Time your seasons of spring-bulb color with these recommended flower types.
It's frustrating when your carefully planned spring-bulb plantings don't bloom when you thought they would.
"It's one of the questions we're asked frequently," said Sally Ferguson, director of the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center in New York City. "'Will these tulips work together?' I say, yes, two late-season tulips should bloom together, but will they? In nature there are always variables. If you're smart you'll learn to enjoy the inevitable surprises."
When it comes to selecting and scheduling "bloom teams," Ferguson suggests thinking of color in the garden as "building towards a color crescendo" where flowers come into bloom and decline at approximately the same times.
"Don't expect flowers to perform like synchronized swimmers," she says. "They won't bloom together precisely; their bloom times will show a bit more individuality. At best, flower combos overlap over a stretch of time."
To get as close as possible to the color mixes you crave, follow the lead of the experts. A team of Dutch bulb experts put together some colorful combos of bulbs that should — more often than not — bloom together in particularly delightful ways. All are planted in fall.
Theme: blue, yellow and white
Scilla siberica, Narcissus 'Tete a Tete', Narcissus 'Ice Follies'
In this spritely combo, the cobalt-blue scilla are first to bloom. They continue to bloom for weeks as yellow Narcissus 'Tete-a-Tete' joins in, followed by white N. 'Ice Follies'.
Scilla siberica – This delicate-looking but sturdy little color machine produces stems supporting up to five bowl-shaped brilliant blue flowers each. The flowers emerge on still-short stems, then gradually rise to eight inches in height by maturity.
'Tete a Tete' – A miniature daffodil just six inches tall, 'Tete-a-Tete' bears an abundance of short-stemmed dangling flowers with golden-yellow outer petals that curl back to highlight deeper-yellow trumpets.
'Ice Follies' – This large-cupped daffodil is a champion naturalizer famous for its ability to "come back" each spring, often for decades in settings where it is happy. The large frilled flowers are lemon-yellow when they open, then fade to nearly white as the flowers mature.
Theme: red, yellow and white
Tulipa turkestanica, Tulipa praestans 'Unicum', Tulipa tarda
These three botanical tulips combine to charming effect in the early spring garden. All three are excellent naturalizers and will come back for years in many gardens. A mix of bright green, grey-green and variegated leaves with creamy-white margins provide a backdrop for the red and yellow flowers. T. turkestanica will bloom first, joined by T. praestans 'Unicum' and slightly later, T. tarda.
Tulipa turkestanica (species tulip) – This is a wild-looking species or botanical tulip with grey-green leaves and up to 12 star-shaped, malodorous white flowers borne on 12-inch hairy stems. The white flowers are flushed greenish-grey or greenish-pink on the outside, with centers shaded yellow or orange around brown or purple stamens and purple-tipped yellow anthers.
Tulipa praestans 'Unicum' (miscellaneous tulip) – A bunch tulip (multi-flowering) just eight-inches tall, 'Unicum' has variegated leaves edged in creamy white and clusters of up to five cayenne red flowers, each centered with a light yellow base and blue-anthers.
Tulipa tarda (species tulip) – This six-inch tall bloomer boasts star-shaped yellow and white flowers that open wide in the sun, then close tightly overnight. Each flower is white with a greenish tinge and a vivid yellow interior edged in white. Its shiny bright green leaves are lance-shaped, recurved and often finely fringed.
Tulipa 'Orange Princess', Tulipa 'Ballerina'
Here are two orange-superstars with very different personas make quite the duo in the late season garden. 'Ballerina' is tall, willowy and elegant with long stems and slim elongated marigold-orange blossoms. At half the height, peony-flowered 'Orange Princess' fills in below with a plump colorful presence.
'Orange Princess' (double late tulip) – A 12-inch sport of lovely 'Prinses Irene', this peony-flowered tulip is light-nasturtium-orange flushed with reddish-purple and glazed lightly in warm pink. Its chubby bowl-shaped flowers are tipped with green on the outer petals.
'Ballerina' (lily-flowered tulip) – This lovely 24-inch fragrant tulip technically features lemon-yellow flowers with blood-red flames, orange-yellow veins at the margins, star-shaped yellow bases, and cayenne-red inner petals feathered marigold-orange surrounding pale golden yellow anthers.
Theme: red and white
Tulipa 'Mount Tacoma', Tulipa 'Red Riding Hood'
In the garden or a container planting, taller 'Mount Tacoma' will bloom above shorter 'Red Riding Hood'. This combination of white-over-red provides a fresh twist on a traditional spring garden color scheme.
'Mount Tacoma' (double late tulip) – With lovely pure white peony-shaped flowers atop 16-inch stems, this tulip has a commanding presence in the mid-season garden.
'Red Riding Hood' (Greigii tulip) – Only eight inches high, this tulip bears plump red flowers with vivid scarlet-red inner petals framing a black inner base. Wide soft green leaves are mottled with appealing purplish spots.
Theme: Pink and purple
Tulipa 'New Design', Tulipa 'Angelique', Tulipa 'Blue Parrot'
'New Design' comes into bloom first, followed by 'Angelique'. Both are noted for their long bloom times in the garden. As they reach full bloom, the slightly-later blooming purple parrot tulips join in. The purple flowers reach their peak on the far side of the pink tulips' extended bloom-time.
'New Design' (Triumph tulip) – This tulip blooms on the late side of mid-season and thus happily teams up with earlier blooming members of the Parrot and double late tulip groups. The soft-yellow are flushed with pinkish-white and edged in pale fuchsia-red. Inside each flower cup is a surprise: here the color is soft yellow flamed with apricot, and the base is buttercup-yellow. The variegated leaves are edged in pale pinkish-white.
Tulipa 'Angelique' (double late tulip) – Its flowers are peony-shaped, fragrant and extremely long-lived in both the garden and the vase. Each petal is a whorl of shades ranging from blush to pale pink to rich rose, with flushes here and there of pale green, cream and pale yellow.
Tulipa 'Blue Parrot' (parrot tulip) – With its over-sized flower atop a tall slender stem, this Parrot tulip bobs and flutters like its tropical namesake. Its bright violet-blue flowers, flushed bronze-purple inside, are wavy-edged and fringed like feathers.
Theme: Peaches and cream
Tulipa 'Apricot Parrot', Tulipa 'Upstar', T. 'Queen of Night', T. Spring Green'
Each is a top-performer in the garden or the vase. Expect 'Apricot Parrot' to begin blooming first, quickly followed by the other three.
'Apricot Parrot' (parrot tulip) – This fragrant late bloomer presents a more flamboyant persona in the garden with ruffled, feathered petals reminiscent of tropical bird plumage. Each apricot flower is flushed and flamed with color ranging from creamy white to yellow, salmon-pink and soft green. It stands 16- to 18-inches tall.
'Upstar' (double late tulip) – 'Upstar' seems to be pink perfection in a late blooming tulip, but in fact it is a creamy white tulip that "fades to pink." This unusual effect occurs as the petals mature and broad bands of purplish-rose emerge to alter the flower's coloration. The peony-shaped flowers are borne on sturdy 18-inch stems.
'Spring Green' (Viridiflora tulip) – A translucent beauty of shimmering white flushed with pale green, this lovely green-feathered, ivory-white tulip strengthens the presence of its more stark dark-and-bright bloom partners. It is 20-inches tall, thus blooms right beneath the heads of 'Queen of Night'.
'Queen of Night' (single late tulip) – Introduced in 1944, 'Queen of Night' is still considered the blackest tulip ever bred. This classic cup-shaped tulip, 24-inches tall, is a velvety dark maroon or mahogany, depending on the light. In shadow the flower can appear to be pitch black.