize in well-drained soil, unlike their larger brethren, which should be treated as annuals. For years, I’ve used Tulipa bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’, which is pale pinkish-lilac with a yellow center, because my garden is based on a pink/purple/blue/white color scheme in the spring. Another lovely and very old (since 1596) little treasure is Tulipa humilis. I’ve used ‘Persian Pearl’, a real eye-catching magenta pink, for years.
Many other species Tulips are in shades of red or yellow although Tulipa turkestanica, a mid-April bloomer, is white with a golden yellow center and anthers. ‘Lady Jane’, ‘Ice Stick’, and ‘Heart’s Delight’, all very similar, have petals that are rosy red on the outside and white on the inside so they look striped.
Most species tulips are found in the wild in summer dry habitats; therefore, to grow them successfully, try to duplicate that habitat as closely as possible.
Since this winter has been more like a prolonged early spring, bulbs will probably bloom earlier than usual. As you look at your landscape, make note of bare spaces where you could plant bulbs this coming fall. You may think you’ll remember where the spaces are but if you are like me, your memory will fail you.