Spring bulbs can play a much more important role if they are integrated into the overall design of our gardens. One quality many folks tend to overlook is the perenial nature of certain bulbs. It takes about three years for naturalized become well enough established to really put on a great show.
Whether combined with other plants or in a naturalized setting, bulb displays are are something to look forward to for many years to come. According to the International Flowerbulb Informat:ion Centre, today's trend is towards no fuss flowers- inexpensive, easy-to-care for and beautiful.
Bulbs fit the bill. Naturalized bulb plantings appear like magicarpets of colour in wooded areas and green spaces. One thing, however, that must be kept in mind regarding naturalized bulbs is that awkward time of six weeks during which they must be left alone with their leaves intact to allow the foliage to yellow and whither naturally.
They need this time to regenerate and to regain their strength through photosynthesis in order to flower again next year.
Some bulbs naturalize better than others. Among the top performers are snowdrops, yellow winter aconites, chionodoxa, miniature iris, muscari, puschkinias, scillas, certain narcissus, camassias and many alliums.
The fact that these bulbs need some camoflouging to cover up this die back period, makes a strong case for combination planting.
It makes sense to integrate them through out your garden rather than planting them in isolation. Remember: bulbs are suitable for borders of mixed perennials and for rock, heather, water and grass gardens. They are also quite at home under trees and shrubs or on banks and grassy slopes, although a few bulbs, like alliums, need a lot of light, most do well in partial shade. Because spring-flowering bulbs generally bloom before deciduous trees leaf out, they can be planted beneath them for a beautiful effect. Try bulbs under native alders, birch, oak sycamore and beech. They are also quite at home under fruit trees, but I think they make the best combined displays under flowering trees like dogwoods, Japanese cherries, magnolias, flowering plums and laburnums.
Bulbs also make fine companions to flowering shrubs. Miniature daffodils, like `February Gold' and `Hawera', and the taller trumpet varieties, like 'Carlton' and 'Golden Harvest', make ideal underplantings with red flowering currants, yellow flowering Oregon Grape, the purple-leafed Smoke Tree and the coppery Photinia fraseri. Roses, especially the varieties like 'Europeana' with its dark bronze foliage, are a real natural for shared space with yellow daffodils.
Matching the flowering time of shrubs with the right coloured bulbs that bloom at the same time is the trick. Directly from the superb gardens in Holland, here are some combinations that work well. The first rhododendron to bloom, Rhododendron praecox, with its lavender flowers, looks great complemented by Scilla siberica or Crocus chrysanthus 'Cream Beauty'.
The fragrant lavender February-blooming Daphne mezereum should be underplanted with the crocus 'Remembrance'. One of my favourites, Cornus mas, should be combined with Anemone nemorosa. The lovely Beauty Bush (Kolkwitzia), is a great much for the blue spikes of Camassia escvicnta. Try matching snowdrops with yellow winter jasmine or with lilack grass.
Many perennial, ground cover and shrub combinations work well with bulbs, but a few specific combinations camouflage foliage particularly well. Snowdrop foliage disappears in the leaves of Vinca minor or ivy. The spent leaves of chionodoxa and the many varieties of scillas or Bluebells are well concealed by the colourful yellow ground cover, Creeping Jenny.
If you have not tried daffodils with daylilies, you will never know how well the old daffodil leaves are concealed by the similar lily foliage. Tulips and bearded irises make a similar foliage blend.
Don't forget that the beautiful massive leaves of hostas and ferns develop later in the season, allowing many of the bulbs I have mentioned to bloom and then have their dying leaves covered up and hidden. This type of planting not only makes sense, but it also makes a delightful display as well. Please take advantage of the perennial nature of bulbs, and use them with your other garden plants. Integrated planting is the only way to go. I hope I have sparked some ideas to make your garden even more beautiful next spring.