When most gardeners talk about spring-blooming bulbs, our minds go to the fields of tulips and daffodils in the Skagit Valley during spring. Or perhaps the amazing displays of color at Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island. Or if you are really lucky (and this is still on my bucket list), you may have gone all the way to the Netherlands the view the displays at Keukenhof.
Wherever your memories come from, they probably are visions of the major hitters like tulips and daffodils, or maybe hyacinths. While these are wonderful flowers, I am here to tell you that there are dozens of bulbs that gardeners need to educate themselves about and incorporate into their gardens.
Here are just a few to consider. All of them are small and should be planted in clumps of a dozen or more under deciduous trees or shrubs, or in rockeries. They are also mostly deer- and rodent-resistant and will naturalize in the garden and repeat-bloom for many years. And they are inexpensive. What more could you ask from a plant?
Grape hyacinths: These “miniature” hyacinths aren’t actually hyacinths at all, but do sort of resemble them. They will send up their dark green leaves as early as November, with 6-inch-tall flowers following in late winter. Most are shades of blue and will form drifts in the garden in just a couple of years.
Eranthis hyemalis: Winter Aconite sends up a short single yellow bloom in late winter that will brighten up any dark shady area. I have a drift under my Fireglow Japanese maple that delights me every spring.
Galanthus nivalis: Known as snow drops to most of us, these are the harbingers of spring in my garden. Their sweet nodding bells are 6 inches tall, and white with a small patch of green on them. They can be single or double and do best under deciduous plants, where they will be in the shade in the summer when they go dormant.
Leucojum aestivum: Known as snowflakes, these bulbs resemble snow drops, except they are taller, larger and bloom a month or two later. They otherwise have the same white drooping bell-like flowers.
Iris reticulata: Dwarf Dutch Iris have showy blooms around the same time as snow drops and have typical iris-like flowers that form drifts after a few seasons. Each individual plant only blooms for a few days, but a clump of them will give you lots of color for several weeks.
Scilla siberica: Siberian Scillas don’t actually come from Siberia, although they are native to southwestern Russia and are extremely cold-hardy. The flowers are six-petaled and are a bright blue reaching only 4 to 6 inches tall. Like English and Spanish bluebells, Siberian bluebells will naturalize quickly in the garden and form impressive drifts after a few seasons.
These are just a few choices of early blooming bulbs that will brighten up our gardens while it is still the dead of winter. They may not look like much in bags in the garden center, but they will give us a huge return on our modest investment. Try some out this fall and see if you don’t agree.
Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two free classes, “Colorful Conifers” at 10 a.m. Oct. 20 and “The Joy of Houseplants” at 11 a.m. Oct. 21, are scheduled at Sunnyside Nursery, 3915 Sunnyside Blvd., Marysville. For more information or to sign up, go to www.sunnysidenursery.net.