Minor Bulbs, Major Impact
The garden giants of spring colour are giving way to their smaller cousins that actually repeat their performance year after year and leave a very soft footprint of dying and unsightly foliage. Yes, the big tulips, narcissus and hyacinths provide a great splash of colour and are important in the right locations, but minor bulbs offer us a subtle accompaniment to so many other spring plants and can make our Fraser Valley gardens truly spectacular! In addition to their aesthetic benefits, many of the minor bulbs are great for pollinator insects too, offering pollen and nectar before other bulbs and flowering plants begin to bloom!
Snowdrop & Crocus
Snowdrops and crocuses are old-fashioned favourites that perennialize readily almost anywhere in the garden to create an ever-expanding display each year. The tiny, yellow, buttercup-like winter aconite (Eranthis cilicica) is one bulb that sneaks ahead to bloom even before snowdrops. Its touch of yellow is a true delight during the cold, gray months of January and February. It multiplies nicely among groundcovers but looks particularly pretty together with dark-foliaged thymes and compact, almost-black, heucheras.
In recent years, more varieties of grape hyacinths (muscari) have been introduced into the marketplace than perhaps any other bulb. Blue is a refreshing contrast colour for so many other plants and bulbs, especially those with golden or red foliage. There are some recent innovations that I think are truly spectacular.
Muscari ‘Mt. Hood’ has clear, blue flowers with snow-capped white tops. Planted in clusters, they look sensational, and if you love a little perfume, the yellow variety, M. ‘Golden Fragrance’, is quite an attention-getter. These are all long-blooming, mid-season varieties.
Other pleasing colour variations include Muscari latifolium which is a unique dark blue-flowered variety, and M. ‘White Magic’ which is white. All muscari need to be planted in groupings for the best effect, and look great underplanted around dwarf forsythia and corylopsis (better known as buttercup winter hazel).
We love scillas in our gardens simply because they bloom in May when most other bulbs are finished, providing a refreshing lift. So many folks who ask for old-fashioned English bluebells are not quite sure what to request in terms of getting the right bulb. Well, Scilla nutans is the true English bluebell that thrives best in light shade and blooms over a long period of time.
One personal favourite is the little bulb, puschkinia. These tiny, pure white bulbs produce pin-striped blue flowers and are incredibly bright and cheery in March landscapes. They look great with miniature yellow daffodils or dwarf red tulips, and they bloom for a long while. From a distance, they look like soft, blue clumps that add charm to any border or rockery.
Alliums are such a treat in June and July gardens in the Fraser Valley, adding another fresh look as summer annuals get settled in. There are so many varieties, but the yellow Allium moly luteum, and the blue toned a. ‘Azureum’ will really take people by surprise!
Allium schubertii and A. christophii are sheer wonders for their intricately woven flower heads that last for weeks. A little showing off is okay, and no June garden should be without a few of the big guys, like A. giganteum and bold-coloured ‘Purple Sensation’. They look magnificent blooming among variegated grasses like Miscanthus ‘Variegatus’ and carex. They will also draw the most admiring comments about your garden.
I’m very fond of the mini daffodil ‘Golden Bells’, which is about the bulb size of a crocus and produces three to four flowers per bulb—it is a ‘must have’. ‘Tete a Tete’ is still a much sought after variety too!
Treat these bulbs as perennials and coordinate them well for a display next spring that will only get better year after year. Not sure where to start? Many of the new, pre-packaged bulb combinations offer a blend of traditional large blooms, like tulips and daffodils, and minor bulbs to round out the display. No decision-making required! Several ‘Colourful Companion’ blends are readily available at our garden centre in Chilliwack.