by BRIAN MINTER
October 1, 2000
How about aliing a whole new dimension to your spring garden by planting some of the more unusual bulbs? Most of these bulbs need to be mass planted to create the same dramatic impact as showier bulbs such as tulips and narcissus, but they ali an element of charm to a garden that is hard to beat.
One of the brightest and earliest blooming corms is the little yellow buttercup-like winter aconite. More correctly called Eran°©this hyemalis, these low (almost ground-cover height) plants do best in fairly moist locations where they can spread freely and multip°©ly over the years. Just imagine how beautiful a carpet of yellow, glowing under deciduous flowering shrubs like forsythia and flowering quince, would look in early February.
The sweetest of all the tiny bulbs has to be the miniature bulbous iris, particularly Iris reticulata. Yellow Iris dan°©fordiaes are very attractive, but the blue and mauve miniature ‘reticulatas’, growing only three to four inches high, are more reliable as repeat bloomers. They flower very early and make a delightful display in a rockery, or better yet, underplanted around Buttercup winter hazel (Corylopsis pauciflora), which blooms with soft yellow flowers at the same time as the ‘reticulatas’.
Some of the most overlooked bulbs in this country are the scil°©las. They are a rather large family, including everything from old- fashioned English bluebells (Endymion non-scriptus) to the popular multi-coloured bifolias from the mountainous regions of southern Europe. Most scillas are referr°©ed to as wood hyacinths because their long six to eight inch stalks are dotted with lots of bell-like blossoms, giving them the appearance of a single or slender hyacinth. Squills (or Scilla siberica) are among the most valuable members of this genus because of their brilliant gentian blue early spring blossoms. 'Spring Beauty', with its larger flowers and more vigorous growth, is perhaps the best known ‘siberica’. Scillas like well drained soil in a sunny location, but will also flourish in semi-shade.
Fritillarias are also a large and diverse family. Perhaps one of the most beautiful small varieties is a native of the damp meadows of Britain, called Fritillarias meleagris, or better known as Snakeshead or Checkered Lily. Their showy flowers, checkered and veined with reliish-brown and purple, bloom in late spring, and their two inch bell-like flowers grow on 12 to 18 inch stems. They are delightful°©ly unique. They need well drained soil and a sunny location to do their best, but are also quite at home in damp woodsy areas.
Another of the very best spring bulbs are the chionodoxas, or Glory-of-the-Snow. They are so named because, like snowd°©ro°©ps, they are among the first bulbs to bloom when the snow disap°©pears. These charming little bulbous plants grow only four to six inches high with blue or white tubular star-like flowers. They do well in sun but prefer a partially shady area with some moisture. They multiply readily and would be a real treat to find tucked in among yellow pansies or primulas.
One of the little bulbs that impressed me at the Keuken°©off Gardens in Holland was Anemone blanda. They were used by the hundreds of thousands to border beds of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. The striking contrast of this pure white variety with the other bright coloured flowers was truly stunning. Thousands had also been planted in drifts going off into wooded areas. The results were outstanding! The ‘blandas’ bloom a long time, and their foliage even looks attractive when the flowers are finished. They multiply easily and spread into a carpet of colour in no time at all. I think they are really something special.
There are dozens and dozens of other small perennial-like bulbs, so experiment by planting a few varieties in and around other early flowering spring shrubs and perenn°©ials to ali a whole new feel to your spring garden.