Choosing color schemes for bulbs is not different from choosing color schemes for your house or your clothing. The same rules apply. In fact, the garden can be seen as an extension of your interior.
There are cool and warm colors. All hues have a different impact. The Dutch Masters knew that warm colors tend to “move” towards the viewer and are thus the first things we see, while cold colors move away. To generate contrast, combine cool and warm colors and to create harmonies, combine colors that are close to each other in tone and intensity. In your garden, of course, green will always be part of your color scheme, and white is another color that is hard to avoid.
Repeat colors in all parts of your garden to make it a whole and to create some rest. Professional garden designer’s general rule: limit the number of colors in a display to three, one of which should take up 70% and the others 15% each.
Height is more important from the designer’s point of view than from a technical one. Like a photograph of a group of people, the tallest ones go to the back while the smaller ones stand in front. However, if you think of ancient paintings like a Rembrandt, the composition is less straightforward and a tall person can be found in front.
Of course, height is a function of time: during spring different plants gain length and flower at different moments. Combinations with perennials, shrubs and grass make playing with height a creative game where maximum height and timing are the key factors to consider.
Broadcasting or planting in long drifts is a technique that helps you to obtain a natural look in your garden because it prevents you from planting your bulbs in clusters or rows. This doesn’t mean that it is wrong to plant in this way but broadcasting gives an effect sought by many and found by only a few. What it comes down to is forcing yourself to plant your bulbs randomly. This sounds easy but it isn’t.
When you plant in long drifts (which means exactly the same as broadcasting), you should mix all your bulbs in a basket, grab a good handful and throw it away with a backhand swing, a bit like throwing a Frisbee. The next step is to plant the bulbs where they landed and then the most important part, don’t cheat! You will without a doubt be tempted to pick up the farthest ones and bring them near the rest. Don’t do this because the whole concept is based on absolute randomness. Give it a try and let us know what you think.
Especially in borders bulbs can’t be avoided. They show their splendid colors on a moment when shrubs and perennials just start to develop their leaves. But bulbs become a real eye-catcher in these borders when you make sure to create beautiful combinations with the already existing plants. Wouldn’t you love to brighten up your evergreen Viburnums with a splash of brilliant red tulips ‘Abba’? Or add some color to the first leaves of Hosta and Pulmonaria by mixing them with Narcissus ‘Hawera’ or Scilla siberica ‘Spring Beauty’?
In summer Galtonia candicans and Dahlia‘Arabian Night’ tower above Lady’s mantle and Astrantia and later in the season the soft purple flowers of Crocus speciosus appear like little dots between the autumn-colored leaves of Ceratostigma.
Make sure to imitate nature by scattering the bulbs in groups of various sizes between the perennials. Small groups, alternated by larger groups will give the impression of a harmonious, natural combination.
If your well-trimmed lawn is the treasure of your garden you might not want to ‘spoil’ it with bulbs. But if you were ever mesmerized by a spring meadow with small narcissi you might be tempted to create such a little paradise in your own garden by adding early-flowering spring bulbs like Crocus, Chionodoxa, Puschkinia and Scilla to your lawn. Mix them all in a large basket, scatter them in groups of various numbers on the lawn, plant them where they fall and wait for a miracle: hundreds of tiny flowers in sweet whites, yellows and blues. They all flower in early and mid-spring and will have time to seed and lose their withering foliage before you will have to start mowing for the first time.
You do not need to have a garden to enjoy the magic of bulbs. Most bulbs are easy and grow in containers and tubs as well. So everyone with a roof terrace, a porch or even a small balcony should at least have three containers: one for spring bulbs, one for summer bulbs and one for autumn-flowering bulbs. Very important is the container itself: it should be large enough (at least 10 inches or 25 cm high and wide), have a hole in the bottom to get rid of the excess water and, if it is meant for spring flowering bulbs, be frost-resistant.
Plant the bulbs at the same depth at which they should be planted in the garden and make sure that they do not touch each other. Water them regularly after planting and wait for the surprise.
Sometimes the busy day-to-day life does not give us enough time to work in our garden. In that case, large areas with groundcovers are the best solution. A lot of them, however, like ivy, Acaena and creeping Cotoneaster, have the same appearance all through the year. They are the best example of a group of plants that can easily be upgraded by adding bulbs: long drifts of Narcissi and Hyacinthoides in spring, huge bouquets of Crocosmia and Gladiolus colvillei in summer and a zillion little stars of the yellow Sternbergia in early and mid-autumn turn ordinary green blankets into enchanting colorful tapestries.