My Favorite Minor Flowering Bulbs for Spring

Ilona Erwin

The Minor Flowering Bulbs I Love

Along with a few stories

One of the first things I wrote about for this site centered on the small, or minor, bulbs. Read it here, with the names, descriptions, and my comments on those I’ve grown. I wanted to further point out some of my favorites of the group, and relate experiences with them in my Ohio garden soil.

magnolia stellata

Magnolia stellata buds in foreground, naturalized minor bulbs beyond.

Natural Scenes of Springtime Beauty

Plant them (especially early bloomers) where you can easily inspect and enjoy them near a window, path, or entry

The power of the smaller types of flower bulbs resides in their ability to spread and give a big effect. Because all signs of them are gone by early summer, they are the perfect inclusion in grassy areas or under shrubs and trees.

One of my greatest satisfactions with my garden has been the naturalized mix of scillas, pushkinias, muscari, and anemone blanda in the front garden. Although time and circumstance have caused me to forego the perennial border that was once there, the small field of springtime blue is the highlight of this part of the landscape.

Miniature Daffodils Grow Well With Minor Bulbs

small daffodils,tete a tete

A small and early variety

Not a minor bulb, per se, since narcissus as an entire group comprises some very large sized bulbs. Yes, even the miniature daffodils have good sized bulbs in comparison, but they mix well with their dainty blooms and more refined foliage.

Their size and bloom time lend them to be included in stands of the small bulbs. Good with any of the Muscari, but try them with others, like the scillas.

It works for design purposes, anyway. It is a matter of scale.

 

Eranthis

Golden yellow blooms that cheerfully show up very ealry and for some fortunate souls, spread into large pools of a sunshine hue.

I’ve never done well with Eranthis hyemalis, but I love the way Winter Aconites look when happy. They like a woodland area better than my prairie conditions.

I believe one of the keys to a healthy stand of these little yellow elf-suited plants (they have that green, frilled collar) is in woodland habitats of their native Europe, the Balkans, the south of France, and Italy. Most of Ohio and the Eastern parts of the USA were once woodlands, and that makes me think that most gardeners in my State would find success with the Winter Aconite.

eranthis

Winter aconite bloom

Part of the Ranunculaceae family, it is related to Buttercups and Ranunculus. A poisonous family, but there is no consensus on the toxicity of winter aconites.

What is it about woodland soil that leads Eranthis to reseed and naturalize?

  • Plenty of humus to hold moisture while remaining well drained
  • A bit of shade is welcome

 

Tip: Soak the bulbs for an hour before planting

My favorite way to see them is spread out over a large area in a pool of golden yellow in partly shady areas. If you want to combine with other plants, Helleborus (early perennials, Galanthus (Snowdrops) ,and Cyclamen coum (hardy Cyclamen) make good companions.

Cyclamen coum

Cyclamen coum bud

Unfolding bud of C. coum

Unfortunately for me, my thriving stand of C.coum stood in the way of work boots, ladders and a great deal of stomping when work had to be done in that area of the house, but it had been a beautiful sight during the years it lasted. I do think I’d have it today, if I had realized how hard the ground was to trampled during that renovation time. It liked being in cultivated ground that got Eastern sun, was very well drained, even somewhat dry (unlike other parts of my garden).

The winglike flowers are dainty and the heart shaped leaves make the perfect foil for them. They come in shades of pink and white. The foliage is mottled with attractive silver gray variegation.

The tubers are surprisingly large, somewhat flattened circles; though not as large as its relation Cyclamen hederifolium, which blooms in late summer.

Companions are most likely those plantings that thrive in partial shade, although Vita Sackville-West placed them amongst her thyme. Probably in place ideal for neither, but tolerated by both. It is likely a pleasing combination with the flowers of each well suited to each other in color and the contrast of the large heart leaves with thyme’s fine textured ones.

Cyclamen coum leaf

Patterned leaf.

I grew them with a neighbor of ‘White Nancy’ Lamium maculatum. They both like similar conditions.

  • The hardy Cyclamens originate in forests of the Eastern Mediterranean area, in Armenia and Turkey. If happy, they reseed and may make a groundcover.
  • A good Rock Garden plant
  • Likes partly shady areas, tolerates dryness
  • Cooler conditions and a sweet soil suit them best
  • Besides rock gardens, their diminutive size makes them good Fairy Garden additions.

Chionodoxia

Glory-of-the- Snow started out as a couple packages of bulbs in my garden, probably about twenty apiece. They spread to fill their beds, and sprinkle a few wayward pioneers into the grassy areas. In a cultivated area they naturalize moderately, while grass will tend to keep the china blue flowers in check.

It is their color and open star shape that I like so well, the mass of foliage after flowering looks like overgrown grass while living. After it has died down, it must be removed for the sake of looks.  That is little price to pay for the shimmering effect of a sheet of  the blue flowers.

Galanthus Nivalis

closeup of bloom

The snowdrop blooms

Snowdrops seem to inspire almost a cult following from those who love them. They are extremely demure blossoms, with their elegant shape and milk white color.

Crocus

Crocus tommasinianus

Crocus tommasinianus

Crocus

 

 

Specie or Botanical Tulips

These little tulips aren’t much bigger than the large Dutch crocus, for the most part. They grow well in rock gardens, and for me, they lasted for years, unlike the shorter lived large hybrid tulips most of us grow.

Tulipa Tarda, Yellow Blooms

Some of them them are very much alike, i.e. Tulips tarda and T. turkestanica. But some of them are like no other, including the “Peppermint Stick tulips” Tulipa clusiana.

Tulip ‘Lilac Wonder’, Pink Bloom

The variety ‘Lilac Wonder’ is a very pretty pink, which gives it pride of place among small spring blooming bulbs. It has a wide open flower like many of the miscellaneous species.

specie tulip photo

Lilac Wonder

T. Polychroma, Creamy White Bloom

I’ve never grown the mid to late spring “Polychroma”, but its simple white blooms have an allure for me. Maybe because at that time of year white blooms look so refreshing in the spring green landscape, and stand out even if there are lots of dandelions blooming. (A big rural landscape has quite a lot of those!)

Plant theme much the same as other tulips, but with an eye for their placing- it would be easy for the small blooming plants to get lost among the fast growing, large leaved bulbs or other plantings.

I have some bulb beds that have crocus and scillas, and I believe specie tulips are something I’d like to add to them for contrast.

If you want to know more of this class of tulip, the Miscellaneous Group 14 Class, this page on Botanical Tulips, is useful.

Anemone Blanda

anemone blanda
I’ve never written very much about what is genuinely one of my delights in the middle of the season. I love their miniature daisy flowers in cheerful shades of pink, white, and blue. I’ve come to prefer the windflowers in mixture, whereas I used to feel only the blues were truly desirable. That has changed now that my garden is filled with so many shades of blue due to the naturalization of the  chionodoxa, scillas, and puschkinias.

These anemones. commonly called “Grecian Windflowers”, look alot like Swan River Daisies, Brachycome. In fact, now it occurs to me that  “overplanting”  the anemones with this tender summer plant could extend the effect very nicely. Choose a sunny spot, when doing so, although A. blanda grows well in partial shade, as well as sun.

In my garden, the large stand was shaded out and gone after I left off actively cultivating that part of the garden. (It got to be too much for me during some difficult years). Yet, they have continued to spring up in the grassy areas nearby. And if you won’t mind some long grass in early summer for the sake of the foliage, they will beautify the area with their pretty daisy flowers.

This choice, I believe, makes a perfect frame for larger blooms such as white tulips or pastel hyacinths.

I always look forward to seeing Anemone blanda makes its appearance. Most of the smaller bulbs are early, but this one comes along with the main show of the other spring flowers to add a lower layer of ground hugging color. And the circle of petals look cheerful and charming.

In Your Spring Garden

While the minor flowering bulbs may be grown as a mixed lot, you will find they create a much more impressive show when a vast swathe of one type in one color is naturalized in your landscape. When the small flowers and foliage are of mixed types the effect is not unlike those Medieval tapestries that portray the little meads of that time.

In design there are three main ways to grow them:

  1. Massed in a naturalized manner
  2. Mixed with each other
  3. Or paired with larger bulbs and perennials

Are you considering including some of these darling little flowers for tiny accents within your own early garden scenes? They are really very charming and have a way of “growing on you”, without taking over. Being bulbs, they soon disappear making way for other flowers, and their foliage (always the bugaboo for many who like neat looking yards) while proportionately small, still needs to be allowed to ripen and wither. In many cases they are not very noticeable, although I can’t promise that you will share my opinion when it comes to “Glory of the Snow” which for a short time is a large yellowed patch!

Bulb Info Resources
Order Online

I have included other minor bulb selections, and written about them, in 5 Choice Small Bulbs. Included is more information on Anemone blanda and Eranthis, as well as on this page.

How to plant bulbs

donationDonate the cost of a coffee through Paypal for the work of publishing these pages. Please support my writing and webmaster efforts.
Disclosure: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. Please consider supporting this site.

Shop shrubs at Nature Hills

Related Posts

10 Low Maintenance Perennials

10 Low Maintenance Perennials

Make Life Easier with Low Maintenance Perennial Plantings Everyone needs a list of easy to grow perennials to grow in their gardens. Even if you...

Ephemerals in the Garden

Ephemerals in the Garden

Some of my flower favorites are ephemerals- fleeting flowers that grace a garden and then disappear into the ground to wait until the next year....

Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.