Singular Appeal: Choosing Bulbs, Corms and Tubers

Bulbs, corms and tubers can brighten up a border, yield great flowers for cutting and provide year-round interest. Learn more about some of our favorites, here.

Excerpted from Garden Design
  • Purple Sensation Bears Star Shaped Violet Flowers


    Who knew such an pungent vegetable could bear such sweet flowers? But for the allium - or, onion - that's the case. Shown here, the 'Purple Sensation' is precisely that. It looks stunning when planted with silver-leaved, shorter plants, and dries well for off-season arranging.

    Other alliums that cut a \"lollipop\" shape include the ornamental onion, whose ice-blue blooms appear in early summer, and the Star of Persia, which produces hugs, pinkish-purplish flowerheads out of many star-like blooms. Their dried seedheads are spectacular in indoor arrangements.

    Alliums grow to a range of sizes - check labels to be sure. Well-drained soil and exposure to full sun helps to prevent bulbs rotting in winter.

  • White Splendor Creates Mounds of White Blooms

    'White Splendor' Grecian Windflower

    Quick to establish and form a carpet up to 6 inches tall, 'White Splendor' Grecian windflower brings a gleam of light to gardens in spring. For a different color, try 'Radar', which has magenta flowers with a white eye, or 'Pink Star', with bright pink blooms. All look delightful in large drifts below spring-flowering trees. Grow Grecian windflowers in full or partial sun and well-drained soil.

  • Striata Canna Adds Tropical Look to Landscape


    Vividly colored foliage and showy flowers, which appear from late summer to fall, make cannas an exotic addition to mixed borders. 'Striata,' shown here, has broad, rich green leaves striped with yellow, and bright orange flowers. For similar flowers but dramatic, deep purple, leaves, go with 'Durban.' Cannas need full sun, well-drained soil and rhizome protection in locations that tend to freeze; they look very attractive in containers. Cannas can grow to 5 feet tall, depending on the variety.

  • Lily of the Valley is Fragrant Summer Ground Cover


    Lily-of-the-valley is a creeping perennial loved for its sweetly fragrant, white, bell-shaped flowers and upward-pointing leaves which reach to 9 inches tall. The plant relishes moist, fertile soil in either full or partial shade. All parts are toxic.

  • Firebird has Bright Orange Red Flowers


    A strong-growing crocosmia, 'Firebird,' shown here, has tapering, strap-like foliage and bright orange-red flowers. It grows to 32 inches tall, tolerates drier conditions than many crocosmias and flowers freely. With red blooms that reveal a deep yellow throat as they open, 'Venus' is a great choice for gardeners who love the color red. For a lighter look, go with the lemon-yellow trumpets of 'Coleton Fishacre.'

    Most crocosmias make excellent cut flowers and appreciate having their clumps split in spring. Plant them in full sun and well-drained or moist soil.

  • Crocus Tommasinianus is Early Spring Flower


    Because various cultivars bloom at different times of the year, crocuses are a perfect choice for year-round interest. Tommies, shown here, are identifiable by the silvery-lilac to purple petals of their late winter- to early spring flowers. To keep the purple going into the fall, plant crocus goulimyi, which also give off a lovely scent.

    Crocuses fit the edges of sunny mixed borders or terracotta containers filled with a gritty potting mix to ensure free drainage.

  • Cyclamen Hederifolium Blooms Before Foliage Appear

    Neapolitan Cyclamen

    The fluted, fall-blooming pink flowers of neapolitan cyclamen precede its dark-green, heart-shaped foliage. The plant suits a sunny, well-drained site under trees or shrubs in partial shade, needs to be mulched annually and self-seeds freely. Neapolitan cyclamen can grow to 4 to 5 inches tall and 6 inches wide.

  • David Howard is Brilliant Burnt Orange Dahlia


    Dahlias are among the best flowers to brighten a border or a vase. They hold up well, and cutting can even encourage further flowering. The 'David Howard,' shown here, has large, burnt orange flowers. The vivid red flowers of the 'Bishop of Llandaff' look even more dramatic against its own black-red foliage. For a more demure look, go with the 'Gay Princess,' whose pink-lilac blooms resemble a waterlily.

    Dahlias can grow to a range of heights, so be sure to read the label before purchasing bulbs. They prefer full sun and well-drained soil.

  • Winter Aconites are Relatives of the Buttercup

    Winter Aconite

    The buttercup-yellow flowers and deeply-cut green leaves of the aconite are a welcome sight in the depths of winter. Relatives of buttercups, and at 2-3 inches tall equally petite, winter aconites rapidly spread by way of their underground tubers. Plant them in partial sun where the soil does not dry out in summer.

  • Crown Imperial Makes Regal Statement in Garden


    Tall, stately and strong-growing, the orange flower clusters of the crown imperial, shown here, hang regally from tall stems - to 5 feet - in the center of an island bed or within a mixed border or rock garden. The much shorter checkered lily features petals with distinctive checkered pattern in pinkish-purple or white. Plant in a mixed group to create a patchwork effect. Fritillaries prefer full or partial sun and moist soil.

  • Hyacinths Known for Exquisitely Perfumed Flowers


    Famed for their exquisitely perfumed flowers, hyacinths have other appeal: they are very easy to grow, available in a range of colors and able to be planted in spring beds, pots or even rooted in water, indoors. 'Blue Jacket,' shown here, has navy-blue, waxy flowers with purple veins. It grows to 8 to 12 inches tall in ideal growing conditions: full sun and well-drained soil.

    If you love the look of 'Blue Jacket' but lack a sunny spot to plant, consider planting their close relative English bluebell in broad drifts under trees in dappled shade. Their flowers are traditionally blue, but pink or white forms can be found. English bluebell can become invasive if planted in the border.

  • Golden Alps Iris Ideal for Sunny Garden Border


    Irises produce a great variety of flower heads from their bulbs, which are well-suited to full sun and well-drained soil. 'Golden Alps,' shown here, is a tall, cream-and-yellow bearded iris that emerges from sword-shaped green leaves. For a more dramatic look, go with 'Superstition,' whose fragrant blooms range from purple-brown to blue-black; it looks particularly striking when planted with the white blooms of pale-colored selections such as 'White Knight.' Sweet iris is another reliable choice, with long, tapering, yellow-striped leaves and showy, scented blue flowers. Sweet iris' clumps can be lifted, divided and replanted in early fall.

  • Summer Snowflake is Attractive Plant for Damp Area

    Summer Snowflake

    The nodding, green-tipped petals of the summer snowflake can spruce up damp areas of the garden. 'Gravetye Giant,' shown here, is robust and will grow quite tall - to 36 inches - next to water. Plant it in partial sun and moist or wet soil.

  • African Queen Lily Bears Fragrant Orange Trumpets


    Lilies are one of the largest groups of bulb plants, and one of the most varied. Some cultivars, like the sweet smelling 'African Queen,' shown here, or the dramatic 'Black Beauty' do very well in containers, making them good choices to decorate a patio or doorway. Others, like the multi-blooming crinum-lily, the exotic pineapple lily and the large, pinkish-red trumpets of the Pink Perfection Group suit the base of a sheltered, sunny wall. Still others, like the yellow-flowered Citronella Group make superb cut flowers, while the lilium martagon is perfect for scattering throughout a mixed border.

    With as many sizes and needs as flower colors, it's best to read the labels of any lily you're thinking about buying.

  • Blue Spike Double Flower Form of Grape Hyacinth

    Grape Hyacinth

    It's easy to see where the clustered flowers of grape hyacinths got their name. The doubled blue flowers of 'Blue Spike,' shown here, emerge in the spring in small, fat spikes up to 8 inches tall and 2 inches wide. 'Blue Spike' can become invasive, so restrict it to a container with well-drained or moist soil and exposure to full sun. For variety, consider Muscari latifolium, whose flowers seem to be wearing little, paler-colored hats. Attractive in drifts at the front of a border, it is also good for a partially sunny rock garden.

  • Bridal Crown has Sweet Scented Double White Blooms


    Narcissus are sweet flowers that hold up well in cut arrangements. Feminine beauty 'Bridal Crown,' pictured here, has clusters of white blooms with pale orange centers. The white petals of Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus, alternatively known as pheasants eye, also surround a yellow eye, which has a dainty, orange-frilled edge. It can be naturalized in a sunny, well-drained lawn.

    The flowers known as daffodils are actually narcissuses, and some of their most well-known varieties are also their best. The tiny flowers and short stems of Narcissus 'Tête-à-tête' make it well-suited for planting in groups at the front of borders, in sunny rock gardens and in containers of all shapes and sizes. 'Thalia' is a milky-white variety, whose flowers bloom two per 14-inch stem.

  • Spider Lilies Look Good Planted in Groups

    Spider Lily

    The vivid pink, animated-looking flowers of the spider lily appear from bare soil in fall. They look really good in groups at the foot of a sunny, light-colored wall, where they can grow to 18 inches tall. If you live in a cold area, be sure to mulch them well in winter.

  • Siberian Squill Gives Garden Splash of Color

    Siberian Squill

    The Siberian squill produces bright blue, pendent flowers in spring, giving the garden a dash of color. The bulbs can be grown in groups in a rock garden, between paving stones or at the front of herbaceous and mixed borders; they reach to 4-8 inches tall and 2 inches wide. Plant Siberian squill in full sun or part shade, and water them well when growing.

  • Trillium is Vigorous Plant for Woodland Garden

    Large White Trillium

    A vigorous plant for a woodland garden or border, large white trillium forms clumps of dark green, rounded leaves with distinctive, three-petalled white flowers which grow to 16 inches tall. It makes a wonderful choice for a shady area with well-drained soil.

  • Princess Irene Tulip has Distinctive Painted Look


    So many tulips, how will you ever choose? Here are a couple of our favorites, to get you thinking.

    The orange petals of 'Princess Irene' look like they have been painted with delicate brush strokes of purple. 'Spring Green' is another interesting mixed-color varietal; each ivory-white petal sports a green feathery flash. For a real show-stopper, go with 'Flaming Parrot,' whose red-blazed yellow petals surround a cluster of black anthers. Planting it with 'Queen of Night' brings drama to your design.

    Tulips love full sun and well-drained soil. They tend to do well in borders, containers or a cut flower arrangement.

Excerpted from Garden Design

©Dorling Kindersley Limited 2009

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