In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
November, 2007
Regional Report

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Pink tulips and nodding hellebores combine with yellow tulips and lemony epimedium flowers, and spiky iris leaves in foreground mirror rose of Sharon branches.

Interplanting Shrubs, Perennials, and Bulbs

Often head-turning plant combinations are serendipitous. Like when nursery pots of 'Lady in Blue' aster blooming amid Physocarpus 'Summer Wine' and Caryopteris 'Worcester Gold' stopped me in my tracks. Wow! Red wine-hued ninebark framed the aster's star-shaped, mauve-blue-petalled flowers, whose gold-brown centers caught a hint of copper in the ninebark's dark leaves. Sunny lime-green branches of 'Worcester Gold' carried bright blue flower clusters. What gorgeous good luck!!!

At a recent Sunday afternoon mid-Atlantic Hardy Plant Society program, Rutgers Gardens director Bruce Crawford urged us gardeners to craft our own Wow! shrub, flower, and bulb combinations. After a drab winter, we so crave spring color. To maximize the highly appreciated though sparse early-spring palette, let's combine strategy (timing) with art (arrangement). When do the flowers and bulbs bloom? Where can we place them to enhance existing shrubs and perennials? As now is bulb-planting time, here are some attractive combinations.

Taking a Cue From the Plants
Approaches are as varied as the plant choices. One tip is to choose bulbs whose spring flowers echo or complement a shrub's branch color, such as yellow- to red-stemmed Cornus sericea 'Winterflame' surrounded by yellow Crocus chrysanthus or species crocus 'Goldilocks' or giant crocus (C. vernus) 'Golden Yellow'.

We can highlight early-flowering shrubs by underplanting with bulbs; for example, aromatic, pink-flowering dwarf viburnum (V. farreri 'Nanum') with blue-purple Chionodoxa lucilae. Or buttery yellow-flowered Corylopsis pauciflora with nodding, blue Siberian squill (Scilla siberica).

Fragrant, white, multi-flowered narcissus 'Thalia' brings out the creamy leaf variegation of Kerria japonica. Other white or ivory daffodils, such as 'Picta', 'Ice Wings', 'Petrel', 'Barrett Browning', 'Sinopel', and double 'White Medal', pair nicely with variegated-leaved hydrangeas and shrubby dogwoods, too.

Late spring and summer bulbs add fascinating shape and striking color when a shrub or perennial is in bloom. Imagine spiky plumes of yellow, orange, and pink foxtail lily (Eremerus robustus) and flat, greenish white Allium nigrum flowers under the pendulous white flower clusters of Japanese snowball (Styrax japonica). Mimic 'Annabelle' hydrangea's impressive white flower heads by interplanting allium 'Gladiator' -- 6-inch purple globes atop 4- to 5-foot-tall stems.

Planting bulbs among perennials is an excellent technique. As perennial foliage grows, the leaves are a good camouflage for bulb leaves that should remain intact until they yellow. Clipping off dead daffodil, tulip, lilium, and allium flowers and stems is fine. But leave the green foliage so it can produce food to store in the bulbs for next season's flowers.

I accidentally created an attractive spring-into-summer combination over a period of a few years. As clusters of pink-flowering hellebores and yellow-flowering barrenwort (Epimedium sulphureous) filled in, I interplanted pink, red, and yellow tulips. An expanding swath of Virginia bluebells flowers in pink and blue in the background. Lancelike iris leaves in the foreground replicate the v-branching rose of Sharon edging the bed. Pure, beautiful luck! I encourage you to brainstorm (and share) your own combinations.


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