Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
September, 2005
Regional Report

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Combining the right perennials and bulbs will provide an extended colorful season and help to camouflage the bulbs' ripening foliage.

A Colorful Garden Composition with Bulbs and Perennials

A well-designed garden should satisfy all season long. I can remember a garden that had blooms from February on, beginning with early crocuses and Lenten roses (hellebores); followed by spring bulbs and perennials, summer annuals and perennials, autumn perennials and late-flowering bulbs; and ending with hardy pansies, violas, and the winter-worthy ornamental grasses with their graceful form and movement through December. You can plan a composition that will add some drama year-round, and NOW is the time to plant spring-blooming bulbs that will become a part of the landscape next season.

As autumn approaches, it's time to make plans to add spring-flowering bulbs, such as tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, crocuses, and the wide array of minor bulbs for splashes of color. Planted as companions with perennials such as hostas, bleeding hearts, peonies, coralbells, daylilies, pansies, blue fescue, and many others, bulbs are naturally dramatic with their fresh colors.

Why combine bulbs with perennials? After blooming, flowering bulbs should be left alone for about six weeks, or until the foliage has ripened or died down. The foliage dieback period is necessary for the bulbs to store energy for next season's blooms. To some, this ripening process is unsightly. Enter the partnership of bulbs and perennials.

The fresh green leaves of the perennial growth covers the waning foliage of the bulbs. This camouflage strategy will help keep your garden looking fresh, while the bulb flowers make their exit and the ensuing perennial "flower show" begins.

Following is a sampling of a few perennials that emerge in spring, providing color and interest to the spring-flowering garden. Some of the suggested combinations are courtesy of the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center.

Try These
A shade-loving perennial that creates a mound of velvety, lime green, handsomely shaped leaves and a froth of small chartreuse blooms spring through summer is lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis). It's hardy in USDA zones 3 through 8. A suggested bloom combination is lady's mantle, Narcissus 'Actaea', and Tulipa 'Spring Green'.

Bleeding heart (Dicentra spp.), with its fern-like foliage and arching sprays of heart-shaped blooms, adds a graceful romantic touch to the early-spring garden. This old-fashioned perennial is a wonderful performer. The pink, white, or rosy red flowers bloom for four to five weeks, depending upon the species. It prefers shady conditions but will grow in part sun. Try combining Dicentra spectablilis, Hyacinth 'Blue Queen', and Tulipa 'Groenland'.

Daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.) are great concealers of bulb foliage, with their dense, strap-like leaves that emerge in spring. Depending on the variety, daylilies will bloom for several weeks, or even months, from spring through summer. One of my favorite combinations is pairing daylilies with ornamental grasses, blackberry lilies, daffodils, tulips, and hardy ice plant. These plants combine handsomely in a island bed or corner garden with full sun.

Though hostas are often referred to as "slug magnets," these perennials have wonderful foliage in green, chartreuse, blue-tones, two-tones, golden green, and variegated leaf forms. Their leaves act as a foil for fading bulb foliage while adding accent to the shade garden. Plant hostas in moist, shady conditions. Combine them with bulbs that bloom early, such as early tulips and daffs, so the bulbs have enough time in the sun to replenish their energy before the shade becomes more intense in late spring and summer.

Bulbs and perennials are made for each other. Plant now, applaud later.

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