When endeavoring to create a richly-layered garden, adding a bulb layer is an enchanting finishing touch. They’re the ultimate garden accessory, the perfect way to round out an existing color scheme.
But I don’t start with bulbs: they’re one of the last details, the last thing I plant. Why? Because it’s important to wait until after planting the foundational plants that help to establish the shape, function and flow of your garden. The bulbs belong in the “gaps.”
Where are the gaps in your garden? Try to visualize where you have bare patches of soil in spring; the spots where other plants will make their presence known in late spring or summer. A classic bulb placement is around the crowns of herbaceous perennials and grasses such as hosta sedum, or Japanese forest grass. Plant with a plan for the future – leave enough room around the perennial’s crown to allow for future growth.
When using bulbs for color play, look for ways to strike a harmonious chord with other seasonal details such as a blooming neighbor, or the color of the emerging foliage of a paired shrub or perennial. A classic bulb pairing includes Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’, whose froth of blue blooms coincide perfectly with spring-blooming tulips.
I’m especially fond of alliums, and Purple Sensation is a favorite -- it is particularly adept at sharing space; and its orbs bob about, up and over, around and through.
A prime consideration is selecting bulbs that bloom early and fade gracefully. Galanthus, crocus, and the early, miniature daffodils fit this bill, and would be an especially welcome sight when they spring on the scene early next year. In a good plant combination, the summer foliage of the plant with which you’ve paired your bulbs will hide the bulb’s withering foliage: the hosta and Japanese forest grass mentioned above are great examples of this.
Not sure which combination will be right? Try out bulbs in a container first. You can test a color combo or bloom sequence, or skip the post-bloom-blues by tucking them out of the way where their withering foliage –important for feeding next year’s show – is out of view.