Minor bulbs have a major impact in spring gardens

Erin Schanen

Pity the under appreciated minor bulbs. Even the name diminishes their standing in the garden, but northern gardens would be dismal without them.

The name apparently references the size of the bulbs and the plants that grow from them, but it could be taken to mean minor bulbs are somehow less important than the spring bulbs we all fixate on like tulips, daffodils and alliums.

I’ve decided that after the spring we’re enduring, minor bulbs deserve to have a major presence in the garden because they are doing nothing less than keeping gardeners, at least this one, sane.

This loose grouping of fall-planted, spring blooming bulbs that include winter aconite (Eranthus), Crocus, Grecian windflower (Anemone blanda), Iris reticulata and snowdrops (Galanthus) tend to be among the earliest bloomers, which means that they are providing color and interest just when us northern gardener think that if we see one more gray landscape we’ll sell the house and head south.

The winter aconites, which have been blooming in their telltale color I like to call “ray of sunshine” for at least three weeks in my garden, were joined by a showstopping blue and purple Iris reticulata last weekend, creating the best spring color combination you could ask for. 

At about 5 inches tall, the iris hovers over the even shorter aconites, but the lack of height makes no difference because the pairing draws you in from across the yard. If they flowered alongside big, bossy daffodils, they’d be lost in the shuffle.

Soon Anemone blanda will be providing a white and cornflower blue carpet near the oak tree, its heavily serrated leaves already giving a hint as to where I can expect to see flowers, which is an area that is much larger than when they were planted a couple years ago.

And that’s another charming aspect of these smaller bulbs. Many are good naturalizes, so in time they will casually mosey across the garden or can be easily transplanted to a new spot.

One of the finest qualities of minor bulbs, in addition to their early blooming nature, is that their small stature means that you won’t need to worry about ugly foliage as they die back for the season, unlike their showier cousins that taunt gardeners with their hideous yellowing foliage for weeks after they flower.

Warm temperatures will bring the big-flowering bulbs out soon, which means the minor bulbs are about to be forgotten for another year.

Maybe we can take a step toward giving these minor bulbs the credit they deserve by making a note to plant many of them in fall for a major impact next spring.


Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

Ozaukee Press

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.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login