If any type of plant symbolizes hope, it’s the bulb.
When a perennial or a shrub is planted, part of the plant is visible, no matter how small or weak it may look. It’s evident that those spindly little stems will grow and, much like the ugly duckling became a magnificent swan, will develop into a beautiful, mature plant.
But a bulb? That funny-looking thing doesn’t look like much like a plant, and when it’s sunk beneath the soil’s surface, it disappears, easy to forget, easy to overlook. For months, those little blobs of tissue lurk below ground, just waiting to send up shoots once temperatures in spring signal that it’s time.
It may seem risky, but year after year, gardeners put their faith in bulbs and eagerly await the spectacle.
Listen to the experts
We asked a few bulbs experts for their thoughts on what’s hot for 2018, and here’s what they had to say:
What’s your favorite bulb, and why?
Jack DeVroomen, DeVroomen Garden Products, says, “My personal favorites lately are Tulipa ‘Alibi’, being a breakthrough in bluish/purple Triumph tulips, and Tulipa ‘Akebono’ because of its striking yellow color with a touch of green stripes – great in blends, and this double late [bloomer] flowers a long time.”
Becky Heath, Brent & Becky’s Bulbs, offers this: “The genus Narcissus is our favorite, probably because it’s the crop that was grown on the family farm when Brent was a child, and also because we are still hybridizing daffodils. We tend to like the jonquilla types the most because they grow so well here, they usually have multiple flowers on each stem, are incredibly fragrant and their leaves, which are dark green and narrow, are easier to hide as they mature in our gardens with early perennials.”
What bulb is expected to be a best seller in 2018?
DeVroomen: “Purplish tulips are hot, like ‘Purple Flag’, ‘Alibi’ and ‘Light and Dreamy’.
Heath: “We hope it is the three ‘Sensation’ daffodils: Sunlight, Moonlight, and Starlight Sensation. Each bulb gives multiple stems, and each stem has multiple flowers. Sunlight Sensation is bright yellow, Moonlight Sensation is creamy yellow and Starlight Sensation is white. They have so many flowers it’s amazing!”
What combinations of bulbs to you recommend?
DeVroomen: “Welcoming Trumpets in daffodils, and in tulips, Long Lasting Giants blends. The future is eight weeks of flowering bulbs with lasagna planting like DeVroomen’s display at Keukenhof Gardens 2017.”
Heath: “Just like an outfit, we like to pick the colors we like, plant a tulip about 8 inches deep; find a daffodil that complements the tulip and plant it 6 inches deep; and cover the top of the planting with either Muscari (grape hyacinths) or pansies. Sometimes they don’t bloom on exactly the same day, but their blooms overlap and make an incredible statement! We think it’s much better than just one color.”
Which bulbs are most versatile?
DeVroomen: “Darwin hybrid tulips, because they are reliable mid-season flowering that can naturalize the best, since they need a short growing season to make their new bulbs in the ground before the leaves turn yellow.”
Heath: “Leucojum aestivum, nicknamed ‘summer snowflake,’ although it doesn’t bloom in the summer, it blooms in the spring with the daffodils. It’s versatile because it is pest proof, perennializes planted near a pond where the soil is sometimes damp, and it also happily perennializes in the regular garden bed. It tolerates partial shady areas and loves full sun spots. Its flowers are white, so it blends with anything in the garden and once established, its little bell-like flowers stay in bloom a really long time in the spring. It is one of our favorite cut flowers, too.”
Which colors will be popular in 2018?
DeVroomen: “Definitely purple tulips and alliums – like Purple Sensation – and combinations with purple. Also, pink tulips and yellow in daffodils.
Heath: “There seems to be a trend toward brighter colors for the garden. We are not experts on trends, but are seeing subtle changes in the orders we are receiving now.”
Which bulbs deserve greater attention?
DeVroomen: “Muscari in general; it flowers as a companion plant to all flower bulbs for at least four weeks!”
Heath: “We think bulbs that bloom in the summertime deserve greater attention, for example, begonias, caladiums, cannas, dahlias, Eucomis, Gladiolus, Hymenocallis, lilies and Lycoris. Many of these are also perennial and add lots of color in the summer garden.”
A few more comments
We caught Jill Selinger, manager of education for the Chicago Botanic Garden and bulb instructor extraordinaire, as she returned from an extended visit to Japan. She offered a few comments before the jet lag set in.
As for her personal favorite, Selinger replied, “This question is way too hard! But I love species tulips, Narcissus poeticus, Allium atropurpeum, Galanthus and all sorts of Fritillaria meleagris. All of them are subtle and blend in well with others.”
For combinations, Selinger suggests this: “I like to underplant daffodils or species tulips with Scilla, Anemone blanda or Muscari.“
The most versatile bulbs, Selinger believes, are Leucojum aestivum. “It’s not bothered by deer, squirrels, rabbits or chipmunks; it tolerates wet soils, grows in sun or shade and flowers for a long period of time.”
Another versatile selection is Camassia: “It’s a North American native that tolerates wet and dry soils, and grows in sun or shade. It works well in meadow, prairie, mixed border plants and sited at water’s edge. It’s ideal when planted with ornamental grasses and tall ferns.”