Northern Shade Gardening

Underplanting Hydrangea with Spring Bulbs

Monday, October 26, 2009 Category: Bulbs,Garden Design
Hydrangea and birdbath fall leaves

Hydrangea and birdbath fall leaves

Hydrangea shrubs have enough room underneath, that you can make a beautiful layered garden by underplanting them with shorter plants. In summer I have some dwarf Campanula (bellflowers) producing purplish blue star shaped flowers in a low carpet under this Hydrangea paniculata. I love the look, and wanted to extend it to spring, so I’ve planted some Chionodoxa forbesii (glory of the snow) bulbs underneath. These early spring bulbs should flower before the bellflowers bloom, with their own version of starry flowers.

Campanula porscharskyana (bellflower) in flower

Campanula porscharskyana (bellflower) in flower

Above is  a photo of  Campanula poscharskyana (Serbian bellflower) from this summer. They start flowering midway through June, and continue intermittently all summer, and into fall. They look especially pretty under the Hydrangea, even before it flowers,  twinkling up through the branches. They are a gorgeous shade of purplish blue, with five narrow petals and white towards the centre. These bellflowers grows quite low to the ground, so they don’t interfere with the Hydrangea branches, and they fill the bare area underneath with beauty. Then in August and September, when the Hydrangea blooms in white, the little blue flowers of the Campanula look lovely paired with the large panicles. However, there are no flowers underneath the shrub before mid June, just the bellflower foliage.

Chionodoxa luciliae (glory of the snow) flowers spring

Chionodoxa luciliae (glory of the snow) flowers spring

I  added some glory of the snow bulbs to bring some early blooms to this area. The blue stars are reminiscent of the Campanula and should have a similar effect. These have six petals, a dark line down each petal, and a white centre. The Chionodoxa luciliae start flowering during May in my zone 3 garden, so the Chionodoxa forbesii should start the colour show early too, before the bellflowers. These two Chionodoxa species seem interchangeable now. The pretty blue bulbs will bring some spring cheer, while the Hydrangea stems are still leafless. Then when the glory of the snow flowers fade, the bellflower groundcover should easily hide the slender bulb foliage as it dies back for the season. Usually the  Chionodoxa foliage disappears quickly.

planting Chionodoxa forbesii (glory of the snow)bulbs

planting Chionodoxa forbesii (glory of the snow)bulbs

Here is one of the bulb planting holes, in between the Campanula poscharskyana plants. I dug narrow holes among the perennials, to minimize the root damage. Then I planted 5 to 10 bulbs in each hole. Altogether I planted 50 Chionodoxa forbesii, but I could have planted more. These bulbs cover the  ground under the front half of the Hydrangea, and a bit around the sides. I could plant another 50 to really carpet the ground under the PG Hydrangea.

fall leaves under Hydrangea

fall leaves under Hydrangea

The fall leaves were already covering the garden bed, as I watered in the newly planted bulbs. This will be some of my last outdoor gardening fun for the year, since the temperatures are so cool now. It is probably a little late to be planting bulbs in zone 3, but the weather warmed above freezing this week, the bulbs were on sale, and the picture of more blue flowers was running through my mind. Soon, a white quilt will be spread over top of the brown and green patchwork one. However, come spring, the flower parade will start as soon as the snow melts, and the early spring bulbs bloom.

16 Responses to “Underplanting Hydrangea with Spring Bulbs” »

  1. Tatyana :
    October 26, 2009 at 9:30 am

    I always find somethig useful in your posts that I can apply in my own garden. Thank you!

  2. Noelle (azplantlady) :
    October 26, 2009 at 9:37 am

    Hello,

    I absolutely love this idea! I would think you could also do this with other shrubs. What a way to dress up the sometimes boring bottom of shrubs. Please be sure to post photos in the spring when the bulbs flower.

  3. liz :
    October 26, 2009 at 11:15 am

    Lovely idea!

    You have very similar plants to me… In fact I have all three! :)

    I look forward to spring pictures of the combination… Now if only the months would fly by!

  4. Helen at Toronto Gardens :
    October 26, 2009 at 11:59 am

    Great suggestion. And I have just the place to try it out, too! Thanks.

  5. Northern Shade :
    October 26, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    Tatyana, you are fortunate to have more planting weather still with your gardening season. I bet you can be planting bulbs for a while yet.

    Noelle, I really like the way the blue belflowers look as they appear under the Hydrangea branches, and now I’m looking forward to more blue blooms from the bulbs. It’s a good way to squeeze extra flowers into the garden.

    Liz, my gardening twin, I love all three of these plants. Blue and white flowers are some of my favourites in the garden. I half picture spring as I look at this garden area now, although the leaves in the birdbath tell another story.

    Helen, the Chionodoxa don’t seem to mind a bit of shade, so they should do well under the shrub, and they will get more light in spring before the Hydrangea leafs out. The Campanula poscharskyana do well in the part shade under a shrub too.

  6. Nell Jean :
    October 26, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    Why didn’t I think of this? Someone took up the idea of planting caladiums among hydrangeas when I showed green and white caladiums with variegated hydrangeas.

    I have hydrangeas, I can get bulbs. I may have to use bulbs better suited to my climate, but they are numerous. Thank you for this wonderful suggestion.

  7. Deborah at Kilbourne Grove :
    October 26, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    The chionodoxa will look gorgeous when it flowers. I know what you mean when you say you could have planted another 50. I planted 50 scilla two falls ago, this spring it looked like nothing, so I planted another 100 this fall.

  8. Martha :
    October 26, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    What a wonderful idea! I have a garden that I’m just building, so suggestions like this are exactly what I’m looking for! Thanks for sharing this.

  9. Northern Shade :
    October 26, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    Nell Jean, the 3 types of plants time sharing this space will probably enjoy the leaf mold, as it decomposes. I have some Scilla bulbs under other Hydrangea in the front garden, and they thrive too.

    Deborah, the small bulbs can really disappear in the garden, you need lots for them to show, or to plant in small pockets by the door. The tiny bulbs, like Scilla, Chionodoxa, and Puschkinia are some of my favourites in the spring garden. I added to my other groups this fall too.

    Martha, it would be great to plant them when first planting the Hydrangea, as you could do it with minimal disturbance to the shrub roots. I planted in pockets, to minimize disruption underground for the bellflowers and Hydrangea.

  10. Lynne :
    October 27, 2009 at 8:28 am

    I love all these ideas and haven’t yet planted bulbs this year! One thing I find very difficult in planting bulbs is doing so without interfering with my perennial roots. I get frustrated by this each year and end up planting a limited amount of bulbs.

  11. Rebecca @ In The Garden :
    October 27, 2009 at 11:36 am

    Terrific post, what a great idea to maximize use of space. The blue flowers must be stunning under the white blooms. I look forward to seeing your spring flowers. Your hydrangea still looks lovely.

  12. Northern Shade :
    October 27, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    Lynne, it would be easier to plant them when the perennials are initially planted, but the timing doesn’t always work, or I don’t think of the right combination at the time. I’ve managed to fit them into the spaces in between, but it would be more difficult with really thickly planted perennials with a mat of tough roots.

    Rebecca, I like the faded blooms on the Hydrangea, when the rest of the garden starts to look bare. I appreciate the earliest spring bulbs after the bareness of winter, so I squeeze more in every year.

  13. The Garden Ms. S :
    October 27, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    I love this idea of layering plants so they fill a spot at different times – especially something for the spring when we really need some colour.

  14. Northern Shade :
    October 27, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    The Garden Ms. S, the spring bulbs give a big lift, especially when they pop up and bloom shortly after the snow melts. The Chionodoxa bloom right after the Galanthus (snowdrops) and Puschkinia (striped squills) in my garden. I watch for those little bulbs very eagerly in the spring, and make many trips out to watch their petals unfurl.

  15. Shady Gardener :
    October 28, 2009 at 11:45 am

    Northern Shade, You will LOVE the fruits of your labor this coming Spring!! And we will, too, if you post some photos. :-) How are you?? I’m sorry I’ve been negligent in my visiting. Busy days, I guess.

  16. Northern Shade :
    October 28, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    Shady Gardener, it is a lot of fun planting in the fall, and anticipating what the garden will look like next year. I enjoy digging in the soil, rearranging perennials, and adding new plants and bulbs. Then, next year, you get to see how the garden beds turned out, and how you might improve them. One of the great aspects of gardening, is that it is never static; Everything changes over time.

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