Planting bulbs into existing garden borders takes some careful planning. Most gardens have borders consisting of a mixture of shrubs and perennials. Bulbs can play an important role there in bringing early season colour.
This planting plan shows just how I would go about setting out different types of bulbs throughout an existing mixed border. The aim is to give a continuous display from early spring through into early summer before the herbaceous perennials (grey circles) burst into flower.
I prefer not to directly mix daffodils and tulips, but rather to set them out in different zones within a border. Early flowering Narcissus ‘Jetfire’ is set out in small groups towards the rear of this theoretical border. This is one of the earliest and most effective daffodils with clear yellow petals surrounding its bright orange trumpets. Towards the end of spring a few clumps of a late flowering daffodil such as Narcissus ‘Geranium’ are grouped further forward in the border to contrast with the late flowering tulips in the background. This well-known variety has clusters of creamy white flower with a deep orange cup that you will discover are sweetly scented close by.
Three different tulips are set out. The earliest flowering is Tulip ‘Stresa’, one of the Kaufmanniana species tulips. Their flowers are striking yellow with a bold stroke of red on the outside of each petal. These perky flowers making the perfect joyous statement at the very beginning of spring. Generous groups are arranged near to the front of the border.
Orange Emperor tulips fills the rear half of the border. These are planted singly in-between the existing clumps of shrubs and perennials. Its soft orange flowers are flushed green on the outside creating a bold yet sophisticated mid-season display.
Finally, Tulip ‘Red Shine’ flowers towards the end of spring. This is a tall-growing Lily-flowered Group tulip; rich in colour and tall enough to stand high above the fast growing perennials surrounding it. Again it is planted singly across the full width of the middle and front zones of the border.
Hyacinths are reliable garden perennials and I have placed a few groups of beween 5 and 15 bulbs at the front of the border. They will contrast in both flower form and colour with the tulips and any late flowering narcissus growing behind them.
By June most spring flowering bulbs as well as many popular shrubs have finished flowering and the garden awaits the flower colour of summer flowering perennials. This moment is often called the June gap, but there are bulbs that can be used to solve the problem. Here in this bulb planting plan I have used ornamental onions such as Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ and the taller-growing Allium ‘Ambassador’. These are dropped in randomly throughout the border wherever there is room. They create a dramatic seasonal display to rival anything that might have happened before or will come later.
Daffodils are planted in small groups of between 3 and 5 bulbs. These groups will steadily increase in size and impact yearly.
Hyacinths are also perennials and in their first year will have bold dramatic flower spikes. In subsequent years their flowers will be smaller and in my opinion will appear more natural looking.
Tulips, with a few exceptions, are not reliable garden perennials. Although the three used here can return year on year in ideal growing conditions, they are unlikely to do so in such a mixed garden border. I always replant the same number each year and expect that some from previous years will return as a welcome bonus.
The bulbs used in this planting plan create bold effects across the entire area of the border. Which varieties you might use will depend upon your own colour choices and they will need to work with the other plants already growing there. Additionally, many other bulbs could play a role here such as lower-growing Crocus, Iris and Scilla, but it will be the bold drifts of colours created by daffodils, tulips and alliums used in this bulb planting plan that will make an impact in your wider garden landscape.
The planting plan area shown is 3 by 2 metres and the following list will give you an idea of how many bulbs might be needed:
60 x Narcissus ‘Jetfire’
20 x Narcissus ‘Geranium
30 x Tulip ‘Stresa’
50 x Tulip ‘Orange Emperor’
50 x Tulip ‘Red Shine’
40 x Hyacinth’Blue Jacket’
10 x Allium ‘Ambassador’
10 x Allium ‘Purple Sensation’