Bulbs Perennials

Photograph Your Spring… to Make It Even More Beautiful!

If you’re like me, the first spring flowers do you the greatest good! How we savor them! Finally, back to life! And every year, my observation is that there could be more bulbs in my flowerbeds. More color! More spring! More life!

A carpet of moss phlox becomes an inviting nest to accompany this beautiful bed of mixed tulips. Photo: Donald Neuland, National Garden Bureau

Often in the fall, we quickly buy a few bags of tulips or daffodils that we plant quickly in the empty places of the flowerbeds. Then in the spring, we enjoy the beautiful floral show offered by these spring-flowering bulbs. But… the locations aren’t quite perfect. Some areas are empty. How to successfully plant bulbs in the fall that will be spectacular in the spring? Every spring, we promise ourselves to correct the situation. Then, in the fall, we start this paragraph again!

So, let’s rely on the photographic memory of a real camera!

In the spring, some perennials appear very early in the form of beautiful rosettes of leaves. Others have evergreen leaves and there are even some that bloom very early. All of these perennials are good candidates for a “successful duo” project!

Carpets of lesser periwinkle (Vinca minor) are perfect for hosting many spring-flowering bulbs, including giant crocuses. Here, the ‘Jeanne d’Arc’ cultivar. Photo: Julie Boudreau

Perennials… Good for Your Bulbs

Indeed, it is interesting to combine bulbs and perennials and this technique has several advantages. The first is that perennials, very small in spring, grow to reach their full width in summer. In doing so, they conceal the yellowing foliage of the bulbs. This greatly facilitates maintenance!

Another advantage of perennials, and it’s the one I’m particularly interested in here, is that these young spring plants can create interesting combinations with bulbs. Bulbs can be planted through carpets of evergreens. Bulbs can cohabit with young perennials at the start of growth. You can even create flowering duos, by combining perennials and bulbs that bloom at the same time.

Some Inspiring Examples

Of the very early blooming perennials, I believe brunnera (Brunnera macrophylla) wins hands down. This beautiful gray-stain leaved plant is already showing the beginning of flowering at the same time as crocuses. And the royal blue of brunneras would look great with the white or pink flowers of giant crocuses. At the same time as squills arrive some primroses, such as the cuckoo primrose (Primula veris) or common primroses (Primula vulgaris). Unfortunately, these two species, so reliable in the garden and so precious for their early flowering, are difficult to find. In spring, the leaves of these primroses look like romaine lettuce leaves. A few weeks later, the cushiony moss phlox (Phlox subulata) will be in full bloom, with their mostly pink, sometimes white, sometimes lilac flowers. Blue grape hyacinths in a carpet of pink phlox, now that’s a winner! Phloxes are also great companions for tulips and narcissus.

In my garden, the purple-brown foliage of heucheras makes a wonderful companion for small bulbs, like these ‘White Magic’ Grape Hyacinths. The little touch of yellow from the forsythias in the background completes the decor well. Photo: Julie Boudreau

Periwinkle (Vinca minor) is an evergreen creeping plant through which it will be interesting to plant narcissus. Evergreen heucheras, especially those with purple foliage, should not be overlooked. Grape hyacinths and other small bulbs of the genus are good companions.

Then, there are all those early sprouting perennials that offer their beautiful foliage in the background for the development of bulbs. This is the case of lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) with bluish-green foliage, columbines (Aquilegia spp.) or perennial geraniums (Geranium spp.). Even fall sedums turn into beautiful rounded clumps in shades of gray, perfect for enhancing tulips. Some ground covers, such as creeping bugle (Ajuga spp.) or dead nettle (Lamium maculatum) are also interesting.

’American Dream’ tulips are flourishing in front of clumps of fall sedums. Photo: Julie Boudreau

Take pictures!

To succeed in such arrangements, the first step is to take photos, early in the spring. As soon as the crocuses begin to bloom, document each flower bed by taking lots of photos. These pictures must be carefully stored in a file on the computer or printed and kept in a place where they are unlikely to be forgotten, because, it is only in the fall that we will analyze those images. They will tell you which perennials have the potential to be good companions for bulbs. You will also have the right colors of the spring foliage which can influence the choice of colors of the bulbs to associate with these perennials. You will also discover places that were bare in the spring, but which seemed so full in the fall. Finally, you may discover a yellow tulip that swears in this spring that wants to be pink and mauve.

Thus, it will be possible to choose the right bulbs and plant them in the best possible locations. These photos will allow you to fill in the bare spaces and better distribute bulbs. Because it is a common practice to plant the bulbs at the end of perennial beds, whereas in the spring, it is often near the base of the perennials that there is a lack of spring blooms. Do not hesitate to lift the foliage of perennials to plant very close to the base of the plants.

It’s very simple and it can greatly help to make the spring flowerbeds even more beautiful, without racking your brain too much.

Bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) pair well with white-flowered narcissus, such as these ‘Pueblo’ narcissus or varieties with pale yellow flowers. Also in my garden! Photo: Julie Boudreau

Julie Boudreau is a horticulturist who trained at the Institut de technologie agroalimentaire in Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec. She’s been working with plants for more than 25 years. She has published many gardening books and hosted various radio and television shows. She now teaches horticulture at the Centre de formation horticole of Laval. A great gardening enthusiast, she’s devoted to promoting gardening, garden design, botany and ecology in every form. Born a fan of organic gardening, she’s curious and cultivates a passion for all that can be eaten. Julie Boudreau is “epicurious” and also fascinated by Latin names.

9 comments on “Photograph Your Spring… to Make It Even More Beautiful!

  1. Thank you so much for your timely (naturally ??) prompt to cue in to an excellent idea in the palms of our hands. Your suggestions are well thought out and I am eager to get out there to start planning whilst revelling in the spring show.

  2. I’m currently doing the opposite – using the location of spring blooms to tuck in corms and bareroot perennials around them so that in future years they’ll grow and fill in those areas as bulb foliage dies back!

  3. Excellent suggestion. I have made notes with little sketches, but a photograph would be much more accurate. Thank you

  4. Rachel D

    I agree, this is a great practice! I have been doing this for a couple of years now, and I have also been using the “markup” function in Photos on my Iphone to write what bulb I think should go in what bare patches in the image. Then, in the fall, I go back through my pictures and the shopping list and planting locations are already decided by my eager spring brain 🙂

  5. Periwinkle is an invasive species and should be avoided

    • marianwhit

      Thank you (gobsmacked). Forgive them for they are young and insist on learning the hard way. One or two weeks of bloom and booooring for the rest of the year. Google Vinca minor + invasive using an image search and think about your site…then go to the “all” results and look for and read the US Forest Service’s extensively referenced overview. Fortunately, this plant does not seed around…it has not figured that out yet, but vegetatively it is bad enough. We squawk about these things to SAVE YOU THE WORK of trying to undo the error…you may want to grow something else one day, and if it is not surrounded by concrete, look out! If it IS surrounded by concrete, fry any trimmings, because they will grow where you throw them.

      • marianwhit

        ….and why, oh why do we desperately want to be anything but here? Put in a few native plants, and use your camera to count the animals you have before you do so on inaturalist, and then after adding native plants…you will see, and they will make you happy that you are pushing to help them survive rather than turning their world literally upside down, risking their extinction.

  6. Christine Lemieux

    Your garden is beautiful! Thank you for the nudge to finally take pictures and plan ahead for next spring, my favourite time of the year!

  7. Granny Pat

    As someone with a permanent camera mutation growing from my palms I have literally thousands upon thousands of flower and garden shots clogging up my hard drive but never once thought to use it as a planting planner resource. Great idea!

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