Bulbs That Belong Together

Bulbs That Belong Together

Every year, we look forward to September when our annual shipment of fall-planted bulbs arrives at the Patio. Not only are they beautiful, but they couldn't be easier to plant — just pop them in the ground wherever you want a bit of spring color in your garden! We're proud to offer one of the widest selections of bulbs in the Portland area, with unusual varieties that you just won't find at the big box stores, from unusual fritillarias to species tulips and beyond. Walking through the rows of brightly-colored packages, so many design possibilities leap out at us, so we thought we'd put together a few combinations to help inspire you on how to use these beautiful bulbs in your own garden.

Designing with Bulbs

When selecting bulbs for fall planting, color is the place most people start — and it's where we tend to find the most inspiration, too. However, before diving headfirst into the technicolor world of bulbs, don't forget to consider the location you intend to plant them: Bulbs can be tucked into the landscape, planted in seasonal beds, or popped into containers, and each situation will influence your design choices differently.

Two other factors to consider are bloom time and height, and interestingly, these two are somewhat related. Broadly speaking, smaller-statured bulbs tend to flower earlier, and when you think about it, this makes sense: Because they are planted closer to the surface, they wake up more quickly, and they take less time to reach flowering height from there. With a little planning, you can have a progression of bulbs blooming virtually year-round. Bulb season tends to start off with the snowdrops and crocuses, then muscari and hyacinths, followed by daffodils and tulips, and finally the large-flowered alliums. There are, of course, other bulbs — and exceptions to every rule — but that's why it's good to read up on the bulbs you're considering. (In other words, if you're banking on your purple crocuses coordinating with your alliums, you might want to find another bulb or two to bridge the gap!)

Thinking beyond bulbs, ask yourself what other colors and textures will be present in your garden when your bulbs come into bloom, then try to play off of those. In a seasonal container or bed, you have more control over these elements than in the landscape, so use that to your advantage. In fact, one of our favorite uses for fall-planted bulbs is in containers because of the infinite possibilities. When planted beneath perennials and cool-season annuals, you can extend the show with a magical "spring surprise" when your bulbs emerge. And because they are more temporary, containers are also great places to be a bit more experimental and try out new combinations from year-to-year. You can even move the show around your garden if you want! 

You can keep your design simple and clean with similar colors or go big and bold with contrasting hues, but don't forget about form, too. Using bulbs with different heights and textures is a great way to create visual interest, and this is especially true when you are otherwise using a constrained palette of colors. This can be achieved by planting various kinds of bulbs or taking advantage of differently shaped varieties of a particular type — think feathery parrot tulips versus tapered, lily-flowered varieties or abundant, double-flowering varieties. The possibilities are endless!

Check out the groupings below for a bit of inspiration to get your creative juices flowing.

Sunset Hues

  • Tulipa 'Ballerina'
  • Tulipa 'Amazing Parrot'
  • Tulipa 'Daydream'
  • Tulipa 'Norah'
  • Hyacinthus 'Aiolos'
  • Hyacinthus 'Jan Bos'
  • Narcissus 'Sweet Ocean'

Color and texture abound in this first grouping of bulbs that plays up bright oranges and pinks. This mix is heavy on tulips, but encompasses a variety of heights and textures. Hyacinths in the same color palette should start the show, with the unusual double-flowered daffodil 'Sweet Ocean' and tulips following shortly behind, creating beautiful layers of bloom.

Here's a design tip: When paired with bright colors, white can tone down the drama, but with darker hues, it can have the opposite effect, as in the next example.


Checkerboard Bulbs

  • Allium ‘Red Mohican’
  • Fritillaria ‘Ivory Bells’
  • Fritillaria meleagris
  • Tulipa ‘Black Hero’

This dramatic planting is inspired by the game of checkers — or chess, if you prefer! This planting's restrained palette plays up the theme with blooms of ivory and red-black. (We think it would be simply stunning in a container with dark-foliaged heucheras.) The checkerboard pattern is even made literal in the form of Fritillaria meleagris, which features uniquely patterned blooms that look... well, like a checkerboard!

Bulbs for Naturalizing

  • Crocus ‘Firefly’
  • Tulipa ‘Hilde’
  • Narcissus ‘Golden Bells’
  • Allium ‘Mountain Bells’
  • Eranthis cilicica
  • Galanthus elwesii

If you're looking to plant bulbs in the landscape, we think this grouping would look particularly stunning along a woodland edge, either together or separately. These are mostly smaller bulbs — many of them species or cultivars of species — that are not only graceful, but have the capacity to spread lightly around and create beautiful drifts of blooms over time. This particular grouping focuses on pinks, whites, and yellows, and also has the benefit of being rather early-blooming. Eranthis in particular will beat the snowdrops to the punch in a normal year, playing off of winter-blooming shrubs like witchhazels.

Pretty in Pink (and Purple)

  • Tulipa ‘Candy Prince’
  • Tulipa ‘Purple Crystal’
  • Allium ‘Rosy Dream’
  • Allium schubertii
  • Anemone ‘Bordeaux’
  • Muscari ‘Pink Sunrise’

These aren't your typical bubblegum hues, and we love that about them. Dusty lavender-pinks and red-purples define this dramatic mix, which also doubles up on architectural alliums. Even if the muscari have long faded by the time the later flowers burst onto the scene, their pink hue heralds the display to come.

Late Bloomers

  • Lycoris radiata
  • Eremurus ‘Pinokkio’
  • Iris ‘Lion King’
  • Nectaroscordum siculum
  • Ranunculus (Mixed)
  • Iris ‘Fringe of Gold’

This grouping of bulbs (okay, some of them are technically rhizomes, corms, or tubers, but for the sake of simplicity, we're lumping them into the bulb category for now) is well-suited for the landscape, offering a long season of warm-toned blooms that also happens to start fairly late in the season. The ranunculus will start their flower show April before being joined by the irises, and by early summer, the eremerus and nectaroscordum will take up the floral mantle, offering dramatic, architectural blooms and quite a bit of height. The scarlet lycoris will send up foliage that will wake up and die back with the bulbs, but in fall its inflorescence will make an appearance, reminding you of the other bulbs that have since faded at their feet.

Peachy Keen Petals

  • Narcissus ‘Perfect Lady’
  • Tulipa ‘Lambada’
  • Narcissus ‘Waltz’
  • Hyacinthus ‘Gipsy Queen’
  • Tulipa ‘Northcap’

Daffodils don't just come in yellow and white anymore. Now, oranges, peaches, and pinks have entered the mix! This grouping of bulbs takes advantage of these advancements in breeding, playing peach-cupped daffodils off of sunset-hued tulips. It's a scrumptious pairing underpinned by a light peach hyacinth, and rounded out with a creamy white tulip thrown into the mix — just peachy, if you ask us.

Purple Powerhouse Bulbs

  • Hyacinthus ‘Peter Stuyvesant’
  • Narcissus ‘Thalia’
  • Tulipa ‘Blueberry Ripple’
  • Allium ‘Purple Sensation’
  • Hyacinthus ‘Caribbean Dream’
  • Camassia ‘Blue Melody’
  • Anemone blanda
  • Crocus ‘Prince Claus’
  • Muscari ‘Grape Ice’

As you can see, we got rather excited by the idea of a spring planting filed with rich purples and whites. This grouping isn't for a small space, but it would be beautiful in a seasonal bed, and you could absolutely curate from within it to create a smaller grouping for a container. The low-growing anemones create a carpet of blooms for the larger bulbs to push up through, starting with the crocus, muscari, and hyacinths and culminating with the tulips, daffodils, and alliums. Plus, in the middle, 'Blue Melody' camassia provides not only beautiful starry blooms, but variegated foliage to boot!

Offbeat Yellows and Blues

  • Narcissus ‘Sunny Side Up’
  • Leucojum ‘Gravetye Giant’
  • Narcissus ‘Teal’
  • Scilla ‘Spring Beauty’
  • Iris ‘Katharine Hodgkin’

Blue and yellow is a quintessential bulb color combination — everyone has seen grape hyacinths and daffodils planted together, after all. And while there is nothing wrong with sticking to the classics, if you're looking for something fresh, this grouping of bulbs offers something unexpected. The yellow of these daffodils leans towards green, and the unusual ice-blue of the dwarf iris 'Katharine Hodgkin' offers a stunning prelude.

At Cornell Farm, we have a wide selection of fall-planted bulbs available for you to browse in store each year, generally beginning in mid-September. We also carry a variety of bulb planting tools and specially-formulated organic bulb fertilizer to feed your bulbs at planting time. Our knowledgeable team members would be happy to assist you in picking out the perfect varieties for your garden and are always available to answer any questions about their care.