At 03:33 PM 8/14/2004 -0700, Jane McGary wrote: >What plants -- ornamental or edible -- do others sow over their bulb beds? Before answering this question, let me make and emphasize a distinction which is very important in our climate. Bulbs here fall naturally into two groups: 1) those which survive and increase when left in the ground all year ("garden bulbs" in my view) and 2) all the others, hardy or tender. Sadly, the second group is the larger and includes many of the most interesting bulbs. And another basic point: we all vary with respect to the degree of trouble to which we are willing to go. I took Jane's question to include an element of labor saving (but maybe that's not what she meant). Furthermore, I want a "natural" effect - maybe a ridiculous thing for a gardener to say, if only because gardeners are one of Nature's implacable enemies. What I mean by "natural effect" is a cycle of growth which imitates in some ways that of the natural world. Not for me those arrangements where the boy appears weekly to rip out the pansies - so "last week" - and replace them with stocks - and so on all summer. Those who can afford that sort of thing should just cut to the quick and buy dozens of name-card holders and put those in their flower beds holding up the ultimate green manure of our culture, those pictures of dead presidents. Andrew Jackson's aquiline stare might even scare away some garden pests. For the second group, whose most important member is the tulip, sowing or planting over the bulbs is not likely to produce good results unless you go to considerable expense or trouble. The bulbs have to be dug, and any companion plants are likely to suffer from the disturbance. Tulips left in the ground start to rot in early June, so there is not much of a window for companion plants. Many of the plants traditionally recommended for this use are, in our climate, burn-out annuals, i.e. plants which are adapted to start under cold/cool conditions and which close up shop as soon as the hot, humid weather arrives. Typical examples are pansies, forget-me-nots, poppies in general, stocks, night-scented-stocks, Calendula, Nigella, larkspurs and so on. If you grow these over your bulbs, you will probably have to postpone digging the bulbs long enough to endanger the bulbs. These annuals do provide a secondary wave of color, and many gardeners do overplant with them. But to do so is to endanger the tulips - or to present yourself with the hard decision of choosing between the by then sere and perhaps dimly remembered tulips and a bed of six foot larkspurs in their full glory. In any case, by July you will be wishing you had planted something else - or at any rate looking for something to fill the gaps as the burn-out annuals slump. For those of you who don't mind, go for it! The sort of strict management which allows continuous color requires in our climate a sort of military rotation of the troops: as soon as each bit of color fades, new fresh troops are brought in to fight the battle. That means either that there are reserve beds whose developing plants serve to replenish the main display bed, or there are periodic and expensive trips to the local garden center. We all have to decide for ourselves whether the expense is worth the result. Jane's question concerned plants suitable for growing over bulb beds - and I take that to mean beds where the dormant bulbs are still in residence. I've toyed with this question for years. It's a natural one for the bulbist because so many bulbs are summer dormant. In this garden, long experience has led me to certain practices which make sense and, although they involve compromises, give satisfying results. Initially, it seemed to make sense to try to combine vernal bulbs with late blooming perennials. Some such combinations do work, but a surprisingly large percentage of late blooming perennials make their presence known in the garden very early in the year. In other words, they are competing with the bulbs for space and light. Autumn anemones are a good example. If you do mix bulbs with non-bulbous perennials, group the bulbs; and group them in masses large enough that when they are dormant, you are left with a broad area for filling in with some bedding plant. This avoids the spotty look you'll get if the bulbs are scattered among other perennials. Many plants used as annuals always look like annuals no matter how you handle them. On the other hand, many will harmonize with perennials well if given room and if planted in sizable masses. Incidentally, the harmony I'm alluding to here is not color harmony, but rather harmony of growth form. The main problems with grouping annuals (or plants used as annuals) and perennials seem to arise from their typically different growth cycles and rates. You'll soon learn that the shape of a burgeoning annual is protean. So what's left if you want to overplant bulbs which are left in the ground? For that use, there is one plant which in my experience is superlative: Begonia grandis (B. evansiana). Why is this plant so much better than the many other plants which seem to fit the bill? The main advantage presented by the Begonia is that it is very late to start into growth. The bulbs - assuming they are vernal bulbs - grow and die down without a bit of competition from this plant. The Begonia starts to push up at about the time the bulb foliage is collapsing. They are an ideal compliment. The Begonia grows best in very bright light or partial sun; it's definitely less good in deep shade (although it is one of those plants generally cursed with the description "shade-tolerant"). In full sun, the Begonia foliage can burn a bit, but if anything such plants grow more vigorously. It has what it takes to take over chosen real estate: it's not weedy here, but it does stake out a claim and hold on to it. The Begonia will be a presence in the garden until heavy frost or even after - the drying stems with their dangling seed capsules are not unattractive. Because of this prolonged season, it's not a good choice for use over autumnal Sternbergia, Colchicum, Crocus, Cyclamen or other low growing plants. It is ideal with daffodils, squills, hyacinths, ornithogalums and anything else which is up early and gets its business over with by late May or early June. Some of the Lycoris squamigera in the garden grow with the Begonia over them: it's a good combination, especially in those years when the first Begonia flowers are open with the Lycoris. That's my best candidate. And I'm experimenting with others: for instance, there are bulb beds here which are covered with glass during the summer. Rather than look at bare dirt, I'm experimenting with hardy succulents. Presumably they need some moisture, but otherwise the dry, brightly lit conditions should suit them. Also, I have my eye on those purportedly hardy South African mesembryanthemaceous plants such as Delospermum. In my experience, these have not been reliable in the open garden. But maybe with the glass over them they will find conditions more to their liking. What are others doing? Jim McKenney jimmckenney2starpower.net Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where much of the garden is planted "old-world-cemetery" style, i.e. with the newcomers put in over the oldtimers.