Summer Bulbs for Beautiful Gardens All Season

By Steffie Littlefield

(This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener March 2007 issue.)
a picture of the Dahlia 'Fascination'

Dahlia 'Fascination', image courtesy White Flower Farms

This March or April, while you are admiring the color and excitement from your spring blooming bulbs, plan for more flowers and color all summer from lily, dahlia, cannas and gladioli bulbs.  Nothing beats the opulent tropical look of the easiest bulb to grow, elephant ears. Planting any of these bulbs in mid to late spring will result in the most beautiful and fragrant flowers and impressive large foliage in your garden from mid summer late into fall.  If you want to get a jump on the season many of these can be started inside in pots and later transplanted where needed in the garden or in your patio containers.

Many gardeners know the striking ‘Stargazer Lily’ with its large bright pink to red flowers

An image of the 'Stargazer' Lily

Lilium 'Stargazer', courtesy White Flower Farm

whose lovely scent fills the garden. It is easy to mix into a perennial border with a height of about 3’. Hybrid lilies offer many exotic colors such as ‘Shocking,’ with bright yellow and crimson flowers, and ‘Auratum,’ with white flowers striped in yellow and red dots.  My favorite lily is ‘Regale,’ reaching heights of 5-6’, topped with huge clusters of white flowers, accented in red on the outside and yellow on the inside.  These mammoth bulbs produce the most fragrant flowers you can grow and are loved by hummingbirds.

Dahlias are a real star in late summer into fall. When many perennials and annuals are done for the season, here come the dahlias to steal the show. The best way to get those dinner plate size flowers in your garden is to buy good size tubers, plant them after the danger of frost is past, keep them well watered, and watch out!  The largest red, purple or bi-color flowers you have ever seen will appear and continue while you enjoy the cooling fall temperatures.

Summer bulbs have been popular for many years but are enjoying a renewed interest with our desire for hot tropical colors and exotic shapes. You can now see gorgeous cannas in downtown parks where they reign like queens over the beds of elephant ears and sweet potato vines. And no other plant has the color range of the floriferous gladioli. Look for the ‘Nanus’ variety with mixed pink flowers that may not need staking and the bi-colors of ‘Chantel’ and ‘Stella,’ the unique flowers of which would be very dramatic in patio containers. Starting elephant ears, cannas, or gladioli in pots indoors lets you start to enjoy their tropical features earlier in the summer, just transplant them when weather is warm and summery.

Steffie Littlefield is a horticulturist and garden designer at Garden Heights Nursery. She has degrees from St. Louis Community College at Meramec and Southeast Missouri State and is a member of Gateway Professional Horticultural Association and president of Horticulture Co-op of Metropolitan St. Louis. You can also find out about her family vineyard and event venue at