Planting Bulbs

Casa Blanca Lily in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Casa Blanca Lily in Garden Bed (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

As fall settles into summer’s time slot, we’re given an opportunity to put down our pruners and gloves and reflect back on the wonders of this year’s garden.  And as bygone sugarplum plants dance in our heads, we may want to consider some ideas to liven up the landscape even more next spring, which is where a variety of bulbs come into play. Bulbs are the gifts we give ourselves to enjoy later; we wrap them up in the earth each autumn and look forward to them opening in the spring. Although placement and planting are fairly easy tasks, not all bulbs are equally reliable.  I have had great success with some bulbs, while others have been short lived for various reasons. Here are a few of my trials and tribulations, along with successes, to help you have the most rewarding experience possible.

Stargazer Lily in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Stargazer Lily with viburnum (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Lilies and tulips are in the “trial and tribulation” category because they are a favorite food for pests from above and below ground, and the odds are against you (and them) right from the start-unless they are surrounded by electric fences, razor wire and encased in cement walls five feet thick. Tulips are tantalizing with their incredible range of shapes, height and colors; but most only last a year or two (if not devoured before), so its best to treat them as an annual (consider planting in a container) and look elsewhere for bulbs that are a bit more durable.  And elsewhere is lilies, which I am far too enamored of to give up without a fight.  Unlike tulips, lilies will come back year after year (and multiply), as long as you can prevent them from being eaten . . . and I have had many eaten before I figured out a way to protect them. Don’t do what I did; plant hundreds of Oriental, Asiatic and Orienpet lilies (with my husband’s help) along a 300 foot fence line in front of our house.  What we envisioned were months of prismatic displays, but what we actually created was an easily accessed banquet for dozens of moles and voles.  Instead of the exuberant masses of scintillating blossoms we expected to see the following spring, we were greeted by a neatly mulched border bereft of a single stem.  Nada . . .

Trumpet Lily in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Towering yellow Trumpet Lily (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Fortunately, after that disastrous learning curve, I started having better luck with lilies.  What I discovered was that planting the bulbs in with (actually under) lower growing shrubs-like viburnum and dwarf Japanese maples-served two purposes; shrubs gave the lily protection at the base of the plant (lilies don’t like full sun at their feet) while providing surrounding roots that made it difficult for underground critters to maneuver around, thus preventing access to the tasty bulbs. Lilies easily grow up through the branches of shrubs, while the shrubs act as protection and support without compromising bloom integrity. Adding gravel to the soil around freshly planted bulbs will aid in deterring underground nibblers as well.  A few of my favorite Oriental lilies are: Lilium ‘Casa Blanca’ (zone 5-8) a 4 foot, intoxicating white temptress, and the bright pink, 3 foot freckled stunner ‘Stargazer’ (zone 4-8). I also recommend adding a few trumpet lilies, such as the buttery yellow, 6 foot tall ‘Golden Splendour’ (zone 4-8), which can add drama and incredible fragrance to the center of a garden bed.

Kiss Me Kate Lily in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

‘Kiss Me Kate’ Asiatic Lily (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Other bulbs I adore that aren’t threatened by critters, and therefore deemed “successes”, are alliums (genus of the onion family), hyacinths, Camassia, Ornithogalum and daffodils (all zone 4-8).  Alliums have proven to last about 3-4 years, but on the whole, seem to be relatively pest resistant.  Their colored orbs come in many shades; from violet blue to creamy white, and sizes; from golf ball to basketball, with the only drawback of browning foliage after bloom that is easily hidden under later season perennials. Hyacinths are very early, wonderfully scented tubular shaped clusters on short stems that display shades of the richest purples, fuchsia pinks and even buttery yellows. Camassia cusickii is an attractive pale blue flower on 2 -3 foot spires, and Ornithogalum magnum is a 2 foot stem with luminous white star-shaped flowers, the latter self-sowing very happily.  Daffodils, oh happy daffodils, far too many to select just a few, in colors from canary yellow to mauve peach or brilliant white, a wide range of blooming periods, and many that are exceptionally fragrant.  Daffodils can be under planted with daylilies (and other perennials) or naturalized out in a meadow, either way they’re a long lived treasure not to be missed.

Pearly white orbs of Allium 'Mount Everest' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Pearly white orbs of Allium ‘Mount Everest’ (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

If you haven’t ordered, it’s not too late.  Try Connecticut based or and in Virginia, to get started.  There is nothing better in the early spring than to be greeted by the colors and scents of glorious bulbs.  Sort of like an early holiday present to yourself ♥


  1. WOW!!! Those Lillies are stunning….

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