Months of color
Research has shown that plants featuring striking colors, fragrances, shapes and structures benefit our health and well-being. For example, flower bulbs invite us to step outside. Even as winter ends, flower bulbs emerge and give us the first color in public spaces. We’ve seen examples of this everywhere: medians between traffic lanes planted in long ribbons of Narcissus (daffodils), planters filled with Tulipa (tulips) or lawns sprinkled with Galanthus (snowdrops) and Crocus (crocuses). In addition to these more familiar species, more unusual spring-flowering bulbs are appropriate for planting in public green spaces. Camassia (Indian Camas), Eremurus (Foxtail Lily) and Hyacinthoides (Spanish Bluebell) just to name a few. Plantings can display variation and their flowering time can be extended by using different species and cultivars characterized by different flowering periods, colors and heights. Passers-by will then enjoy successive months of new flowers in bloom.
Special mixtures of planting material intended to attract bees and butterflies are becoming ever more popular. Early spring, when few other plants are in bloom, is a time when the pollen and nectar in the flowers is of great importance to butterflies, bumblebees and honeybees. Crocus (crocuses) are the absolute champion among early-flowering bulbs, but Galanthus (snowdrops), Scilla (Siberian Squill) and Eranthis (Winter Aconite) are also insect magnets. Later in the year, flower bulbs such as Allium (ornamental onions), Camassia (Indian Camas) and Anemone (anemones) become important for insect life.
Making the right choices
In recent years, we have learned a lot more about selecting and managing flower bulbs in public spaces. Actually, every location is suitable with the right choice of flower bulbs:
roadside berms, lawns, traffic circles, borders, understory plantings and pots and planters. Colorful flowers are especially pleasing at high-profile locations where many people will notice them. Flower bulbs that naturalize are perfect for combination plantings. They simply become part of a perennial planting along with plants like shrubs and perennials. Many flower bulbs, such as Narcissus (species daffodils), Fritillaria meleagris (Snake’s Head Fritillary) and Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ (an ornamental onion) also perform beautifully in grass. With the right choices, a planting will last several years. This planting can also be managed by using compost made from vegetables, fruit and garden waste so that very little maintenance will be needed.
Facts about spring-flowering bulbs
- Flower bulbs can be planted by hand or by machine.
- When the right bulbs are selected on the basis of the location, they will emerge year after year. Some species such as Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrop), Crocus tommasinianus (Early Crocus), Hyactinthoides non-scripta (Bluebell) and Anemone nemerosa (Wood Anemone) will also self-propagate to create widespread flowering carpets after a number of years.
- Early-flowering species will thrive beneath shrubs and trees where other plants will not. When these trees and shrubs are still leafless, these flower bulbs will be in full bloom.
- Planting spring-flowering bulbs, summer-flowering bulbs and annuals together will provide color from early spring until late autumn.
- Roadside verges planted in flower bulb mixtures have to be mown only once or twice a year.
- Their leaves have to be given the time to wither entirely, thus supplying the bulbs with enough reserve nutrients for prolific flowering during the following year. Wait to mow grass planted with naturalizing bulbs until the leaves of these flower bulbs have dried entirely.