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Perennials with bulbs

Q: I started a new sunny garden bed last fall and planted tulips and daffodils in it. Can you suggest some perennials that would grow well with the bulbs?

Lisa Cole, Seattle, WA

Plant spring-blooming daffodils with lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis). Plant spring-blooming daffodils with lady's mantle (Alchemilla mollis). Photo/Illustration: Jennifer Blume

A: Judy Glattstein, author of Flowering Bulbs for Dummies (National Gardening Association, 1998), replies: Bulbs and perennials make great partners in the garden. But remember that while bulbs can grow through a ground cover such as periwinkle (Vinca minor), they have a hard time pushing through the denser roots of most perennials. So, plant perennials next to each group of bulbs, not directly above them. Also keep in mind that spring-flowering bulbs are dormant in summer when perennials are most active. If bulbs occupy too much space in the flower bed, there are likely to be blank spots when they go dormant. I’d suggest allocating about 15 percent of the area to bulbs. Annuals can be planted directly above the bulbs to fill in summer gaps.

Shorter daffodils look great with lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis). In my New Jersey garden (USDA Hardiness Zone 6), I grow larger daffodils in a woodland, in combination with hellebores (Helleborus spp.), lungwort (Pulmonaria spp. and cvs.), and ferns. These perennials look good while the daffodils are in flower, and afterwards.

Low-growing, rock-garden tulips (Tulipa kaufmanniana hybrids and T. greigii hybrids) are charming when paired with perennial candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) and basket-of-gold (Aurinia saxatilis), which flower at the same time. One traditional companion for taller May-flowering tulips is our native wildflower, Virginia bluebell (Mertensia virginica).

If you are looking for perennials to follow tulips and daffodils, choose those whose expanding foliage will disguise the bare spots left by bulbs in summer. Daffodils and daylilies (Hemerocallis cvs.) are a popular combination. The arching foliage of herbaceous peonies (Paeonia spp.) also does a good job of covering dying bulb foliage. Other perennials, such as prairie coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’), are also good choices. All of these perennials will grow well in Zones 5 to 8.

From Fine Gardening 67, pp. 74