Vintage Bulbs Back in Fashion

Stinzen gardens can be found in many parts of the Netherlands but are especially prevalent in the northern region of Friesland. The word “stins” is a medieval Frisian word meaning a fortified brick house, a small castle for noble families. Only the wealthy could have afforded to build in brick hundreds of years ago. These estate holders also had access to the newly imported bulbs and decorated their estates with a succession of small, spring-flowering bulbs.

Planted and left to naturalize for centuries, many of these bulbs are still evident today in sweeping colorful fields near old estates, churches, and historical parks Stinzen gardens became especially popular toward the end of the 18th century, coinciding with the emergence of the English landscape style. Across Great Britain and Europe, landscape design moved away from formal gardens toward a more naturalistic style. This kind of planting fit the zeitgeist of the time beautifully.

It’s unknown if stinzen gardens were the predecessors of what we refer to today as “naturalizing,” but they likely had some influence. The same vintage bulbs used hundreds of years ago in these Dutch gardens are still perfect for naturalizing today like crocus, Glory-of-the-snow, muscari and more. They grow abundantly in sparse lawns under deciduous trees and shrubs, taking advantage of the leafless canopy to soak up the spring sunlight.

Using spring-flowering bulbs for naturalizing is a gratifying garden style that requires very little input and provide color for two months or more. Once planted, the bulbs come back year after year, multiplying each season for a bigger and bigger floral display. They provide an early food source for pollinators and are food for the soul for us humans after the long winter.

Think long-term when planting. Bulbs do best in well-draining soils and can tolerate full sun or part shade. Avoid planting where rain collects on the soil surface, such as the foot of a hill or end of a drainpipe. Flower bulbs that stand in water too long have a greater chance of drowning due to a lack of oxygen. Most early flowering bulbs do well when planted under deciduous trees. The flowers emerge before or as new leaves unfurl and go dormant by the time the trees provide heavy shade.

Spring Flowering Bulbs for Naturalizing – Recommended Varieties

  • Botanical tulips – Tulipa
  • Chequered fritillary – Fritillaria meleagris
  • Crocus – Crocus
  • Crown imperial – Fritillaria imperialis
  • Dwarf iris – Iris reticuluata
  • Glory-of-the-snow – Chionodoxa
  • Grape hyacinths – Muscari
  • Grecian windflower – Anemone blanda
  • Mini daffodils – Narcissus
  • Nodding star-of-Bethlehem – Ornithogalum nutans
  • Short ornamental onions – Allium
  • Siberian squill – Scilla siberica
  • Snowdrop – Galanthus
  • Spring starflower – Ipheion uniflorum
  • Striped squill – Puschkinia libanotica