Cornell Site Helps Match Spring Bulbs With Early Perennials

– Posted in: Design, Recommended Links
13 comments

If you’re like me, every spring you walk around the garden looking at the fresh leaves of emerging perennials, thinking that you should really plants some spring flowering bulbs nearby to take advantage of the lovely foliage. But I never write down my ideas, and I always forget.

Golden feverfew would nicely complement some spring flowering bulbs. But which ones?


Fortunately, researchers with the Horticulture Department of Cornell University have done the remembering for us. Cornell Bulb/Perennial Combos showcases “examples of combinations that have shown to be successful in our trials at Cornell University, and [they] aim to motivate and entice gardeners and industry professionals to try, experiment with, and promote the use of flower bulbs with perennials in order to enhance the landscape.”

The Cornell trial gardens, located in Ithaca, NY, are in USDA Zone 5, and many of their combinations will work in colder climates as well. They are a great source of information, even if you don’t have the exact plants specified in their combos. For example, one of their top fifteen bulb and perennial combinations is ‘Jan Bos’ hyacinth with ‘Husker Red’ penstemon. Seeing that reminds me that I have ‘Dark Towers’ penstemon, which also has dark red foliage, and now I just need to look for a hyacinth whose flower color complements–or contrasts with–the ruby spring leaves of the penstemon.

Husker Red Penstemon and Jan Bos Hyacinth

It seems as though many cultivars of hyacinth can be combined with Penstemon 'Husker Red'. The penstemon is slow enough to allow the hyacinths to finish blooming and fill their bulbs, and then takes over before the foliage becomes unsightly. Photo and caption text courtesy Cornell University Department of Horticulture

What combinations do you want to try in your garden?

via Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Comments on this entry are closed.

George Africa September 19, 2010, 7:07 am

Hi Kathy;

I love discussions about plant combinations and this Cornell resource will be helpful to me. I know the topic is combining with spring bulbs but here’s a combo that a customer put together in front of me in August that I can recommend. Three of the later blooming (here in central/northern Vermont) daylilies, Ruby Throat, Red Sentinel and Razzmatazz combined with the red leaved, stemmed or flowered sedums such as Jose Aubergine, Voodoo, Purple Emperor, or Matrona. Really works well when the daylilies are in bloom and offers an onging accent as the sedums bloom on into frosty days.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Kathy Purdy September 19, 2010, 5:43 pm

Thanks, George. I know both daylilies and sedums, but with the exception of Matrona the cultivars are unfamiliar to me. Looks like there’s some googling in my future. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

commonweeder September 13, 2010, 7:59 am

What a useful link! And you have just reminded me that I haven’t ordered my bulbs yet. I’m dithering over choices.

Ilona September 6, 2010, 12:50 pm

This idea is what makes spring gardens so exciting- there is massing. layering and perennial and bulb combinations… under flowering trees! Love that time of year.

May I suggest a hyacinth, “Gipsy Queen” which is a soft pale orange, to go with your penstemon patch?

Dirty Girl Gardening September 4, 2010, 4:54 pm

Good post.. I always forget about bulbs. They are the last thing on my mind when it comes to gardening, but I’m always bummed when I see others bulbs come up.

VW September 3, 2010, 12:04 pm

What a great idea. I’ve been figuring out combos in my garden by trial and error. I’ve just ordered a couple of types of tulips and some hyacinths that all say they’ll bloom the same month next spring. We’ll see if my carefully planned color combo actually shows up together, though.

Craig @ Ellis Hollow September 3, 2010, 8:56 am

Kathy: Thanks for featuring our research at Cornell. Glad you and others found it useful. And the secret to keeping deer from eating the tulips at the Bluegrass Lane Research Facility? A very secure deer fence.

Kathy Purdy September 3, 2010, 9:00 am

Craig, when I got the press release in my email, I thought I had heard about this research before on your blog, but I couldn’t find it when I looked.

Kim September 3, 2010, 7:34 am

I don’t understand how Cornell can get tulips (and half the perennial companion plants they list) to survive the severe infestation of deer in the area. I live a half mile from the test gardens, and I can’t get tulips to grow more than an inch tall, let alone to bloom, unless I cover the darned things in oh-so-attractive chicken wire cages. (No fences allowed.)

Cornell must cheat, somehow….

Kathy Purdy September 3, 2010, 8:23 am

Kim, if you find out their secret, let the rest of us know. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Donna September 2, 2010, 9:00 pm

Cornell always does great research in their trials. Your link above is most useful. Thanks.

Frances September 2, 2010, 8:01 pm

What a fabulous resource, Kathy, thanks for sharing it! Don’t you think blue would look lovely with the feverfew? But which ones? Let us see what Cornell has to suggest. 🙂