Your Garden Symphony Starts with Spring Bulbs
First published on garden.org on November 5, 2009, by Suzanne DeJohn
Some people describe gardens as paintings -- blank canvases of soil that you "paint" with flowers and foliage plants. I prefer to think of gardens as symphonies. Throughout the growing season, there are crescendos as the showiest plants come into bloom, then quiet spells where the foliage provides a soothing backdrop while you wait for the high drama of the next fanfare. You, the gardener, are the composer and maestro. The plants you choose will dictate when and where you'll have your own botanical drama.
The early spring bulbs are the prelude. Like the opening stanzas of a symphony that focus the attention of the audience, early spring bulbs draw attention to the re-emerging garden. Scilla and crocus herald the start of spring, then daffodils and tulips confirm the fact that the growing season is, indeed, here to stay and the symphony is underway. Planted under spring-flowering trees, such as crabapple, spring bulbs become a dramatic opening statement calling passersby to witness the drama to come.
Joining the bulbs are the spring-flowering shrubs, such as azaleas, that provide bursts of color. Then things quiet down as the summer-bloomers gather strength. A parade of iris, lilies, and crocosmia provide progressive color throughout the summer months, and make good companions for long-blooming perennials such as coreopsis, echinacea, daylily, veronica, and Shasta daisy.
A perennial garden will naturally have lulls when blooms are sparse. Summer-flowering bulbs, such as gladiolus, dahlia, caladium, and begonia, can provide welcome color during these quiet times. If your tastes run to continuous high drama, consider interplanting your gardens with annual flowers. Geraniums, impatiens, flossflower, annual salvias, and petunias will all flower for months if you provide plenty of water and fertilizer and deadhead spent blooms. Some gardeners find these flowers too garish and predictable and feel they take away from the drama of the changing landscape. It's up to you to decide how you want your symphony to play.
Toward late summer some perennials will begin to flag and gardens can begin to look forlorn. Plan to include some late-summer bloomers, such as sedum, ornamental goldenrod, aster, and Joe Pye weed, to fill in the gaps. These plants will bloom into fall, carrying the garden into the quietude of winter. But not before the riot of color provided by the changing fall leaves provides one last hurrah! Trees and shrubs with dramatic fall color not only spark your fall garden, they also provide winter interest, casting long shadows in the January sun, catching snowflakes during winter storms.
Then before you know it, the earliest bulbs will be emerging, signaling the prelude to a new gardening season.
If you want to start your own garden symphony with spring bulbs you'll have to plant them now -- and the sooner the better. Although you can plant crocuses, daffodils, and tulips right up until the ground freezes, earlier planting gives them more time to grow roots, and that means stronger growth and bigger flowers come spring.