Nothing lifts our spirits like the first crocuses of spring. They are popping up all over town, like bright Easter eggs in our dreary gardens. After months of plants that are brown and lifeless, spring blooming bulbs are an almost magical treat.
Everyone is familiar with tulips and daffodils, and crocuses and hyacinths are recognizable as well, but the assortment of bulbs available to high altitude gardens extends past these familiar flowers. The following flowers are classified as “minor bulbs,” perhaps due to their diminutive size, but they can have a major impact when planted in large enough numbers.
Among the earliest blooms, pushing up through the snow, are the aptly named Snowdrops (Galanthus). They consist of a few strap-like leaves and three drooping white petals resembling drops of milk (Galanthus means milk). While we may be hungry for brighter colors than white, we can’t afford to be too choosy at this time of year.
Often confused with Snowdrops, Snowflakes (Leucojum) also have white petals, each decorated with a green dot at the end. These form clusters of bells, which nod in the breeze.
Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica) is another early bloomer. These tiny flowers are also bells, but in pure, intense blue. They’re perfect for naturalizing. Drifts of squill blooming under still-leafless trees look like a reflection of the sky. Happily, marauding rodents tend to ignore them. They seem to be deer resistant, too.
Another blue-flowered bulb is Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa). In their case, the bells are more open and pointing upwards, creating a star with a white center. They also come in pink. Be sure to leave the spent flowers on the plants. They will readily self-sow, an easy way to increase your planting.
If your preference is for brighter colors, try growing Winter Aconite (Eranthus hyemalis). Imagine large, golden-yellow buttercups, each snuggled in a green nest. Now picture them spreading across the landscape, encouraging your winter-weary soul with their bright cheer. Unlike most bulbs, these really hate to dry out. Plant them as soon as you get them, and keep them moist even when they’re dormant. Unfortunately, the entire plant, and especially the tuber, is poisonous. While this will deter munching wildlife, you should probably skip this one if you have small children or pets who might dig in the garden.
This is by no means a complete list. Leafing through a bulb catalog will reveal species iris (photo, above), Fritillaria, or checkered lilies, alliums, and species tulips, anemones and grape hyacinths. It’s hard to know where to begin, with so many possibilities.