Bulbs are meant to be planted, enjoyed and shown off in generous numbers. The more, the merrier! This need for company isn’t just because bulbs are small plants. In fact, some plants can grow fairly tall and even sport big, dramatic flowers. The case for putting in lots of bulbs, in sweeps or mix-and-match displays, is compelling: The whole is inevitably greater than the sum of the parts. Flowering bulbs simply look fabulous in groups; their natural exuberance is multiplied.
Combining various types of tulips
If the only tulips you know are the classic red ones lining a neighbor’s walkway, you are in for a treat. The world of tulips is amazingly varied. You can find a wonderful range of hues, from royal purple to golden yellow to shell pink to pure ivory white; there are also many fabulous bicolors, especially the smashing red-and-yellow and pink-and-green ones.
Forms also vary, from the popular goblet-shaped flowers (mainly the Darwin hybrids) to ones that resemble plush peonies or elegant lilies. Some tulips have flared or fluted petals or petals with fringed edges. Some are nearly knee-high; others are surprisingly low to the ground.
All tulips are equally easy to grow. But before you get carried away with an ambitious planting scheme, remember also that although tulips are always spring bloomers, they don’t all bloom at the same time. You can find everything from “single early” to “double late” tulips, and you have to take these designations into account if you want your landscaping plans to work out.
Check out the following tips for different types of displays:
For single-color displays: Use a large quantity of the same exact tulip variety and plant closely.
For mixed-color displays: Stick to a theme, such as pastel or bold colors. Tuck in a few bicolors that tie the display all together. Of course, if you have lots of space, going for the full rainbow can be fun, but to be effective, such a show needs to have a generous number of tulips in every hue.
For a longer-lasting blooming: Research the bloom times so you get a range. Then mix up the varieties up throughout the display so it doesn’t look unbalanced and so something is always in bloom.
For smaller areas or containers: Choose tulips of different heights and place the taller ones in the middle. That way, you can distinguish each one, and the variety and complexity of the show give it more splash.
Don’t plant your tulip display in a shady spot. Some spring bloomers don’t mind, but tulips do.
Mixing up your Daffodils
Daffodils simply don’t have the color range that tulips do, but they do offer a fresh elegance in their whites, creams, yellows, oranges, and near-pinks. Daffodils come in about a dozen different forms, too, which aficionados call divisions. These varieties include the ever-popular trumpet forms; little ones that bloom in clusters; daffodils with tiny, almost flat trumpets; and flowers with trumpets so plush with petals they hardly seem like a daffodil at all.
A great feature of daffodils is that nothing likes to eat them! Not squirrels, not mice, not voles, not rabbits, not deer!
And many daffodils are scented. Most have a light, sweet perfume that’s not overpowering. (If you’re after stronger fragrance, check out the Jonquil type of daffodils.) To capitalize on fragrant daffodils, plant them in quantity so they can make an impression. Or at least plant enough so you can spare some for bouquets and enjoy that wafting sweetness indoors.
Here are some tips for choosing daffodils:
For single-color displays: Daffodils whose petals and trumpet are both the same color, all-white or all-yellow, make excellent massed displays, lovely in their simplicity. For a little more definition, you can seek out a few differently named varieties in the color you like. Varied forms can make such a display more intriguing.
For mixed-color displays: A planting devoted entirely to yellow and orange bicolor daffodils is a lot of fun. You can tuck in a few solids just to keep things interesting. Another nice idea is to mix the white petaled, so-called pink-trumpeted daffodils with some plain whites. Blending all the colors and forms doesn’t tend to work well, because the pastel daffodils jar against the bolder hues and a mix of varied forms often looks too busy.
For a longer-lasting blooming: Situate daffodils in an area that gets part-day shade or filtered light.
For smaller areas or containers: You’re best off devoting a limited area to a single variety or two compatible ones. Miniature growing varieties are also a perfect choice.
Don’t mix daffodils of differing bloom times. When a daffodil is done blooming, you need to let the leaves die down (so they can replenish the bulb’s energy stores for next year’s show). Having some yellowing or drying leaves among up-and-coming bloomers doesn’t look good at all!
Combining different kinds of bulbs
Combining different kinds of bulbs is the most fun of all! A great coordinated burst of flowers is such a thrill to behold, especially after a long, cold winter. For maximum impact, you want a range of colors, sizes, shapes, heights, and bloom times.
You can pull off this daring combination in two ways. The easy way is to buy the mixes offered by bulb merchants, often at quantity-discounted prices. The merchants do all the planning work for you; all you have to do is plant.
If you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer or you have some specific or creative ideas, by all means, research and make your own mix. All the information you need is on the bin or bag label or in the catalog descriptions. Exercise your creativity and design your own plan.
Here are a few tips for success:
Make growing conditions as good as they can be
With properly drained soil and good lighting conditions, bulbs have the best chance of performing their best.
Buy good bulbs and plant them promptly
Cheap, poor-quality bulbs or ones that sit around drying out too long before going in the ground are bound to be a disappointment, thwarting your vision for a colorful display.
Planting at different depths is okay
Different bulbs are supposed to be planted at different depths, so a mixed planting will be pocked with some deep and some shallow. That’s fine, just so long as you don’t plant one bulb right over another (and even if you do, the lower one will probably find a way around the obstruction and poke up and bloom anyway).