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Good things come in small packages: Layer smaller bulbs for impact

Good things come in small packages: Layer smaller bulbs for impact

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There’s still time to think outside the bulb box and plant some of spring’s prettiest – and most under-utilized – spring-flowering bulbs, such as chionodoxa, hyacinthoides, muscari, leucojum and galanthus.

All of those names may look like an unpronounceable alphabet soup, but you may recognize their common or colloquial name. Good things come in small packages, and these petite bulbs pack a wallop (with the bonus of being deer-resistant). 

Emily Bronte wrote, “the bluebell is the sweetest flower.” Hyacinthoides or bluebells are prized for their spring charm, not-always-blue bell-shaped flowers and ability to naturalize. Bluebells thrive in moist, woodsy settings with sunlight and light shade. 

H. hispanica, the wood hyacinth, is a 17th century Spanish heirloom that blooms prolifically, as does h. non-scripta, circa 1580, known as the English bluebell. It is scented with dark-violet blue flowers on just one side of a bending stem. Bronte also wrote that “she mourns the sweet bluebell.” Perhaps that’s because it can spread like wildfire, swallowing up shorter plants in its path. Best to plant is on its own or with equally thuggish, stout perennials.

Chionodoxa or glory of the snow is cheerful and early flowering. Star-shaped blooms are available in white, pink, blue and purple. For a bit of drama, mass-plant white C. gigantea alba, a snowy-white 1885 heirloom, or C. forbesii “Blue Giant,” a truly blue flower with white center. Glory of the snow naturalizes and can be forced indoors.

Muscari or grape hyacinths are simple charmers. Colors range from sapphire blue, such as M. aucheri “Dark Eyes” to pale pink M. “Pink Sunrise” and soft, glowing yellow “Golden Fragrance.” “Bling Bling” is a newer offering, sporting violet flowers rimmed in white, while the unusual, feathery M. comosum plumosum is a variety dating from the 1600s. 

Some gardeners call leucojum the “summer snowflake,” although that name refers to a specific English native producing soft white bell-shaped flowers tipped in green. L. aestivum dates to the 18th century. Bulbs tolerate moist soil and will naturalize.

Snowdrops or galanthus are among the first to bloom in spring. Lovely and delicate-looking, pendant-shaped blooms on stout stems are surprisingly hardy, bouncing back after late winter snowstorms. G. elwesii or giant snowdrop is best for naturalizing, while G. nivalis “Flore Pleno” is a double snowdrop heirloom with a double layer of green-tipped flowers.


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