Spring-blooming bulbs planted in a perennial bed, will flower and mature before most other perennials push up through the soil. Large-sized Daffodils look best in the corners of garden beds. Some of the smaller varieties in the eight-inch range, such as Jet Fire and Foundling, can serve to link the front and back of the garden bed. Medium-sized Tulips are perfect for formal beds calling for perfect symmetry. Choosing a few varieties like Orange Wonder or Yellow Present and planting them en masse creates an elegant sweep of bloom. They can be used informally for cheerful splashes of color by planting bulbs in groups of a dozen or so, along a perennial border. Tulips have the same upright growth as Hyacinths, while early-season varieties bloom at the same time with compatible colors. Try pairing Lemon Yellow Tulips with some unique, Rich Salmon, Gypsy Queen or Red Rocket Hyacinths.
The Hyacinth offers pure shades of pink, violet, red, cream, salmon and even sky blue. For the most fragrant Hyacinth, try the deep, rosy Pink Pearl or the majestic Delft Blue. Their stiff, upright growth makes the Hyacinth perfect for mass planting in curving sweeps of color. A cluster of Hyacinths in your choice of palette, can add a formal accent in front of a Boxwood hedge or other neatly clipped evergreen hedge. They are also great for herbal or small terrace gardens.
Dwarf Irises produce several blooms on short stems in very early spring. Although available in yellow and white blooms, Dwarf Bulb Irises are prized for their lovely shades of blue. Indigo-blue Harmony has gold markings and a wonderful violet-like accent. For yellow flowers, choose Iris or Daffodils with dark marks and an intense scent. Consider them in clusters by the border edge.
Ornamental onions vary considerably in color, size and form. They make rewarding additions to beds and borders. Allium Giganteum is a very popular ornamental onion, though other shorter varieties can be a beautiful punctuation to the garden. The lavender-colored, round puffball shaped heads of flowers make great accents to all different kinds of gardens. They don’t need to be planted en masse, but in enough quantity so as to make a color and shape statement. Common chives and edible flowers are great for herbal gardens, as is Allium with late Tulips, like the long-stemmed yellow Darwin variety.
I always like to add ornamental Lilies to a perennial garden. They can also be called Oriental or Asiatic Lilies. Lily bulbs can be planted in spring or fall, but I prefer to do it in the fall, with the other spring bulbs, even though they bloom in the summer. Ornamental lilies are exotic-looking flowers. Plant them behind other plants that will conceal dying foliage in the summertime. They are great flowers for early July color, even in a partial-shade garden. My favorite varieties of Lily include the red Scarlet Emperor, which can be combined with grey foliage perennials; the yellow Haydee, which is great for partial shade gardens and can be planted with ferns and hostas; and the white Casablanca Lily, which has a beautiful scent and can grow up to six feet tall, making the perfect accent to any garden, as well as a great cutting flower.
When planting larger bulbs, such as Lilies, Tulips or Hyacinths, you should plan to include some small ones at the same time. Remember, some of the more aggressive perennials like Lysmachia or Physotegia, don’t make good companions for bulbs. Tap-rooted plants such as Poppies and Peonies make good bulb neighbors since their roots go straight down and rarely forage in the top few inches of surrounding soil. Perennials with shallow roots, such as Creeping Phlox or Creeping Sedum, make the ideal companion for any bulbs, especially the smaller ones as sprouting bulbs can easily penetrate their roots. The advantage of planting bulbs along with other plants is that bulbs show more beautifully against a foliage backdrop rather than bare soil since there is no gaping hole when the bulbs go dormant.
Any garden can hold many more bulbs than most people would think possible, even gardens constantly visited by deer can be beautified with a large variety of Daffodil, Narcissus and Allium bulbs. I continuously find myself discovering and creating more room for bulbs. Whatever the size of your garden, whether you have the space to naturalize with large bulbs or are limited to a miniature meadow of spring bulbs by a stone wall, you should find a way to use flowering bulbs. A modest number of artfully placed bulbs can make a strong statement and clear contribution to your landscape.
Landscape Designer, Writer, and Lecturer; Frederico Azevedo is the CEO of Unlimited Earth Care, Inc., providing landscape design and maintenance to the Hamptons for over 20 years. For more information, call 631-725-7551, or visit unlimitedearthcare.com.