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Ok, it isn't actually wine that we'll be pairing in this article, but you could enjoy a glass of it while you read this or as you are planting. Just as Pinot Noir compliments grilled salmon and Zinfandel pairs well with barbecued chicken, spring bulbs can compliment perennials with some thought and planning. Following are three ways to approach well-designed pairings.
One category of pairings is bulbs and perennials with similar foliage. Hiding the dying foliage of spring bulbs is an important factor in these perennial/bulb combinations. For example, two of the easiest masquerading combos are daylilies with daffodils (see above) and tulips with hostas (see below). The pairs have similar foliage allowing for quick cover-up as the daffodils and tulip foliage die back and the new leaves of daylilies and hosta emerge. Imagine seeing the combination above in the same space in your garden but at different months of the year! Another benefit of planting daffodils among the daylilies is that they will discourage deer from eating the daylilies.
Other perennials make great pairings because of their interesting spring foliage. Many perennials don't bloom until summer but have interesting leaves in the spring. Imagine flowers of spring-blooming bulbs rising above those leaves and then disappearing just as the perennial comes into bloom. This extends the color and interest in your landscape for another season without taking up more garden space. Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) & orange tulips (see below) would be stunning together in the garden especially with a burgundy barberry added to the scene. My favorite accidental combination that turned out amazingly well was when I planted the large bulbs of Allium 'Schubertii' amongst an area covered with variegated Dead Nettle (Lamium). It was striking as well as whimsical.
Hostas & Purple Allium like 'Globemaster' make great partners in the garden.
And doesn't this burgundy leaf Coral Bell (Heuchera) & these pink tulips make a pretty match?
The final group of great pairings are those with the same bloom time. It can be tricky to do but with experimentation, you can come up with outstanding combinations. Imagine orange Oriental poppies with dark purple 'Queen of Night' tulips - dramatic and delightful.
Here are a few more great pairings of perennials and spring bulbs:
* Penstemon & Daffodils - the dark burgundy foliage of 'Husker Red'or 'Dark Towers' looks especially fabulous with yellow daffodils nearby.
* Hardy Geranium & Grape Hyacinths (Muscari)
* Creeping phlox & Grape Hyacinths (Muscari) - see photo below
* Golden Bleeding Heart & pink tulips - see photo below
Fall is the time to purchase spring-flowering bulbs and tuck them in the ground. In fact, if you are planting perennials now, throw a handful of bulbs in the same hole. Work smarter, not harder. And a final thought: just as a fine wine paired with the right entree provides a pleasurable dining experience, planting thoughtful combinations of bulbs and perennials can give your garden a well-designed look.
Horticulturist and General Manager of Burlington Garden Center