Mixing spring-flowering bulbs among perennial plants is a good garden design strategy because the bulbs (especially early-flowering types) will provide color and interest before and while the perennials emerge and develop. Then, the perennials will distract from the bulbs' foliage as it withers and dies back after flowering.
But what are the best flower bulbs to plant among perennials? In his book The Know-Maintenance Perennial Garden, nurseryman and designer Roy Diblik recommends sticking with species bulbs, rather than hybrids. Species tend to stay smaller, making it easy to incorporate a larger number of individual bulbs into the garden for high impact in spring, while still leaving plenty of space for later-flowering perennials. Species bulbs may have a more subtle bloom than intensely bred hybrid bulbs, but they also typically have greater vigor. That means they are more apt to return year after year, and they can hold their own against equally vigorous perennials.
To identify species bulbs in a catalog or at the garden center, look for those with a two-part botanical Latin name—such as the species Tulipa clusiana (shown) or Tulipa bakeri 'Lilac Wonder' vs. the hybrid Tulipa 'Princess Irene'. Species bulbs will also usually be identified as such in catalog descriptions. Excellent bulb catalogs include Old House Gardens, Longfield Gardens and Colorblends.
Image:"14-04-16 Zülpich Damentulpe 01" by Achim Raschka (talk) - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Order The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden from GardenersHub.com and get started using Roy Diblik's natural approach to gardening. This book includes 62 garden plans for easy design, too!
Avoid disappointment with the book Bulbs for Garden Habitats, which explains which flowering bulbs will thrive for years and years in specific garden conditions.
Find the best ornamental grasses to mix with your perennials for a garden with many seasons of interest in Bloom's Best Perennials and Grasses.