Garden Bloggers Design Workshop – Bulbs (particularly early ones)

[Thanks as usual to Nan Ondra for organizing and hosting the Garden Bloggers Design Workshop over at Gardening Gone Wild.]

When it comes to designing in space, I’m not much good. Even Felder Rushing’s advice to just group ’roundy, spiky and frilly’ together is a little too intentional for me. Don’t even get me started on ‘bad’ color combinations I’ve foisted on the world.

But when it comes to designing in time, I am intentional about having something interesting to get me outside as early in the season as possible. With our gray winters and often surly springs, anything that blooms in March and April is especially welcome. So the advice I most often offer to folks is: Plant more early-flowering spring ephemerals. You won’t regret it.

Some of my favorites include (in rough order of flowering here, depending on where they’re situated):

Cyclamen coum:










double snowdrop





Iris reticulata:

Iris reticulata

iris reticulata

Iris histrioides ‘Katharine Hodgkin’:

Iris histrioides ‘Katharine Hodgkin’









Double bloodroot:

double bloodroot

double bloodroot



Trout lily

trout lily

trout lily

A few other bulb design notes …

Some folks rescue pets. I rescue tulips. We have too many deer and other hungry critters in our neighborhood to justify investing much in tulips. But I do collect pots of spent forced tulips from co-workers who think I’m crazy. And instead of dumping them in the compost, I hold them until fall (by which time I’ve forgotten what color they are) and plant them around. If they live, great. If they get eaten, nothing lost except my time. The clownish color combinations are cheery mid-spring:

rescued tulips

If you want to go all-out, you can plant a bulb labyrinth, like this one at the Bluegrass Lane Turf and Landscape Research Facility at Cornell.

bulb labyrinth

In addition to the spring ephemerals and rescued tulips, I should also mention that I count Nectaroscorum among my favorite flowers.


Oh, and when it comes to the ‘Is it OK to paint allium seedheads?‘ question, I weigh in on the yes side, even though I don’t paint my own. (I’ll be posting a video on the subject very soon.)

painted alliums

And finally, a shamelss plug: If you work with children or youth or on community beautification projects, you might be interested in The Bulb Project website, which features activities and other educational resources. (Full disclosure: It’s a freelance project that I work on.)

One of the activities is Create a digital photo collage, which provides instructions for how to do the bloom day scans that I do each month here at Ellis Hollow.

bloom day scan
Larger view

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8 thoughts on “Garden Bloggers Design Workshop – Bulbs (particularly early ones)”

  1. You are quite right about having early bloomers. Just look at those in the snow and ice. Why wouldn’t someone want such things??

  2. J’aime beaucoup la couleur de cet Iris histrioides “Katharine Hodgkin ‘ !
    Pour ma part, février-mars est souvent sous 50cm de neige et pour moi, les bulbes de fleurs printanières ne doivent pas être trop précoces ! Je ne suis jamais à l’abri de nouvelles chutes de neige jusqu’à fin avril! :-((

  3. Simply stunning, Craig. Some of those closeups are practically 3-D! I could hardly choose a favorite as I scrolled down, but I think I’d have to go with the emerging sanguinaria. And yay for the multi-colored allium seedheads: what fun! Thanks so much for suggesting and contributing to this month’s Design Workshop topic at Gardening Gone Wild. We may not have had many responses, but we definitely got some good links from other bulb lovers.

  4. I so agree about the early bulbs. Nothing beats them when it comes to places where winter hangs on and on. I’m also hooked on Martagon lilies. And now I must rush off to find out how to do those marvelous digital collages.

  5. I’m with you. I don’t “plan” gardens so much as put stuff in and enjoy the results.

    This is an inspirational post for me. I love having early spring bloomers, and the crocuses and snowdrops fill the bill here. I wish I had the eranthus; I have planted it twice now and neither time did it come up in the spring. I’m not sure what I am doing wrong but your picture of it in the snow inspires me to try once again.

    I surely enjoyed your post, Craig.

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