Opinion: Don’t miss the chance to enjoy some really special displays in late winter and spring.Opinion: Don’t miss the chance to enjoy some really special displays in late winter and spring.Read MoreThe Vancouver Sun – RSS Feed

Opinion: Don’t miss the chance to enjoy some really special displays in late winter and spring.

A companion planting of narcissus, tulips and perennial Dicentra spectabilis is a delightful pairing. Photo by Florissa.com /jpg

Reviews and recommendations are unbiased and products are independently selected. Postmedia may earn an affiliate commission from purchases made through links on this page.

As we begin planning our late winter, spring and early summer bulb displays, remember: it’s not only about the bulbs, but also about the effect they can create in our gardens.

Story continues below

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

It’s a huge waste of ‘bulb talent’ to simply plunk them in here-and-there. Their brief blooming period is nice, but their die-down time isn’t. Combining them with complementary companions is a wonderful way of enhancing their own beauty and creating some stunning artistic displays. As an added advantage, the companion plants will cover up any unsightly foliage as the bulbs’ above-ground time draws to an end, thereby keeping planting areas looking fresh.

As for the bulbs themselves, they will be secure, tucked in among their companion plants, and protected from garden tool damage as we weed and change our seasonal displays, and this is a huge bonus. Most bulbs will also benefit from the root systems of other plants drawing away excess moisture during periods of heavy rainfall. Many companion plants, like euphorbias, protect bulbs from rodents. The benefits of companion planting are numerous, so let’s create some great bulb synergy.

Story continues below

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Two of the most challenging situations for bulbs are under trees and quite shady locations. This is where we need to rely on some rather hardy companions. Heucheras and heucherellas are still rather unsung garden heroes. These plant families love shade and partial sun, thrive on neglect, flower, remain evergreen and change colours with the seasons. The secret to success is making sure they have open, porous, well-draining soil and enough moisture, especially in summer, as they often compete with thirsty tree roots.

The rich tapestry of this spring garden features tulips, hyacinths, narcissus, helleborus and ferns. Photo by Florissa.com /jpg

Heucheras, heucherellas and tiarellas are evergreen perennials that provide year-round colour. They now come in a wide range of colours, and many varieties produce attractive flowers in spring. When minor bulbs, like crocuses, muscaris, grape hyacinths and late blooming scillas, are planted among them, these combination plantings create lovely displays, especially when these perennials begin their season with colourful new foliage.

Story continues below

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

From their rich dark burgundy, black and tan-coloured leaves to my favourite hot limes, you can colour match and contrast them with white, pink, yellow or blue bulb blooms to achieve the effect you want. Miniature daffodils, like Golden Bells narcissus and Tete-a-Tete, work in nicely too. All these bulbs will not only repeat their flowering next year but will create a more significant display as the bulbs multiply.

Hostas and ferns also make great companion plants, and although hostas die back in winter, many ferns, like Polystichum setiferum, are evergreen and are natural accompaniments for minor bulbs.

In sunny areas, the many varieties of euphorbias make great companion plants. Euphorbia characias and E. Shorty are particularly great options. These evergreen varieties perform spectacularly year-after-year and provide wonderful accents for all bulbs. When their vibrant chartreuse flowers open up in late winter, another layer of beauty appears. Teamed up with compact white narcissus, such as Thalia, or with early single red, white or yellow tulips, they would be showstoppers.

Story continues below

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Darker foliage varieties, like Euphorbia amygdaloides, would make great partners for soft yellow narcissus and tulips. Even the herbaceous varieties, like E. polychroma and E. griffithii, which die back in winter, would create a stunning display with February Gold narcissus, especially as the new red growth begins to open.

A mix of stately alliums and vibrant yellow tulips brighten this garden. Photo by Florissa.com /jpg

Evergreen ornamental grasses, too, offer a great opportunity for bulb-pairing. I love blue fescues, especially the very intense blue of F. Beyond Blue, combined with white snowdrops, blue and purple crocuses and blue muscari. Together they create a beautiful effect. Evergreen, compact, upright Acorus gramineus Ogon, with its gold and green stripes, is a delight planted with blue-striped or purple crocuses, deep blue muscaris and late flowering blue scillas. For real pop, try short, red botanical tulips, like Tulipa praestans Unicum. Low-growing black mondo grass (Ophiopogon Nigrescens) interplanted with early white minor bulbs, like snowdrops, white-striped, blue puschkinias or white scillas, is pure magic.

Story continues below

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

In many gardens, thyme is used as a groundcover. Silver creeping thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus) is one of the best thymes, and when it’s planted along with yellow aconites, it’s a delightful combination not to be missed. Looking for all the world like miniature buttercups, aconites make sensational displays spread out like a carpet of yellow on a silver background of thyme. One of my favourite groundcover combinations is Sedum Angelina, a gold, evergreen variety, infiltrated with deep purple crocuses.

There are so many ways to combine bulbs with perennials, and I especially love planting late-blooming alliums with taller grasses, such as Allium giganteum with Phalaris Feesey’s Form. The fine, white and green foliage of miscanthus Morning Light is another strong candidate.

Story continues below

This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.

Winter-flowering heathers are a natural partner for early colour. The low-growing varieties of Erica carnea, like Golden Starlet and Kramer’s Red, create quite a sight when paired with white, yellow or blue crocuses and miniature white or yellow narcissus.

Many of our smaller flowering shrubs also make ideal companions for bulbs. I love seeing early flowering PJM rhododendrons, with their bronze foliage and lavender flowers, surrounded with early yellow narcissus. Compact shrub dogwoods (cornus), especially the tiny red stemmed C. Kelsey’s Dwarf and the orange and yellow C. Arctic Sun, make great homes for almost any low-growing narcissus or tulip. Beauty bush (kolkwitzia) is a wonderful match for the blue spikes of Camassia esculenta.

The opportunities to create some amazing bulb combinations, using perennials, shrubs, and groundcovers, exist throughout our gardens. Don’t miss the chance to enjoy some really special displays in late winter and spring.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *