Planting bulbs is fun, but it's dreaming up fabulous color schemes that will really get your creative juices flowing. The color palette is endless and so are the combinations that cater to the colors you love. Have a passion for purple and orange? Try rich purple tulips (Tulipa 'Purple Prince') intermixed with purple-flamed orange tulips (Tulipa 'Princess Irene'). Go bonkers for blue and yellow? Then fragrant deep blue hyacinths (Hyacinthus 'Blue Jacket') with jaunty yellow daffodils (Narcissus 'Dutch Master') may be just what you're looking for.
Keep bloom times in mind. Spring actually has three bloom seasons: early-, mid- and late-season. By choosing bulbs that bloom at different times, you'll have month after month of spring color. Plant low-growing bulbs, such as grape hyacinths, in front of taller bulbs, such as daffodils. Or mingle them all together for a more naturalistic effect.
Knowing bloom times will help you create bloom teams: flowers that come into bloom and decline at approximately the same times. While you can't expect flowers to perform in precise synchronicity, it's helpful to think of the color in your garden "building towards a color crescendo."
Then again, you could let the experts do the color work for you and just follow their lead! The following is a selection of colorful bulb combos that should bloom in a delightful display. Remember to plant in fall and forgive Mother Nature if she throws you the occasional curve.
Early-Spring — Blue, Yellow & White
Scilla siberica, Narcissus 'Tête a Tête', Narcissus 'Ice Follies'
In this spritely combo, the cobalt-blue scilla are first to bloom. They continue to bloom for weeks as yellow Narcissus 'Tete-a-Tete' joins in, followed by white N. 'Ice Follies'.
- Scilla siberica — This delicate-looking but sturdy little color machine produces stems supporting up to five bowl-shaped, brilliant blue flowers each. The flowers emerge on still-short stems, then gradually rise to eight inches (20 cm) in height by maturity.
- Narcissus 'Tête a Tête' — A miniature daffodil just six inches (15 cm) tall, 'Tête a Tête' bears an abundance of short-stemmed dangling flowers with golden-yellow outer petals that curl back to highlight deeper-yellow trumpets.
- Narcissus 'Ice Follies' — This medium height, large-cupped daffodil is a champion naturalizer, famous for its ability to "come back" each spring, often for decades in settings where it is happy. Its performance is marked by two personas: the large, frilled flower cups are lemon-yellow when they open, then fade to nearly white as the flowers mature.
Mid-Spring — Red, Yellow & White
Tulipa turkestanica, Tulipa praestans 'Unicum', Tulipa tarda
These three botanical tulips combine to charming effect in the early spring garden. If you like how they look, you're in luck, as all three are excellent naturalizers and will come back for years to come in many garden settings. Their mix of bright green, grey-green and variegated leaves with creamy white margins provide a sophisticated backdrop for their colorful red and yellow flowers guaranteed to brighten the mid-spring landscape. T. turkestanica will bloom first, joined by T. praestans 'Unicum' and slightly later, T. tarda.
- Tulipa turkestanica (Species Tulip) — This is a wild-looking species of botanical tulip with grey-green leaves and up to 12 star-shaped, malodorous white flowers borne on 12-inch (30 cm), hairy stems. Indeed these are quite attractive little flowers despite the smelly hirsute description. While appearing white at first glance, the flowers are actually flushed greenish-grey or greenish-pink on the outside, with centers shaded yellow or orange around brown or purple stamens and purple-tipped yellow anthers.
- Tulipa praestans 'Unicum' (Miscellaneous Tulip) — A bunch tulip (multi-flowering) just eight-inches (20 cm) tall, 'Unicum' has variegated leaves edged in creamy white and clusters of up to five cayenne-red flowers, each centered with a light-yellow base and blue anthers.
- Tulipa tarda (Species Tulip) — This six-inch (15 cm) tall bloomer boasts star-shaped yellow and white flowers that open wide in the sun, then close tightly overnight. Each flower is white with a greenish tinge and a vivid yellow interior edged in white. Its shiny, bright green leaves are lance-shaped, recurved and often finely fringed.
Late Mid-Spring — Red & White
Tulipa 'Mount Tacoma', Tulipa 'Red Riding Hood'
In the garden or a container planter, taller T. 'Mount Tacoma' will bloom above shorter T. 'Red Riding Hood'. This combination of white-over-red provides a fresh twist on a traditional spring garden color scheme.
- Tulipa 'Mount Tacoma' (Double Late Tulip) — With lovely, pure-white peony-shaped flowers atop 16-inch (40 cm) stems, this tulip has a commanding presence in the mid-season garden.
- Tulipa 'Red Riding Hood' (Greigii Tulip) — A stout shorty only eight inches (20 cm) high, this tulip bears plump, carmine-red flowers with vivid scarlet inner petals framing a dramatic black inner base. Its wide, soft green leaves are mottled with appealing purplish spots.
Early Late-Spring — Orange Flush
Tulipa 'Orange Princess', Tulipa 'Ballerina'
These two orange superstars, with their very different personas, make quite the duo in the late season garden. 'Ballerina' is tall, willowy and elegant with long stems and slim, elongated, marigold-orange blossoms. At half the height, peony-flowered 'Orange Princess' fills in below with a plump, colorful presence.
- Tulipa 'Orange Princess' (Double Late Tulip) — A 12-inch (30 cm) sport of lovely 'Princess Irene', this peony-flowered tulip is light-nasturtium-orange flushed with reddish-purple and glazed lightly in warm pink. Its chubby, bowl-shaped flowers are tipped with green on the outer petals.
- Tulipa 'Ballerina' (Lily Flowered Tulip) — This lovely 24-inch (60 cm), fragrant tulip technically features lemon-yellow flowers with blood-red flames, orange-yellow veins at the margins, star-shaped yellow bases, and cayenne-red inner petals feathered marigold-orange surrounding pale golden yellow anthers. But, forget all that: the overall effect is not really so complex: what your eyes see is an absolutely glorious shade of orange!
Late-Spring — Pink & Purple
Tulipa 'New Design', Tulipa 'Angélique', Tulipa 'Blue Parrot'
Tulip 'New Design' comes into bloom first, followed by 'Angelique.' Both are noted for their long bloom times in the garden. As they reach full bloom, the slightly-later blooming 'Blue Parrot' tulips join in. The purple flowers reach their peak on the far side of the pink tulips' extended bloom time.
- Tulipa 'New Design' (Triumph Tulip) — Now here is an elegant tulip that blooms on the late side of mid-season and, thus, happily teams up with earlier-blooming members of the 'Parrot' and 'Double Late' tulip groups. Its flowers are soft yellow flushed with pinkish-white and edged in pale fuchsia-red. Inside each flower cup is a surprise; here, the color is soft yellow flamed with apricot, and the base is an unexpectedly rich buttercup-yellow shown off by dark brown anthers. Even the variegated leaves are exotic — soft green edged in pale-pinkish white.
- Tulipa 'Angélique' (Double Late Tulip) — This 12-inch (30 cm) tall tulip is North America's favorite — and no wonder! Its flowers are peony-shaped, fragrant and extremely long-lived in both the garden and the vase. Most call the flower "pink." But look twice — each petal is a whorl of shades ranging from blush to pale pink to rich rose, with flushes here and there of pale green, cream and pale yellow.
- Tulipa 'Blue Parrot' (Parrot Tulip) — With its over-sized, flamboyant flower head atop a tall slender stem, this 'Parrot' tulip bobs and flutters like its tropical namesake. Its bright, violet-blue flowers, flushed bronze-purple inside, are wavy-edged and fringed like feathers.
Late-Spring — Peaches & Cream
T. 'Apricot Parrot', Tulipa 'Upstar', T. 'Queen of Night', 'T. Spring Green'
How romantic can tulips be? To see, just plant this awesome team! A tip: pair any two, three or all four of these beauties for an array guaranteed to take your breath away. Each has an exquisitely lush flower noted for unusual coloration. Each is a top-performer in the garden or the vase. Expect 'Apricot Parrot' to begin blooming first, quickly followed by the other three.
- Tulipa 'Apricot Parrot' (Parrot Tulip) — This fragrant late bloomer presents a more flamboyant persona in the garden with ruffled, feathered petals reminiscent of tropical bird plumage. Each apricot flower is flushed and flamed with color ranging from creamy white to yellow, salmon-pink and soft green. It stands 16- to 18-inches (40-45 cm) tall.
- Tulipa 'Upstar' (Double Late Tulip) — 'Upstar' seems to be pink perfection in a late blooming tulip, but in fact it is a creamy white tulip that "fades to pink." This unusual effect occurs as the petals mature and broad bands of purplish-rose emerge to alter the flower's coloration. The peony-shaped flowers are borne on sturdy 18-inch (45 cm) stems.
- Tulipa 'Spring Green' (Viridiflora Tulip) — A translucent beauty of shimmering white flushed with pale green, this lovely green-feathered, ivory-white tulip strengthens the presence of its more stark dark-and-bright bloom partners. It is 20-inches (50 cm) tall, thus blooms right beneath the heads of 'Queen of Night'.
- Tulipa 'Queen of Night' (Single Late Tulip) — Introduced in 1944, 'Queen of Night' is still considered the blackest tulip ever bred. This classic cup-shaped tulip, 24-inches (60 cm) tall, is a velvety dark maroon or mahogany, depending on the light. In the shade, the flower can appear to be pitch black.