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Designing Spring Bulb Combinations
by Janet Davis
by Janet Davis


Janet Davis is a freelance garden writer and horticultural photographer whose stories and images have been featured in numerous publications. Magazines featuring her work include Canadian Gardening, Canadian Living, Gardening Life, President’s Choice Magazine, Chatelaine Gardens and, in the United States, Fine Gardening and Country Living Gardener.


October 21, 2007

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Finding great spring-flowering bulbs for your garden is only half the battle. Creating eye-catching, mutually-enhancing partnerships with nearby perennials and shrubs is the other. Each spring, I wander around the neighbourhood and a few favourite public gardens, finding interesting pairings of bulbs with other plants. Then I write down what I’ve seen and list the bulbs I’ll need and where to place them, come autumn. It’s the gardener’s version of window-shopping!
To help you plan your spring garden and to give you a shopping list of bulbs you’ll need to buy and plant this fall, here are a dozen fresh ideas for lovely spring combos from my own travels and experience.

    1. Underplant forsythia shrubs with carpets of the tiny early blue bulb Scilla siberica and yellow dwarf narcissus like ‘February Gold’.

    2. Pair purple perennial lenten roses Helleborus orientaliswith any early-blooming daffodils.

    3. Combine perennial blue lungwort Pulmonaria angustifolia with early tulips and daffodils

    4. Pair perennial yellow cushion spurge Euphorbia polychroma with a single-early fragrant tulip like orange ‘General deWet’

    5. Blue and orange are mutually-enhancing complementary contrasts. So combine tall Virginia bluebells Mertensia virginica with a tall Darwin hybrid tulip like brilliant orange 'Daydream', one of the best around.

    6. In Zone 6b, where it’s hardy, combine pink-flowered Rhododendron carolinianum with the late-blooming pink-and-green viridiflora tulip 'Greenland' .

    7. Pair the bright pink flowers of the ultra-hardy small-flowered rhododendrons 'Olga Mezitt' or ‘Aglo’ with 'Blue Spike' grape hyacinths, forget-me-nots and double-late tulips with their big peony-like blossoms.

    8. Underplant early-blooming star magnolia Magnolia stellata with tiny species daffodils and blue Scilla siberica.

    9. Underplant late-season peonies (depending on the variety, peonies bloom over a long season in May-June) with a frothy carpet of chartreuse-flowered lady's mantle, Alchemilla mollis and the large mauve globes of the onion family bulb Allium christophii.

    10. Combine the lovely pink-and-mauve lily-flowered tulip ‘Ballade’ – my absolute favourite from that group -- with the Japanese sand cherry shrub (Prunus x cistena).

    11. Partner the delightful Allium 'Purple Sensation' with blue Camassia cusickii and the tall white Darwin tulip 'Maureen'.

    12. Pair perennial Siberian iris with Allium 'Purple Sensation' .


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