Blue is said to be everyone’s favorite color, but it’s often overlooked in the landscape. Ranging from cobalt to sky, sapphire to baby, the tone tends to recede and, especially in spring when the louder reds and yellows of tulips and daffodils clamor for attention, the quieter tones of blue provide soothing background.
No longer. The “river of blue” at Keukenhof Park in The Netherlands is a prime example of the power of blue, as it virtually flows with Muscari armeniacum (grape hyacinth). That’s just one rather famous example, and points or swaths of blue can make a real statement when planted strategically among other bulbs.
Rather than counting on blue bulbs to be a foil for other, more riotous colors, let’s give blue a leading role.
Among the most ubiquitous blue bulbs is Scilla siberica (Siberian squill). This is a favorite of Jack de Vroomen, sales director of de Vroomen Garden Products, which has been growing bulbs and perennials since 1925. de Vroomen says of the tiny bulb: “It is the most intense blue flower that naturalizes easily, and it’s excellent in combination with Tête à Tête narcissus. It’s animal resistant, as well!”
In spring lawns in Chicagoland – as well as other parts of the country – Scilla siberica forms “carpets of blue,” according to bulb expert Jill Selinger, manager of continuing education at the Chicago Botanic Garden. The bulb spreads by underground bulbs and seeds, and Selinger suggests that mowing with a high blade setting before the foliage fades will help to preserve the plants for next year’s bloom.
Six-petaled flowers – in hues ranging from deep to soft blue – nod atop slender, 4- to 8-inch-tall stems. Short, straplike foliage resembles grass, allowing Siberian squill to blend intimately into spring lawns.
Hardy in zones 2 to 8, squill is resistant to deer as well as black walnut.
Of course, there are other blue-blooming bulbs that can serve to highlight the spring and summer garden, and here we suggest a few.
Agapanthus orientalis (lily of the Nile)
Lily of the Nile is a spectacular summer blooming bulb – it’s the iconic blue flower often found gracing boulevards in California. Tall and stately, the plants proudly display globe-shaped blooms atop sturdy stems that reach up to 3-plus-feet tall, although smaller cultivars are gaining in popularity. Clean, arching foliage remains attractive throughout the season, but it’s really the impressive flower that steals the show. (Yes, there are white flowering cultivars, and the combination of blue and white Agapanthus flowers can be a showstopper.)
The cultivar Baby Pete™ is a dwarf variety that reaches only about 12 to 15 inches tall, with the flower stems extending an additional 6 to 8 inches above the foliage. It tends to bloom earlier than its larger cousins – showing flowers from mid-spring into summer – so combining this selection with later blooming lily of the Nile can provide months of color.
Midknight Blue® boasts deep, rich blooms held about 4 feet aloft in mid-spring. With foliage reaching about 2 to 3 feet wide, it’s said to be ideal for smaller, urban gardens.
Agapanthus is generally hardy in warmer zones (8 to 10 or 11), although Midknight Blue® is reliably hardy up to Zone 6.
Allium (ornamental onion, globe onion)
There are so many varieties and colors of Allium that it’s difficult to sort them out, but Allium caeruleum is the most reliably, true blue of the bunch. Similar to Agapanthus in shape and form, this smaller bulb offers striking shades from denim to cobalt. Selinger says that, at about 18 to 24 inches tall, it “dances above the garden” in summer. The small blooms reach about 1 to 1.5 inches wide in late spring to early summer.
Narrow, grasslike, clumping foliage tends to die back before the stalks produce their blue globes, making this slender plant a real exclamation point. Hardy in zones 2 to 10.
Anemone blanda (windflower, Grecian windflower)
Windflower produces a “lovely, daisylike flower with a yellow center that’s more lilac in color, but blue nonetheless,” says Selinger. “Nice, ferny foliage has a burgundy glow underneath the leaves and on the stems,” accenting the short plant, which typically reaches only about 4 to 6 inches tall. Flowers cover the plant in early spring.
Good for use in rock gardens or the perennial border, Anemone blanda will naturalize if allowed, and is resistant to deer and black walnut, so a woodland setting is ideal. It’s generally hardy in zones 5 to 8.
Chionodoxa luciliae (glory of the snow)
As one might expect of its common name, Chionodoxa luciliae is among the first bulbs to bloom in spring, often emerging before the last of the snows have melted. Two to three narrow basal leaves emerge first, followed by a 6-inch-tall flower stalk that supports three to six, pale blue, starlike flowers with white centers.
Selinger says that both C. luciliae and its cousin, C. forbesii, are “excellent for sprinkling around under shrubs and borders for early spring color,” although C. luciliae is “the best of the genus to naturalize in short grass.”
Glory of the snow is hardy in zones 3 to 8.
Granted, everyone knows crocus. But not everyone’s familiar with C. tommasinianus, or Tommy crocus, which, according to Selinger, “is squirrel resistant – not squirrel proof.” Although the color, she says, can lean more toward a bluish lavender, it is an early blooming blue bulb that differ slightly from its close cousin, C. chrysanthus (snow crocus), which tends to be “a squirrel and chipmunk buffet item.”
Growing only about 2 to 3 inches tall, these miniature tuliplike blooms emerge in early to mid-spring from amid short, grasslike leaves. Crocus, in general, is hardy in zones 3 to 8.
Ipheion uniflorum (spring starflower)
Starflower is another small selection, growing only to about 4 to 6 inches tall and blooming in early to mid-spring. The grassy foliage goes dormant in late spring, but not before it surrounds a single stem sporting one star-shaped flower. Colors range from the palest blue – nearly white – to deep, rich violet-blue.
One of the easiest bulbs to grow, this is another good selection for naturalizing, and it’s especially prized for its spicy fragrance. Starflower is hardy in zones 5 to 9.
Iris reticulata (reticulated iris)
Elegant irises come in every size and every color of the rainbow, but a particular favorite is Iris reticulata, a short version of its taller relatives, topping out at about 6 inches tall. The small, 2.5-inch-diameter flowers pack a punch, however, featuring rich blue tones with yellow to gold striping and speckles on the falls. Bloom time is early to mid-spring, at about the same time as Chionodoxa.
Narrow leaves grow to about the same height as the flowers, but then elongate to 12 to 15 inches after bloom before disappearing when the plant goes dormant in late spring. This iris is best planted at the front of a border, along walkways or in rock gardens. It’s hardy in zones 5 to 9.
Puschkinia scilloides (striped squill)
Selinger calls striped squill “easy peasy to grow”; it’s a selection that naturalizes easily by self-seeding and bulb offsets alike. Small clumps grow to about 4 to 6 inches tall, with each bulb producing only two, dark green, strap-shaped leaves. The single flower scape bears nodding, starlike, fragrant flowers; the color is actually “white with a Wedgewood blue stripe,” Selinger describes, “which [appears] as a light blue flower from a distance.”
Puschkinia blends well with other early-spring-flowering bulbs, and can be sited in rock gardens or under deciduous trees. It’s hardy in zones 4 to 8.
Photo iStock | ballycroy