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Bulbs to Light Up Beds & Borders P

airing bulbs with perennials is a Whichever spring bulbs you choose, sure way to get the most out of every bit of garden space. From the last days of winter add a bounty of cheerful color and seasonal interest, all wrapped up in one easy-care package. to the last days of fall, these versatile beauties

remember that the leaves will wither and die after flowering, leaving a bare space in your garden by midsummer. One of Stephanie’s favorite tricks is to tuck bulbs around daylilies (Hemerocallis) and hostas, which will cover up the declining bulb foliage and readily fill in the gaps. Tall or bushy perennials can

The Early Birds. Spring is prime time
for the most well-known bulbs, including crocus, daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips. These classics are just the tip of the iceberg, though. There are also many so-called minor bulbs, such as checkered lily (Fritillaria meleagris), glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa), and snowdrops (Galanthus). These lesser-known lovelies often have smaller flowers and more natural-looking forms, which make them more comfortable perennial partners than are their highly hybridized cousins, especially in informal settings such as woodland walks and cottage gardens. You can choose bulbs that match the overall color theme for your garden, or you can do something completely different. For an elegant effect, consider a monochromatic theme, such as all-white or all-pink bulbs. Alternatively, you can celebrate spring’s return with a cheerful combination of colors; it’s tough to make a bad combination with early-spring bulbs. As the season progresses and your perennials start coming into bloom, you’ll need to be more careful about avoiding color clashes. To get the best effect with spring bulbs, be generous with the size of the clumps: Plant 6 to 12 bulbs in each, depending on their size. Spotting single bulbs here and there — or worse yet, planting them in straight lines like soldiers — is guaranteed to produce disappointing results.
T U R N O N S P R I N G . Tulips are many gardeners’ bulb of choice when it comes to spring favorites.

Exploring Perennial Partners


perform the same function, especially if you keep bulb clumps near the back of the border. (At the time the bulbs are in full bloom, the perennials are just coming up, so they won’t block your spring bulb display.) If you’re still left with gaps once the bulbs die back, you can always tuck in a few annuals as fillers for the rest of the season.

Whatever you decide, please don’t be tempted simply to cut off the dying leaves or to braid or fold them into tidy, rubber-banded bundles. Your bulbs need all of their leaves for as long as possible to produce energy to store for next year’s flowers. One exception is hybrid tulips. They often die out in a year or two in perennial gardens, because they prefer hot, dry conditions in summer — not the moist, mulched soil that most perennials like. If you really want to grow hybrid tulips with your perennials, you may have to pull out the tulip plants as soon as the flowers drop and put in new bulbs each fall.

Summer Sizzle. True lilies (Lilium),
foxtail lilies (Eremurus), and other summer bulbs that pop up among your perennials give the garden an extra dimension of drama and excitement. They generally look best in small groups of three or five plants (an uneven number is best) rising out of or behind other perennials. Like spring bulbs, hardy summerflowering bulbs will die back to the ground once they’ve finished blooming, so you need to make sure their companions will cover up the yellowing foliage. This can be particularly tricky with lilies, which bear foliage all the way up their flowering stems. Planting a 3foot-tall lily and making it disappear is easy, but with 5- to 6-foot-tall lilies, you’re left with the ugly post-bloom stems for several weeks. An interesting solution is to plant seeds or starts of an annual vine, such as hyacinth bean (Lablab purpureus), around the base of the lily stems in late spring or early summer. Once the lilies have flowered, their stems serve as natural supports for the climber.

F LOW E R S W I T H F L A I R . Cannas are guaranteed to introduce exuberance into any garden.


perennial design demystified

Just like tender perennials, tender summer bulbs can be invaluable for adding color and flair to mid- and late-summer gardens. With their bright flowers and bold foliage, cannas provide a tropical look that perfectly suits the season. If you prefer bulbs that are a smidge more subtle, dahlias might be more to your liking. (We’re not talking about the dinnerplate-size flowers that are used for exhibition, but rather the medium- to small-flowered dahlias, especially those with dark foliage, such as ‘Bishop of Llandaff ’ and ‘Ellen Huston’.) Dahlias come in a very wide range of interesting flower shapes, from pompon to cactus-style, and their colors range from palest pastel to vividly vibrant. Many of them have more than one color in their blossoms, making it simple to create exciting combinations with other flowers and foliage. Hardy summer bulbs stay in the ground year-round and come back season after season. If you’re growing bulbs that aren’t winter-hardy in your area, either treat them like annuals and buy new ones each year or dig them up in fall and store them indoors for the winter.
P R E PA R E F O R A S U R P R I S E . This autumn crocus (Colchicum ‘Waterlily’) bears its blossoms

The Late Show. Fall has its own
special bulb repertoire, from the exquisite to the downright odd. Hardy cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) is a gorgeous choice for shady gardens, with silver-mottled foliage and dainty pink or white flowers. The foliage is so beautiful that the flowers are hardly necessary (although they’re certainly a nice accompaniment). The strangest of the fall bulbs are autumn crocuses (Colchicum), fall crocus (Crocus sativus), hardy amaryllis (Amaryllis belladonna), and spider lilies (Lycoris). It takes a good bit of trial and error to use these bulbs effectively because of their unusual life cycle: Their leaves emerge in spring and disappear by early summer, then the flowers come up without leaves in fall. If you plant them

in fall, long after its spring foliage has disappeared.

Stephanie Says
ONCE YOUR BULBS ARE DORMANT, it can be difficult to tell exactly

where they are. If you like to move plants around as much as I do, or if you need to divide some of your perennials, it’s all too easy to accidentally skewer your best bulbs with a spading fork or slice them in half with a spade. It’s a sickening feeling. My secret is to use

Say No to Bulb-kebabs

green golf tees to mark the perimeter of each bulb clump before the leaves die back (if you borrow too many tees from your golfer buddies, do replace them). The tees blend in from any distance but are easy to see when you’re really looking for them, so they definitely help take the guesswork out of avoiding buried bulbs.

Exploring Perennial Partners

among taller or bushy perennials to hide their dying spring foliage, their fall flowers may not

be visible. But if you don’t give them any companions, you’re stuck with looking at beautiful flowers atop bare stems (in the case of autumn and fall crocuses, directly against bare soil). To solve this dilemma, plant them among relatively low-growing ground covers, such as ajuga and plumbago (Ceratostigma



plumbaginoides). Because the bulbs generally bloom in a different season, you’ll get twice the color from your ground covers in the same amount of space.

3 . blackberry lily (Belamcanda chinensis) ©

1 ; Lily (Lilium) © 2 ; From left, clockwise: Star of Persia (Allium christophii) ©

Best Bulbs for Perennial Gardens
Planting Pointers. Most bulbs thrive
Although we’re relentless in our pursuit of the latest and greatest perennials, we tend to fall back on old favorites when it comes time to choosing bulbs for our gardens. Here’s a list of some tried-and-true bulbs we’d hate to be without:
1 , Allium (alliums, ornamental onions): A. aflatunense, A. christophii © A. karataviense, A. moly, A. tanguticum ‘Summer Beauty’

under typical garden conditions, as long as the soil is well drained. To add early-flowering bulbs to your perennial plantings, you must get them in the ground in fall, or else buy already started bulbs in pots in spring (a much more expensive proposition). The same goes for most hardy summer bloomers, although some, such as many lilies, can also be planted in spring. With bulbs that are tender in your area, either start them indoors in pots in spring, and then set them out after all danger of frost has passed, or else plant them directly in your garden after the last frost. Fall bulbs are typically planted in midto late summer, while they are dormant. Remember: With any bulbs, it’s important to get them in the ground with their pointy side (the bud) facing up. If they are on their side (and sometimes even if they’re upside down), they’ll usually correct themselves eventually, but that takes some time and energy away from the flower display.

Anemone blanda (Grecian windflower)
3 Belamcanda chinensis (blackberry lily) ©

Camassia (camassias, quamash) Colchicum (autumn crocus): ‘Waterlily’ Crocus (crocus): C. chrysanthus ‘Ladykiller’, C. medius, C. speciosus Dichelostemma ida-maia (firecracker flower) Eremurus (foxtail lilies) Galanthus (snowdrops) Ipheion (spring starflower): ‘Rolf Fiedler’ Iris (bearded iris): Reblooming cultivars, such as ‘Immortality’
2 Lilium (lilies): ‘Black Dragon’, ‘Casa Blanca’, ‘Lollypop’ ©

Muscari (grape hyacinths) Narcissus (daffodils): ‘Actaea’, ‘February Gold’, ‘Jack Snipe’, ‘Mount Hood’, ‘Thalia’ Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot) Scilla siberica (Siberian squill) Tulipa (tulips): Hybrids — ‘Negrita’, ‘Orange Emperor’, ‘Queen of the Night’, and ‘Red Riding Hood’; species —T. kaufmanniana; T. praestans ‘Fusilier’ and ‘Unicum’; T. saxatilis ‘Lilac Wonder’


perennial design demystified