Brilliant early spring bulb display exceeds expectations


Intention and a bit of good luck have conspired to offer what I believe is the best spring-flowering bulb display my garden has ever seen. The garden is positively glowing with color far beyond the verdant green typical of the season.

I will take credit for a portion of the success of this year’s spring garden. Rather than plant varieties of daffodils that bloom throughout the spring, I concentrated on varieties that bloom early. This meant that my options were somewhat limited, which is a sacrifice because some of the most interesting daffodil varieties, including double forms that look like roses and split-cup varieties that have an exotic appeal, often bloom later in spring.

The plan last fall was to focus on one great display early in the season rather than a longer but perhaps less impactful show throughout the spring. Bulbs planted over the years that bloom later would provide a trickle of flowers throughout the season.

In a new garden, which is where I focused most of my bulb-planting attention, I planted large collections of ‘Jetfire’ and ‘Silver Smiles’ daffodils along with cheerful grape hyacinths. The effect is better than I could have imagined. By planting in clumps by digging holes with a shovel rather than planting bulbs individually, the garden looks far more mature and the flowers have a bigger impact. The bright colors of the daffodils and muscari with the emerging foliage of plants like penstemon and lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) create a golden hour delight that demands nearly daily strolls through the garden.

I used the same theory in choosing tulips to be planted on the edges of the fenced vegetable garden, the only space where they are safe from the ravages of the four-legged wildlife that delight in nipping them off just as they are about to bloom. By choosing early-blooming varieties, I had to forego most of the fancier parrot tulips and lily-flowering varieties that are so much more interesting than your average tulip. But I know from past experience that I have little interest in any tulip, no matter how fetching, in mid-June. The rainbow of densely planted tulips blooming now probably is not as good as those found at famed public gardens, but it is a true feat in a garden enjoyed as much by deer as people.

I envisioned how the more than 1,500 or so bulbs I planted in fall would look come spring, but it is so satisfying to have a garden plan come together, because they often don’t.

And I have the weather to thank for putting the show over the top. A blast of summerlike temperatures for a couple days two weeks ago spurred many of the bulbs from previous years into blooming before they ordinarily would, meaning that the flowering of the mid-season bulbs coincided with the early-season bulbs. And, even better, when the weather took a quick turn to the cool end of the thermometer and a nice steady soaking rain came through, the life of the flowers was extended.

So for more than a week I’ve been enjoying a garden full of sunshine yellow flowers with a dash of blue, white or even orange. The May garden has never looked so good.



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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