From The Garden by P. Allen Smith

From the Garden: Beautiful Bulbs

I know a lot of my fellow gardeners might be feeling like they’re finished for the year. Maybe the summer was especially hot and dry, or rabbits and deer ate more than their fair share of plants. Believe me, I can sympathize. But before you roll up your hose and store your shovels for the season, think about treating your future gardening self to the gift of fresh spring flowers by planting bulbs this fall. It’s a relatively pain-free job that can be made even easier with the help of some classic spring bulb ‘recipes’ and flower combinations.

Let’s start with daffodils. As you may know, I’m somewhat of a daffodil connoisseur—or fanatic, if you will—and I think there are many reasons to include this beauty in your spring garden. It’s one of the few bulbs that deer, rabbits and voles won’t eat, and they are extremely easy to grow. And since they come in many different color combinations, heights and bloom times, you have endless planting options.

One of my favorites is the heirloom ‘Yellow Cheerfulness’ double daffodil that has been around since the 1930s. It’s a mid-spring bloomer that reaches about 16 inches tall. Plant with blue or purple pansies and/or hyacinth bulbs for a classic color combination. I also am a big fan of large alliums, in part because they can’t help but make a big statement. They always stop traffic, especially when planted in large groups; a single plant or two won’t get the job done. ‘Gladiator’ allium is a favorite, standing 3 to 4 feet tall and blooming in mid- to late spring. Softball-sized, lavender blue flowers persist for an incredibly long time on sturdy stems.

Combine the defined circular shape of ‘Gladiator’ blossoms with the soft, ruffled petals of blush pink ‘Angelique’ tulips for interesting contrast. For a tiered effect, complete the grouping with petite ‘Minnow’ daffodils, a 6-inch-tall beauty with creamy white petals and yellow cups. These are fragrant and produce three to five flowers per bulb.

I also like the design effect of choosing a flower like tulips and planting different varieties together in the same color palette. The richness of similar tones playing off each other is a sophisticated but easy look to achieve. For example, my Garden Radiance Tulip Collection features two pink and white tulip varieties, Hakuun and Ollioules. Hakuun is a pure white, mid-spring bloomer, and Ollioules is a rose-pink tulip edged in white that blooms at the same time. Together, they create a soft pink blanket of color that is easy on the eye. Or, flex your artistic muscles by selecting contrasting colors like orange and purple; ‘Orange Queen’ and ‘Negrita’ are featured tulips in my Contrasting Beauties Tulip Collection.

Fall bulb planting is undertaken when the weather and soil have cooled and nighttime temps are regularly in the 40- to 50-degree Fahrenheit range. And don’t be afraid to plant in large groupings. This is a philosophy I take very much to heart at Moss Mountain: Plant big or go home! Think of this final gardening task as a gift to yourself that you’ll receive in the spring. It will give you something to look forward to as winter weather sets in.

P. Allen Smith is an author, conservationist and TV host of Garden Home on PBS and Garden Style (check your local listings). He uses his Arkansas home, Moss Mountain Farm, to promote the local-food movement, organic gardening and the preservation of heritage poultry. For tours of the farm, visit


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