Every year I’ve added a few more spring bulbs to my garden. Approximately 700 went in last year. It’s a little bit more than a few, I know. My hands ached despite the fact that I planted them over a period of several weeks. I suppose that’s the price one pays for beauty. But the pay off was sooooo worth it, especially when you see those first verdant tips peek through the frozen earth. Spring is coming! But to reap the benefits you have to think ahead. Like right now. Fall is prime time for getting those bulbs tucked in tight. Before I get into the how, when and where, here’s a little inspiration from a garden I produced for Country Gardens magazine…
I discovered this suburban Chicago garden several years ago. Now don’t get discouraged. Like most truly exceptional gardens, this one evolved over several decades. What’s so miraculous about this space is that once the spring bulbs and ephemerals peter out, the summer garden bursts onto the scene and it’s as though the daffodils and tulips had never been. The homeowner simply knows how to take advantage of every season. Isn’t that the gardener’s goal? It’s a woodland garden that’s predominately shade, but it’s perfect for sun-loving bulbs that soak up plenty of light before the trees leaf out.
A flagstone pathway meanders through this expansive space. Even the trees harmonize with the spring bulbs. I love how branches of a variegated Golden Shadows pagoda dogwood reach over the purple muscari. The homeowner is a bulb planting machine and still can’t resist the urge to add more muscari. I know the feeling all too well. Eventually, the pathways will be edged with it.
The understory trees, like this Star magnolia, are an important part of the garden. Here it blooms in concert with a variety of daffodils and our native ephemeral Virginia Bluebells.
By mid-summer, the bluebell foliage dies back and peonies, daylilies and hostas take center stage. They do double duty here as camouflage for the dying bulb leaves that must remain intact until completely yellow. The leaves feed the bulbs for next spring’s show.
Delicate clusters of tiny blue flowers weave between the narcissus and other spring blooming bulbs. Despite their diminutive appearance, beware. Forget-me-nots (Myosotis) reseeds freely and is on several invasive species lists so check your local recommendations before adding it to your garden. They’re small but mighty.
There is an endless variety of daffodils scattered throughout the garden. And, if left to their own devices, they naturalize freely. When I asked the homeowner how she handles the bulbs when she unearths a few, either when adding a new perennial or relocating an existing one, she just replants them anywhere and let’s them have their way.
Species tulips return reliably, unlike their bigger tulip counterparts, every year. The big guys are notorious one-hit wonders that first spring. It’s recommended that they be pulled out every year and replanted with fresh bulbs. If the elements don’t zap them, the rabbits most certainly will. I plant only Darwin tulips. They have a longer “shelf life” and have made a strong showing for the last several years. The species tulips, while smaller, are not as delicate as they appear. The red Tulipa humilis ‘Little Beauty’ and the yellow species tulip (whose name escapes me right now) naturalize easily in her garden.
One of several sculptures in the garden, a bronze goose comes in for a landing among the mottled foliage of spring blooming trillium.
The homeowner began introducing interesting pieces of art to the garden after she hosted a garden walk. One of the visitors, not knowing that she was speaking to the homeowner, expressed that the garden looked more like a park due to its size. The solution was a variety of interesting curiosities – birdbaths, birdhouses, whirligigs, sculptures – placed as focal points among the spring bulbs.
Look familiar? From the beds of spring bulbs rises this secluded little garden shed at the back of the property. It was so charming that it became the cover for the early spring 2018 issue of Country Gardens magazine. I love the look of the crabapple blossoms against the grey siding near the roof line. It was such a pleasure to write and produce this piece.
One of my jobs when producing stories for magazines includes sprucing things up. The garden hardly needed anything, but the window box and containers required some TLC. They were empty when I began, but it was nothing a few spring-blooming annuals couldn’t fix.
Have I inspired you to add a bulb or two to your garden? If so, you might enjoy reading about one of my all-time favorite spring bulbs.
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