I’ve been adding more of the smaller spring bulbs to my garden this fall. These are easy to tuck into a garden bed, in between perennials. When the bulbs die back by summer, the perennials will take their place, extending the flowering time. I’ve expanded some established groups of bulbs, adding more for a splashier spring show. In the photo above, you can see the Galanthus (snowdrops), Puschkinia (striped squills) and Scilla (squills) bulbs from left to right.
I did most of my bulb planting in September, before my zone gets much frost. This gives the bulbs a chance to settle in before the cold temperatures stop the growth. During the past few weeks, the temperatures went above freezing, and I saw some bulbs on sale. I planted some more of my favourites in the garden. November is a little late in the season to be adding bulbs in zone 3, but the ones I added late last year survived, so I’m optimistic again this year.
Many of the little bulbs have smaller foliage that fades away quickly, like these Scilla. After the blooms have gone, the bulb leaves need to photosynthesize, but larger leaves can look messy as they decay. The short, narrower leaves of the littlest bulbs are more easily hidden by surrounding perennials, and also die back quickly. They can store up energy for next year, without looking too unkempt.
The smaller bulbs look especially charming in spring, when very few plants are blooming. Before the attention grabbing perennials start to flower, you can appreciate the elfin charm of the dainty blooms. The Puschkina scilloides are less than 15 cm (6 in) tall, and at any other time of the year they would be hidden in the garden, but they stand out when there is very little foliage around. They look eye-catching when planted in large groups, but can be appreciated in a small group, if they are planted next to the steps, or in a corner near a path.
I added some more of the earliest bulb of all, Galanthus elwesii (snowdrops), with the charming white petals. The tiny snowdrop bulbs can be planted fairly close together, and these definitely need a large group, or tight planting to show up well. These are planted at the edge of a larger group of Galanthus.
Here is a snowdrop flower from last May. As the first blooms in the spring garden, the Galanthus get lots of attention. Those bright outer petals, hide the little green markings, unless you get down for a closeup look. In earliest spring, you can appreciate the subtle details.
The Puschkinia scilloides var libanotica (striped squills) bloom after the Galanthus in my garden. These Puschkinia are some of the showiest of the petite bulbs. They have large clusters of small blue and white petals. I have some Puschkinia scilloides ‘Alba’ that bloom in all white too. They are nice, but I prefer the lively little blue racing stripes of these bulbs.
The Puschkinia bulbs can be planted close, a few cm apart, so the flowers almost touch each other, and display well. In the photo above, I’m adding these between Brunnera plants, next to an established patch of striped squills. The group looked great last spring, but I thought it could be larger. I dig a shallow hole, and put about 20 of the bulbs in it, with their points up. Then dig another hole between the next perennials. They get covered up with soil, watered in, and next a layer of fall leaves over top.
The blue Scilla siberica (squills) bloom soon after the striped squills. These look fantastic paired with other white or blue flowers. Even the bulbs themselves have a purplish blue covering when you plant them. The actual flowers have have a true blue colour, as shown in the picture second from the top.
Here is a typical spring picture from a northern garden, little Puschkinia snow cones, from last May. The tiny flowers of the small bulbs usually recover quickly from a spring snow, and continue to look good when the sun shines again. This is probably one of the best reasons for planting these hardy bulbs.
Earlier this fall I wrote about planting some crocus bulbs, pairing the small Muscari (grape hyacinth) bulbs with tulips, and underplanting shrubs with Chionodoxa (glory of the snow) bulbs. When there is very little new green foliage in early spring, it is fun to wander around the garden, looking for the latest bulbs to bloom. I’ll be ready for spring to burst with colour, after the monotones of winter.