My Favorite Fall-Planted Bulbs

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

When I was 21 I was completely uninterested in gardening but I WAS interested in bouquets of grape hyacinth. At the time, I lived in this old farmhouse in Ashland and dark grape hyacinth had naturalized all over the back yard--I've never seen anything like it. I used to trudge out in the wet grass with my scissors and cut bouquet after bouquet which would fill little vases and jam jars in every room. Ever since then I've been crazy about the smell of muscari. Where I live now I've planted a few of the common purple variety here and there but I really flipped for the pale blue variety Valerie Finnis. The color is indescribable--almost a woad blue which you can stare at forever and not figure out if it's a cool grey blue or a warm periwinkle. Several years ago I planted some bulbs in a ring at the base of my dogwood but every year their numbers diminish. I'm not sure who to blame: slugs or squirrels, but this one is too good to give up on. You can buy 1,000 bulbs for under $150 from Van Engelen which would keep the slugs busy and me happy for quite a while.

Here's another diminutive AND early bulb. It's a great antidote to Portland's dreary winters: the charming and extra, extra early little daffodil Tête-à-Tête, which is known to poke it's little yellow head up through the snow. Mine bloom when the crocuses do here in Portland. This one's great for forcing or using in pots too.

I hope I don't make anyone cry here but there's something I find garish about most crocuses. Maybe it's just that I don't like the purple, yellow, white combo you often see them in. I do however love the sunny crocus Cream Beauty which starts out more dark orangy yellow and fades to a creamy butter yellow. Plus, with its bright orange stamens it matches my house perfectly!

Lollipop, Lollipop, Oh Lolli-Lolli-Lolli. Alliums are so fun and I particularly like Allium Ambassador for it's dark purple color and perfectly round shape. Plus, if you have the patience, the seed heads on the spent flowers are absolutely magical backlit by the Summer sun. 

I'd tried 3 times to grow this checkered lily and last year I finally hit gold. It's such a gorgeous freak of nature. I'm pretty sure the fairies make their party dresses out of the flowers.

This year I'm trying out a new Fritillaria thanks to my Mom (who also gave me the Checkerboard last year, ain't she sweet?). Ivory Bells looks equally as stunning. I hope the foliage on mine has that dusty green color like the photo. I haven't planted it yet and I'm not sure if I want to put it in a pot or find a home in the garden bed. Stay tuned...

I had to include at least one more daffodil on my list--I pretty much love all daffodils but the ruffly doubles are my favorite and Bridal Crown is one that I really adore. It grows in clusters of small cream flowers with light orange centers. Very classy.

And I have to close with a tulip. This is the most swoon-worthy tulip ever. I'm pretty fickle when it comes to tulips which is easy to do when you treat them as annuals as I do, tossing them out after they have bloomed. Angelique is one I'll go back to again and again though. If you love the blousy, peony-shaped tulips like I do, this is one for you. Normally I don't allow pink in the garden but I make an exception for Angelique (and there is also an orange version now which I'm dying to try).

 And finally, I wanted to share some tips for buying and planting bulbs for anyone who is new at this:

1. Order early if you want something new or rare--I recommend ordering as soon as the catalogs ship as I've seen some things sell out in a flash.

2. Shop ultra early or ultra late for the best deals. Most sellers have introductory offers when they first introduce their Fall offerings and again late in the season, though things will be picked over. I've also had good luck buying close-out bulbs at the grocery store which I've planted into December.

3. I think those bulb planter tools are a pain in the tuchus. I prefer to just dig a big hole at the required depth and plant all my bulbs at once. It's way easier and it looks more natural this way, as if the flowers have grown in drifts.

4. Layer your bulbs. When planting you can dig your hole and then plant according to depth with a layer of daffodils, a layer of hyacinths, and a layer of crocuses, etc.

And a post script: I haven't shown you any bulbs from one of my favorite sellers so I wanted to do that now. Old House Gardens specializes in heirloom Spring and Fall bulbs. I highly recommend you order their beautiful catalog which is full of history and beautiful photos. An example:

Most people have never even seen a brown tulip, let alone grown one. Here’s your chance! 18th-century ‘Absalon’ is intricately patterned with swirling flames of dark chocolate and chestnut brown on gold. It’s a true broken tulip, a Dutch Bizarre from the Hortus Bulborum – and sure to cause a buzz. 


  1. I totally have you to thank for introducing me to Old House them (sadly, they are done taking orders for Fall Shipping...Boo)! You know how I love my Alliums...sometimes I almost think I like those long-lasting seedheads more than the blooms (almost)! I'm always confused by the different varieties, though, photos in catalogs are of no help...they only show the blooms...there is no scale!

  2. Sorry for the Old House Gardens tease--you'll be ready for next year! And I hear you on the Allium confusion--someone should do an Allium chart showing them all to scale next to eachother.

  3. I have a lots of spring bulbs in my garden that have lasted for quite a few years but haven't planted any new ones for several years. Maybe next fall. Thanks for the beautiful suggestions. Old House Gardens is new to me too.

  4. Outlaw, I'm pretty sure you will find some things from Old House that will tempt you. Looking forward to seeing some pics from Chez Outlaw come Spring!

  5. Bria—

    We missed you at the Country Living awards today. But I've added your blog to my RSS feed and hope that your lovely photos and writing will inspire me to get back into gardening, which is something that I've gotten away from in the last few busy years.

    Congrats on a well-deserved award.

    Michelle Turner (

  6. Hi Michelle,

    Congratulations to you too! SOOO sorry to miss out on the award luncheon. Thanks for stopping by. I've just been drooling all over my laptop here after seeing your Calvados ice cream.

    I will be following your adventures now too!

  7. Just ordered my Old House catalog. Thanks for the tip. We seem to have several favorites in common.

  8. Ooh, let me know if you end up trying anything new from Old House! I have some glads from them too that I love.


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