Landscaping with bulbs

John Bryan
Fri, 10 Oct 2003 11:52:52 PDT
Dear All:

Unless one has a garden where bulbs are featured in a landscape, such as
Keukenhof, bulbs, in my opinion, are best used to compliment existing
plantings, not be counted upon to be the only plants to provide color at
any given season but to provide additional interest. Mass plantings of
evergreen bulbs, Agapanthus, Dieties, Hemercallis, can stand alone in a
bed and provide permanent plantings, but if the bulbs loose their
foliage, a void during certain periods of the year is not attractive.
True, parks such as Mitchel Park in Durban, various city parks in
England and elsewhere use bulbs to add color and interest, they are
correctly used to add interest to the area but used in conjunction with
other plants, pansies, Forget-me-not, being more of less classic
In my opinion using Hyacinthoides to augment the color of a border of
Azaleas, or planted to naturalize under deciduous trees, Crocus in lawn
areas and Narcissus planted to naturalize are great examples of using
bulbs effectively in the landscape. But the genera that can be used in
such ways, is rather limited and demanding of a good space being
It is a different story when one considers the overall landscape of the
majority of gardens. In such cases, Lilies to prolong the flowering
period among spring flowering shrubs, bold clumps to give periods of
color among established plantings of other plants, Eranthis to give
early spring color and providing color contrasts with the colored stems
of Japanese Maples when the Maples are without leaves, Cyclamen to
provide groundcover interest in the fall and early winter in shady
spots, are good examples of the effective use of bulbs in the landscape.
In such situations they excel and contribute greatly to the landscape
combining with other plants to increase interest, color and pleasure.
Simply planted without other plants, such are not as effective. 
Gladiolus planted among summer flowering annuals add much with their
foliage and flowers, contrasting well WITH the other plants. They are
then much more effective than by themselves. 
Landscaping with bulbs is then, again in my opinion, most effective when
viewed with other, perhaps more permanent denizens of the garden.
Finding such combinations is a pleasure and a challenge. The number of
the bulbs planted in groupings means being cognizant of the scale of the
landscape in which they are to perform. On a small scale perhaps 9 bulbs
will make a significant splash, in other larger areas to be in scale and
contribute, as such will need to be appreciated from a distance, perhaps
90 will be needed. Scale must be remembered, such will dictate the size
of plantings. There are exceptions, Cardiocrinum giganteum can stand
alone almost as specimen plants, but such is not the rule for the
majority of bulbs, scale is a factor that must be kept in mind in any
landscape. Perhaps thinking of bulbs as providing points of interest,
contributing to the overall interest of the garden, and the size of
plantings being in scale is a basic ingredient, essential factor, when
using bulbs in the landscape. Cheers, John E. Bryan

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