Companion plants to Bulbs--TOW

Jane McGary
Mon, 13 Oct 2003 10:43:43 PDT
As I've mentioned before, I grow the great majority of my bulbs in frames, 
so "companion planting" isn't an issue there. However, I do grow a lot of 
more common bulbs in the garden, and here are some ideas that have worked 
for me.

1. When you see photos of tulips in the wild, they're blooming at snowmelt 
time, with dry grasses around them. This effect can be suggested by 
planting the brown New Zealand sedges such as Carex petriei and 
interplanting them with bright species tulips (T. hageri has proven 
especially perennial here, also T. tarda and T. urumiensis). These sedges 
are invasive by seed in some climates, though not in my garden. Other bulbs 
that are attractive in this setting are Iris reticulata and Muscari 
latifolium (invasive in some climates, not here). Another grass that can be 
used this way is Deschampsia caespitosa, which does not "run."

2. Muscari azureum and M. armeniacum are not always to be feared, as long 
as you plant them under large shrubs and trees where their increase and 
lank foliage will not annoy you. Here they grow (in addition to places I 
wish they didn't) under a border of small ornamental trees and shrubs such 
as Acer griseum, Cornus mas, Stewartia, and Viburnum burkwoodii. The area 
can be sprayed with Round-up when the Muscari is dormant to hold down the 
weeds. This setting is also appropriate for Cyclamen hederifolium. (C. coum 
is more often grown in shady rock gardens in this region.)

3. If you, too, have made the mistake of planting sweet woodruff (Galium 
odoratum), you can plant Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides campanulata) 
under it. Use the pink or blue kind. This robust bulb flowers at the same 
time as the woodruff and is just as ineradicable.

4. Spreading dwarf shrubs can provide just enough winter protection for 
winter-growing foliage of marginally hardy bulbs. I have some Muscari 
macrocarpum doing well under the contorted form of Chaenomeles (flowering 
quince), although this species is not generally regarded as very cold-hardy.

5. In this cool Mediterranean climate, I have found the best Narcissus for 
naturalizing in rough grass are cyclamineus hybrids such as 'February Gold' 
and 'Jenny', and also the species Narcissus pseudonarcissus ssp. (?) 
obvallaris, or "obvallaris," or however one is supposed to call it. They 
tolerate ground water running above them during winter, and complete drying 
in summer.

6. Some regard Crocus tommasinianus as a weed, but it is the best species 
for growing in lawns, because its leaves lie flat, so that mowing doesn't 
bother it as much as it would species with erect leaves. Do buy the named 
deep-colored clones such as 'Whitwell Purple' for best effect.

7. If you don't like to see Colchicum foliage in late spring, hardy 
geraniums will cover it up at the right time -- but be sure not to plant 
the kinds that seed all over (there are a few sterile hybrids).

8. Nepeta mussinii, a low-growing ornamental "catnip," flowers all summer 
and is a good perennial to follow spring bulbs (you can cut it back to the 
base in fall to give the bulbs room). Origanum libanoticum (current name?) 
and its hybrid 'Kent Beauty' can be used in the same way; however, steer 
clear of the taller ornamental oreganos such as 'Herrnhausen', which are 
ferociously invasive. In the rock garden, prostrate shrubby penstemons such 
as P. newberryi serve the same purpose. Lately I've also planted the 
biennial Campanula incurva, a prostrate version of Canterbury bells (C. 
medium), in a bulb bed. Bulbs will grow up through low sedums and the more 
restrained helianthemums. If your climate permits it (mine doesn't), I see 
no reason not to mix spring bulbs with the low-growing Alstroemeria species 
such as A. pallida and A. hookeri, which will bloom later, though that 
still leaves a bare period in late summer; the alstros, given a deep root 
run, will do their growing much deeper than their smaller companions.

Jane McGary
Northwestern Oregon. USA

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