The Bulb Design Notes Project: Allium and Snowball Viburnum

The Bulb Design Notes Project features work by Janie McCabe of M.J. McCabe Garden Design. 

Combo: Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ with Viburnum opalus roseum (old-fashioned snowball viburnum).

Location: Guilford, Connecticut, USDA Zone 6b

Notes: These are both heirloom varieties suited to a spare location. Also, both are reasonably priced thus affordable in mass plantings. The viburnum will fill out fairly quickly. The allium will rebloom for 3 or 4 years. I’ll add more allium bulbs every few years.


The bulb experts at Colorblends thought it would be interesting to explore how some accomplished garden design professionals approach their projects. “We reached out to several designers whose work we admire and asked if they’d share the thinking behind some of their successful spring bulb and perennial combinations. Their generous responses are presented in The Bulb Design Notes Project,” says Tim Schipper of Colorblends, a national flower bulb resource. Click here to read more.

The Bulb Design Notes Project: Hillside Mix of Bulbs and Perennials

The Bulb Design Notes Project features work by Janie McCabe of M.J. McCabe Garden Design. 

Combo: Red-orange species tulips, white Narcissus ‘W.P. Milner’ and yellow Narcissus ‘Baby Boomer’, purple Allium ‘Purple Sensation’, yellow Doronicum oriental (oriental leopard’s bane), white Iberis ‘Kingwood Compact’ (candytuft), blue Campanula poscharskyana (Serbian bellflower) and green Hakonechloa (Hakone grass).

Location: Middletown, Connecticut, USDA Zone 6b

Notes: I like to add small surprises for my clients. When I tuck in spring-blooming bulbs, people are bowled over by the unexpected color. A patch of brilliant-blue Iris reticulata will hook anyone. People fall in love with bulbs. For this sunny site, the surprise was species tulips. These have now naturalized here. No animal problems to date.

For me, pest resistance is always a factor. Eighty percent of my clients in coastal Connecticut have trouble with deer, voles, moles and rabbits. For spring color, pest-proof daffodils are always a top choice. Alliums are very reliable too.

Tulips are tricky. But, what’s spring without tulips? Even small doses make such a difference. I find there’s usually a way to work in tulips—you just need to outfox the foragers. The bulbs are not expensive, so it’s worth experimenting with surprise clusters here and there, to push the envelope, to learn where you’ll have success. Never assume tulips won’t work.

For certain sites, I treat tulip bulbs to keep diggers away. I soak the bulbs in my own mix: 1/4 cup liquid Lysol to 3 gallons water. A quick soak is plenty. Spread the bulbs out to dry before planting.


The bulb experts at Colorblends thought it would be interesting to explore how some accomplished garden design professionals approach their projects. “We reached out to several designers whose work we admire and asked if they’d share the thinking behind some of their successful spring bulb and perennial combinations. Their generous responses are presented in The Bulb Design Notes Project,” says Tim Schipper of Colorblends, a national flower bulb resource. Click here to read more.

The Bulb Design Notes Project: White-on-White Color Scheme

The Bulb Design Notes Project features work by Janie McCabe of M.J. McCabe Garden Design. 

Combo: Boxwood hedge of Buxus ‘Tide Hill’ and white-flowering, dwarf crabapples. In spring: Narcisuss ‘Thalia’ and mixed white tulips, including: single late ‘Maureen’, double late ‘Mount Tacoma’, lily-flowered ‘White Triumphator’ and fringed ‘Swan Wings’. In summer: Allium ‘Mount Everest’, followed by Scaevola and Euphorbia ‘White Frost’. In fall: Anemone japonica ‘Honorine Jobert’.

Location: Milford, Connecticut, USDA Zone 7a

Notes: This was a project for a longtime client on which I cooperated with David Duncan of Needham Duncan Architecture of Old Lyme, Connecticut. My assignment was to create a new garden adjacent to the garage addition David was designing for the client’s 1909-built home. The resulting structure and garden meld beautifully with the relaxed elegance of the original property.

Boxwood hedging and dwarf crabapple trees anchor the garden beds. In this setting, a white-on-white color scheme is appealing spring through fall. The bloom season opens with diminutive, multi-flowering N. ‘Thalia’. Next up are a mix of white tulips that bloom mid-late to late spring. Right after bloom, we pull the tulips. By then, Allium ‘Mount Everest’ is taking over. In summer the white-on-white scheme continues with a ground-cover-planting of Scaevola and Euphorbia. In fall, the naturalized Japanese anemone comes up.

Each fall, we plant fresh tulip bulbs and additional alliums. Typically we plant here by Thanksgiving.


The bulb experts at Colorblends thought it would be interesting to explore how some accomplished garden design professionals approach their projects. “We reached out to several designers whose work we admire and asked if they’d share the thinking behind some of their successful spring bulb and perennial combinations. Their generous responses are presented in The Bulb Design Notes Project,” says Tim Schipper of Colorblends, a national flower bulb resource. Click here to read more.

The Bulb Design Notes Project: Allium, Kniphofia and Grasses

The Bulb Design Notes Project features work by Janie McCabe of M.J. McCabe Garden Design. 

Combo: Fall-planted bulb, purple Allium ‘Ambassador’ with perennials, including: orange-and-yellow Kniphofia (red hot poker) and grasses Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ and Pennisetum ‘Hameln’.

Location: Branford, Connecticut, USDA Zone 7a

Notes: The color contrast is wonderful in hazy coastal light and jaw-dropping when backlit by the sun, late afternoon till sunset. The allium and red hot pokers are flanked by perennial grasses, which effectively hide the yellowing allium foliage during its dieback phase. The entire mix provides for a long season of interest with plants that silhouette beautifully against the water. Equally important: these plants are tough nuts that take coastal conditions in stride.


The bulb experts at Colorblends thought it would be interesting to explore how some accomplished garden design professionals approach their projects. “We reached out to several designers whose work we admire and asked if they’d share the thinking behind some of their successful spring bulb and perennial combinations. Their generous responses are presented in The Bulb Design Notes Project,” says Tim Schipper of Colorblends, a national flower bulb resource. Click here to read more.

The Bulb Design Notes Project: Impressive Color Echoing

The Bulb Design Notes Project features work by Janie McCabe of M.J. McCabe Garden Design. 

Combo: Tulipa ‘Formosa’ (viridiflora tulip, soft yellow with spring-green blush, blooms late) with Hosta ‘Ivory Coast’ (medium large, the yellow margins turn creamy in summer).

Location: Fairfield, Connecticut, USDA Zone 7a

Notes: Here’s another found treasure, this time at Oliver’s Nursery in Fairfield, Connecticut. This is an impressive plant combination that shows the power of color echoing at its best. There’s unusual balance in this pairing, where the same shades of “tulip green” and soft yellow link the tulip and hosta, while their respective color configurations are nearly opposite. To this composition, I envision adding blue Brunnera and yellow, daisy-like Doronicum to enhance and extend the bloom.


The bulb experts at Colorblends thought it would be interesting to explore how some accomplished garden design professionals approach their projects. “We reached out to several designers whose work we admire and asked if they’d share the thinking behind some of their successful spring bulb and perennial combinations. Their generous responses are presented in The Bulb Design Notes Project,” says Tim Schipper of Colorblends, a national flower bulb resource. Click here to read more.

The Bulb Design Notes Project: Flawless Transitional Combo

The Bulb Design Notes Project features work by Janie McCabe of M.J. McCabe Garden Design. 

Combo: Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ (blooms late spring/early summer); Gladiolus communis ssp byzantinus (magenta flowers, blooms late spring/early summer); Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ (Japanese forest grass, mounded, cascading golden grass); Aruncus ‘Horatio’ (goat’s beard, tiny white flowers, blooms early to midsummer); Salvia x sylvestris ‘Blue Hill’; Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ (deep-magenta foliage in spring, red in fall).

Location: Conservatory Garden in Central Park, New York, New York, USDA Zone 7b

Notes: I spotted this gorgeous plant partnership at the Conservatory Garden in Manhattan’s Central Park. I love how it maximizes the transition from late spring into summer, with a layering of texture and color that feels flawless to me. Note how the reddish-purple Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ and Gladiolus byzantinus are framed by the glowing Hakonechloa and the fresh green foliage and tiny, creamy-white flowers of the Aruncus, while the brilliant-blue Salvia in the foreground adds the right dollop of punctuation. To the rear, the smoke tree’s dark foliage creates a backdrop that sets off the whole scene.


The bulb experts at Colorblends thought it would be interesting to explore how some accomplished garden design professionals approach their projects. “We reached out to several designers whose work we admire and asked if they’d share the thinking behind some of their successful spring bulb and perennial combinations. Their generous responses are presented in The Bulb Design Notes Project,” says Tim Schipper of Colorblends, a national flower bulb resource. Click here to read more.

The Bulb Design Notes Project: Designing for Deer Resistance

The Bulb Design Notes Project features work by Janie McCabe of M.J. McCabe Garden Design.

Combo: In spring: hellebores, dwarf daffodils, Pulmonaria, Epimedium (barrenwort or bishop’s hat), Viola ‘Lemon Sorbet’ and Tulipa ‘Apricot Impression’ (Darwin hybrid tulip, apricot with pink, blooms midseason). Late spring into summer: Hakonechloa (Japanese forest grass) with ferns and Linum (flax). Joined in late summer/fall by Kirengeshoma palmata (yellow wax bells) plus naturalized Colchicum.

Location: Janie’s garden in Northford, Connecticut, USDA Zone 6b

Notes: An old apple tree is a prized feature in this area of my garden. The surrounding perennial bed changes throughout the year. With two exceptions, every plant in this setting is deer resistant. The exceptions are tulips and violas. Happily, though both are vulnerable to deer, typically neither is bothered here thanks to their unpalatable neighbors. In spring, there’s plenty of sunlight so the daffodils come back year after year. Every year, I plant fresh tulips. For the fun of it, I change the color scheme each year, planting all of one kind. Perennial spring color is provided by naturalized miniature daffodils, purple-flowered Epimedium, purple-flowered Helleborus and brilliant-blue Pulmonaria. I also add yellow violas in spring, which reseed nicely so they rebloom in fall. By late spring, I pull the tulips.

In summer and fall the bed is partially shaded and stays fairly moist, though not overly damp. Lush foliage dominates, with color unfolding in waves. First the underplanting of grassy Hakonechloa fills in, then is joined by the ferns, the foliage of Linum and Kirengeshoma pallata. In late spring, a long-lasting wave of blue kicks in, as the bee-loving Linum flowers come into bloom. By August, the waxy yellow flowers of Kirengeshoma have taken over, lasting into fall. By October, a pink carpet of naturalized Colchicum is the big show, now rejoined by the yellow violas.


The bulb experts at Colorblends thought it would be interesting to explore how some accomplished garden design professionals approach their projects. “We reached out to several designers whose work we admire and asked if they’d share the thinking behind some of their successful spring bulb and perennial combinations. Their generous responses are presented in The Bulb Design Notes Project,” says Tim Schipper of Colorblends, a national flower bulb resource. Click here to read more.

Finding Beauty in Imperfection

Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese aesthetic that reflects the very core of Zen philosophy. Age, imperfection and impermanence are the underlying qualities inherent in Wabi-Sabi. This cultivated and refined approach in all art forms suggests the sublime transient beauty in all living things.

It is a significant concept in Japanese culture, and one that can be appreciated in many art forms such as pottery, painting, as well as gardening.

In applying this concept to gardens, it is important to honor and respect what is inherent in the natural, unaltered landscape. Nature is abundant with random imperfections. An ancient tree, enduring years of turbulent weather appears sadly leaning while the roots remain surprisingly anchored to the earth. Random patterns of wild plants echo the innate flow and of nature; this is certainly apparent in the abundance of the often disdained “invasive plants.” Applying the simple principles of a Asian inspired garden provides a place for contemplation, calmness and simplicity.

What remains is the very essence of the pure, natural world—its imperfections and inherent flaws remain constant; it is the acceptance of such flaws that opens us up to the raw, unaltered beauty of nature.


“Wabi-sabi is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in earthiness, of revering authenticity above all.” — Robyn Griggs Lawrence, author, The Wabi Sabi House Finding Beauty in Imperfection


Take a Fresh Look at Your Landscape

Winter is the perfect time to think about creating a fresh and vibrant garden design that can be implemented this spring. Taking the time now allows you to explore what may be missing in your home landscape. Perhaps, you might consider a new walkway that leads out to the backyard for a more intimate connection between house and garden. Privacy screening in the form of large evergreens will block some unsightly views that have been bothersome in the past. The dream of a stone patio with a fire pit surrounded by billowy flowering perennials might fit perfectly into a large swath of unused lawn.

This is true for new homeowners who may have a totally blank slate as well as those who have an existing garden that may look congested and overgrown. A fresh perspective now may be the incentive to really dig in this spring to create a fresh and exciting new look to your landscape.

The view out of a main doorway or larger window of your home is the perfect starting point for creating a new garden this Winter. This is the perfect opportunity to frame a view that links the inside to the outside.

From the warmth of your interior — inspiration for a grander garden scheme becomes more apparent.

The simplicity of a lovely view offers a wonderful relaxing moment — a true break from a busy day

An arbor is helpful to frame the view and increase the drama to entering a garden.

A long axial walkway leads the visitor into a pergola covered dining area – trees flanking the walk represent the “walls” of the garden room.

A nicely proportioned home entrance is enhanced by an overhanging tree and well positioned planting beds.

A garden bench allows for a quiet meditative moment in a May blooming garden.

Planting Spring Bulbs

 

Early bulbs are much smaller and will do well planted about 3-4” deep. Top dressing with an autumn mulch keeps the ground warmer allowing for root development before the deep cold of winter sets in. This insulating mulch also protects the bulbs from quick freezes and thaws that often occur in late winter.

A generous mix of bulbs are being incorporated into any existing garden.

As the days become longer and the daytime temperatures gradually rise, the bulbs will naturally begin to emerge and start the wonderful process of sequential blooming. Since the early spring bulbs are low growing and devoid of a lot of foliage, the first flush of flowers magically appears making the early spring garden abundant in a sea of blooms–creating a breathtaking picture that can last for several days of even weeks. When one group of bulbs start to fade, another grouping takes center stage quickly filling in any vacancies in the garden.

 

After flowering, it is important to give them a feeding of organic fertilizer and allow the foliage to die back gradually. Later bloomers like tulips and alliums along with emerging perennials will eventually camouflage the waning bulbs. By creating a design that promotes a progression of bulbs, the garden will never be without something in bloom.

In late April and early May, tulips the grand-dames of the garden lend flirt and fancy in an abundant array of colors and shapes. Species tulips are tiny in size often blooming along with daffodils which makes them less likely to be eaten by deer. To deter rodents from eating the bulbs, use a rodent repellant or add cayenne pepper or garlic flakes to the planting hole.

Spring bulbs in a sculpture garden.

Another trick is to spray bulbs (especially tulips) with a diluted solution of old fashioned liquid lysol and let the bulbs dry completely in the sun prior to planting, The offending critters are hindered by the smell and taste of this strong smelling cleaner. Another tip from a bulb importer is to plant them in the same hole as the allium. The strong onion odor of the allium helps to keep critters away as well.

The dynamic and vertical lines of flowering onions or Alliums continue the show into June- globe-like flower of the allium may be allowed to dry in the garden, which adds texture and interest to your perennial borders. There is a multitude of allium varieties in the market–from very low growing to impressive 4‘ varieties. Alliums add an elegance and dramatic verticality to the late May and early June garden Fragrant and dramatic lilies, “the wings of the garden” take flight in late June and July. You can find a multitude of different hybrids in dazzling colors and shapes in all of these species of bulbs.

An enchanting collection of peony-flowering tulips and late daffodils in a seaside garden.

To encourage your bulb garden to flourish, select a site that has well-drained soil. If the soil needs work, start by enriching the proposed area with good top soil or compost to a depth of about 6”. Bulbs do not like to be planted in area that is usually wet–so good drainage is essential when preparing your site for a bulb garden. Plant bulbs with the pointed side up adding a tablespoon or so of an organic fertilizer that contains rock phosphate, which will ensure proper root development.

It is especially important to plant the bulb to the proper depth which is about 3-4 times the bulb’s length. For example, a tulip which is about 2” long needs to be planted about 6-8” deep. The earlier bulbs are much smaller and will do well planted about 3-4” deep. Top dressing with an autumn mulch keeps the ground warmer allowing for root development before the deep cold of winter sets in. This insulating mulch also protects the bulbs from lifting when quick freezes and thaws occur in late winter. As the days become longer and the daytime temperatures get warmer, the bulbs will naturally begin to emerge and start the wonderful process of sequential blooming. When one group of bulbs start to fade, another grouping starts to take center stage and fills in any vacancies in the garden. Since the early spring bulbs are low growing and devoid of a lot of foliage, the flowers in full bloom appear as luscious masses of color–creating a breathtaking picture that can last for several days of even weeks.

After flowering, it is important to give your bulbs a feeding of organic fertilizer because this is the time they are storing food for next year’s blooms.

Always allow the foliage to gradually die back naturally. By late June most of the foliage has completely withered and can then be safely cut down. Later bloomers like tulips and alliums along with emerging perennials will eventually camouflage the waning bulbs.

By creating a design that promotes a progression of bulbs, the garden will never be without something in bloom. At present, bulb supplies are still plentiful and you can safely plant your bulb garden right up to Thanksgiving. A warm sunny afternoon in late October or early November is the perfect time to plant your spring garden–so don’t hesitate to get out there soon!

 

You’re never too young to learn how to plant bulbs for the family garden!