Spring-Blooming Bulbs in the Perennial Border

By Steffie Littlefield

[This article was first published in The Gateway Gardener October 2009 issue]

a picture of purple hyacinth bulbs in bloomCombine spring blooming bulbs with garden perennials for a spectacular start to the gardening season. Think outside the boring line of tulips planted in front of your boxwoods or yews. Make your traditional perennial beds and borders awake next spring with the color of spring blooming bulbs.

Imagine ‘Pink Diamond’ tulips bursting forth from a carpet of blue forget-me-nots. Virginia bluebells appear more vivid by combining them with ‘Téte à Téte’ dwarf yellow narcissus. Lavender-blue creeping phlox makes a sumptuous backdrop for ‘Apricot Beauty’ tulips. The emerging bronze leaves of heuchera look even richer with the light tangerine tulip ‘Daydream’.

If you have alyssum ‘Basket of Gold’, plant giant purple crocus through it, or grow grape hyacinths among celandine poppies. The newly popular dark purple tulips look sharp with lady’s mantel. White candytuft, one of my favorite perennials, is marvelous with the double white flowers of ‘Mount Tacoma’ tulips.  Shade-loving snowflakes will brighten the hosta bed as they bloom on tall straight stems before the hostas unfurl their leaves.  Giant yellow trumpet daffodils take on a new look when surrounded by black mondo grass. Tall purple alliums combine well with easy- to-grow yellow yarrow.  The deep purple-blue hyacinth, ‘Kronos’, really stands out above the golden foliage of creeping jenny.

Enhance your charming spring woodland garden with pheasant-eye narcissus, perk-up that groundcover of pachysandra with drifts of Spanish bluebells and add early color to a bed of pachysedum groundcover by planting clumps of little snowdrops. Because bulbs are planted below the roots of most perennials, they can go undisturbed for years in a perennial border. As maturing perennials grow up around declining bulb foliage, it is covered and screened from sight. Many spring bulbs like narcissus and scillas are pest resistant and when planted around perennials that are normally eaten by rabbits, they can help protect tender shoots from being the bunny buffet. No cutting garden should be without spring blooming narcissus, Spanish bluebells, alliums, and tulips in various colors. For a longer lasting display of tulips mix the early mid and late varieties and have almost continuous color for months from the one planting.

Create a rich tapestry of color in your perennials beds by inter-planting with spring blooming bulbs. There are so many combinations available; your perennial beds will look brighter and more alive than most perennial borders. Get creative and enjoy the rewards. There is no wrong way to group spring bulbs into the mixed perennial border.

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 past president of Horticulture Co-op of Metropolitan St. Louis. You can also find out about her family vineyard and event venue at www.edg-clif.com.