Skip to main content

Top bulbs for garden designers

Top bulbs for garden designers

Carien van Boxtel recommends her pick of spring bulbs for naturalising


Bulbs are, like me, quintessentially Dutch, and are indispensable in every green space. If applied well and generously, they provide a great and powerful ‘pop-up’ experience. With clever planning and plant knowledge, you can create a succession of flowering bulbs in your projects from January to December.


1 Scilla mischtschenkoana

The danger in recommending a relatively unknown variety is that demand might exceed supply. In the scheme I designed for JUBHolland at Keukenhof 2019, these were the stars. Porcelain-blue flowers with a blue stripe, long flowering and tough. Plant them at the foot of a hedge or tree, in borders or in the lawn.

2 Tulipa turkestanica

One of the best naturalising species tulips, and by far my favourite, this looks good everywhere, but especially in lawns and meadows. It is multistemmed and multi-headed, with elegant cream-coloured pointy petals, a golden heart and distinguished grey streaks at its outer petals. Flowering in the first half of April, it needs a sunny spot in spring and summer.

Narcissus 'Actaea'. Credit: Joop Huner

3 Narcissus poeticus ‘Actaea’

An early flowering variety of the wellknown and very beautiful pheasant’s eye daffodil. Plant it instead of Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus in the lawn, and you can mow the lawn by mid-May without harming the bulbs at all. Plant it together with recurvus and you will have pheasant’s eyes from April until well into May.

4 Fritillaria raddeana

This is tall and very early, in March. With its creamy white flowers with a hint of green, it is also extremely versatile. Even after flowering, its seedhead is decorative during the rest of spring. Give it good drainage and it will flower again each year.

5 Camassia leichtlinii ‘Sacajawea’

Named after the Native American woman who travelled with Lewis and Clarke, who fed them with ‘quamash bulbs’. Its main qualities lie in its leaves: the variegated upright foliage pops up in early spring and is useful in mixed plantings to fill gaps, like an early ornamental grass, followed in May with cream spires.

6 Tulipa sylvestris

Considered almost a native species in Holland, this is a golden-yellow, deliciously scented tulip that, with its turned and twisted stems, is like no other. A classic stinzenplanten that can be found at many country estates, Tulipa sylvestris is suitable for naturalising, but needs a fertile soil and not too much competition from grasses and other plants. Despite its common name of woodland tulip, it prefers a sunny or half-shaded spot.

7 Leucojum aestivum

Native to Western Europe, this is 35-60cm tall, but some forms reach 90cm. The pendant flowers, like giant snowdrops, are borne in umbels of usually three to five, sometimes as many as seven. It needs a wet spot, preferably at a pond or (streaming) waterway where it will catch the eye. For a taller cultivar, try Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’.

Fritillaria elwesii. Credit: Joop Huner

8 Fritillaria elwesii

The star of the borders I designed at Keukenhof this year, this is one of the most elegant spring flower bulbs ever. Dark stemmed with narrow green and purple flowers, it is covered in a fine bloom. Despite being from the eastern Mediterranean, it will take the British cold, but unlike its native lookalike Fritillaria meleagris will do better with a dry summer rest, so grow in well-drained soil. Grows to 40cm, so it is best to avoid really windy sites. An absolute stunner.  

You might like

Planting over 6 years ago

Ilex & hedera: year-round festivity

Planting over 3 years ago

Rainer’s renaissance

Planting about 4 years ago

Preventing plant disease

Most recent features