Bulbs have always been popular garden plants. They are the harbingers of spring, are easy to plant and uniquely rewarding. But they are not just for spring -- there are summer bulbs like gladiolas and dahlias, fall crocus, and indeed bulbs like amaryllis and forced spring bulbs that are very popular for winter cheer.
I will not focus on tulips and daffodils, though they are great plants in both color and form and are deservedly popular. What I would like to share with you today are some observations I have made over the years on some underutilized bulbs and how to combine them with other plants for successful gardening.
Minor bulbs and friends:
Minor bulbs are called minor because they are not well known, and as a result less common. This does not mean they are difficult of culture or are less rewarding, they are just not a popular as daffodils or tulips.
Eranthis hyemalis, or winter aconite, is a late winter bloomer often poking its yellow flowers through melting snow on sunny days in January or February some years. They perform well under trees as they can complete their growth early before the trees leaf out. It is often combined with Galanthus, the snowdrops, which bloom with them. This combination looks smashing under witch hazels and truly warms the heart on winter forays in the garden.
Galanthis, or snowdrops, are more widely grown and with good reason. They bloom early under the tree canopy and are show stoppers. Invite your friends over for a snowdrop party when they are at peak. They grow equally well in a sunny exposure and will increase on their own, forming large colonies that bloom for a month each winter. Galanthis nivalis is very showy and the easiest to grow.
Anemone blanda is another rewarding minor bulb. Blooming in blue, white or pink these plants have attractive foliage as well. They prefer good drainage and a hummus rich soil. Try planting amongst ferns as the fronds unfurl. They will complement and then cover the foliage, which goes dormant in late spring. They perform well in bright shade to sun. They also look great as potted plants to be placed in the garden after blooming. Try combining with Ipheion uniflorum, candytuft or violas.
Scillia sibernica, or Siberian squill, is a favorite of mine. It is great for naturalizing and looks best planted in large drifts and is easy to grow. The nodding blue flowers look great under spring flowering magnolias. It also works well with Aurinia saxatalis on a sunny slope. Scillia will tolerate a lot of sun if not allowed to dry out completely.
Iris reticulata is an early blooming diminutive gem that combines well with spring Crocus. ‘Purple Gem’ is a really nice variety.
Crocus tommasianus is gorgeous and is not eaten by squirrels!
Here is a recipe for a low maintenance long season combination for you to try. You will need about a half a day of sun.
Compose a bed of Eranthis, Galanthis, Iris reticulata and Crocus with the long blooming perennial Ceratostigma plumbaganoides or Plumbago. The bulbs will give you an extended show in winter and spring. The Plumbago will grow on to cover the spent foliage and delight you with blue flowers in summer and red fall color.
Three for early fall planting:
Cycalmen coum is really a neat plant in flower and foliage and will not disappoint. It also thrives in the shade of large trees and will spread nicely, by seed, if happy. Interestingly, ants spread the seed. Though one can plant it from dormant corms available in fall, you may have better luck if purchased as potted plants. In addition to lovely flowers, the foliage has silver overlays. It will bloom in late fall through early winter. These treasures go summer dormant and like to be dry that time of year. Try facing down a yew hedge or combining with rhododendrons. Colchicum, or fall Crocus, is a winner and is resistant to deer and rabbit feeding. It does best in sun. One often sees photos of colchicums blooming in turf grass in European gardens. This is rather difficult here, with our vigorous overfed tall fescue lawns. You will need to delay spring mowing to let the foliage mature. Try it in the thinner grass of shaded areas or around the base of trees.
Spring Crocus should also be planted earlier than other bulbs in early September. The problem with spring crocus is that rodents find them delectable. Simply planting them incased in wire mesh solves the problem and makes them less prone to being disturbed when planting near them in the future. Crocus t., as mentioned, above is not eaten. Crocus come in a variety of colors and sizes and will spread if welcome. All crocuses perform beast in well-drained soils. They are also great for forcing and will last longer if kept cool indoors.
Alliums and Dahlias:
Most great pairings are random. Alliums combined with ball dahlias just works. The form of the round flowers repeated from spring until frost adds continuity and color without much bother. Alliums are a love of mine and I have grown all of the worthy ones and will always consider them great perennials. The flowers have such amazing texture and color, floating on thin stems and most dry extremely well. They are also commonly available as potted plants, as well as, bulbs.
Dahlias are also a love of mine. They are easy to grow and flower prolifically till frost. Dahlias come in a variety of flower shapes but I like the ball dahlias and once grew every worthy one, just like the alliums, and randomly they made the best border I ever made.
Alliums require only sun and good drainage like dahlias and are not bothered by much other that wet soils. Alliums are garden plants and dahlias are tender bulbs (tubers). So dahlias must be lifted and stored in a cool dry place after frost has blackened the foliage. Not a hard thing to do at all -- some cedar shavings and cardboard boxes are all you need. Check monthly and don’t keep too them wet or dry. If they rot just buy new ones.