These bulbs offer great color and fragrance with disease resistance, and some are native to boot
When gardeners, landscapers and restoration managers look to buy bulbs, they’re finding exceptional and versatile material that meets their design goals and gardening aspirations.
Breeders and growers are providing an outstanding selection of commercial bulbs, including tulips, daffodils, corms, tubers and rhizomes. These are keeping pace with trends while providing vibrant color, maximum blooming, fragrance and/or disease resistance. Many are pollinator-friendly (with a focus on native plants), and/or deer- or wildlife-resistant. (Deer love tulips, but lycorine-containing daffodils and species tulips are poisonous to deer and other mammals, and so are left alone.)
Overall, they are looking for blends that take out the guesswork for customers who appreciate guidance on what to buy — especially if it is deer-resistant, will be long-blooming and will mix colors.
Tulipa ‘Lalibela’ is an orange-red so brilliant and bright, it blows out the camera, according to Barb Iverson at Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm (Woodburn, Oregon). As a strong, newer variety, this 22-inch Darwin returns each year, maximizing the color into the future.
Tulipa ‘Purissima Blonde’, is an Emperor Tulip that was introduced two years ago. Mark Hopkins of Van Bloem Gardens (Meridian, Mississippi) describes it as stunning with yellow and green florescent foliage, topped by an early blooming white flower with hints of yellow at the base.
Iverson recommends the older, 20-inch Tulipa ‘Leen van der Mark’. It is still a fabulous selection after 30 years, opening as it does with one brilliant red bloom with yellow trim that changes to white as it matures.
Tulipa ‘Ice Cream’, is a breakthrough, according to Jack de Vroomen of De Vroomen Garden Products (Gurnee, Illinois). As a short 12–16-inch tall variety, it is huge and lush double tulip — the size of a peony — with a completely berry-red cup and white hat.
Also, looking so much like a peony that you might mistake it for one, Tulipa ‘Amazing Grace’, is another double tulip with layers of petals. The 18-inch tall plant with 4-inch wide blossoms combines pinks and white, and flowers for a long time.
Iverson claims Narcissus ‘Fortissimo’ stands out for its color contrast of yellow and very large brilliant red cup. She said customers also love Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus (Pheasant’s Eye) — an ancient variety that naturalizes and has fragrance — because it is so different and features a pheasant eye.
Iris ‘Let’s Romp’, a 36-inch midseason bloomer being made available exclusively to wholesalers, has a sheen that makes it glow. Ben Schreiner of Schreiner’s Iris Gardens (Salem, Oregon) describes it as having creamy standards with ochre edges and a dramatic mix of violet and lavender on the falls. According to Iverson, Muscari aucheri ‘Mount Hood’ is a great 6–8-inch accent. It’s light blue and white on the top, and when grouped with other flowers, it can create a wave of color that’s interesting and different.
For dramatic and rich color, you might pair the orange and almost translucent purple-magenta of Lilium ‘Forever Susan’ — a fragrant Asiatic lily that grow 2–3 feet tall and is fragrant with its rich color — with another Hopkins favorite, Canna ‘Phaison’. ‘Phaison’ has deer-resistant orange flowers atop 5 to 6-foot stalks and fiery green and orange foliage that almost symbolize its need for heat. Used as an annual, Hopkins states that it is one of Van Bloem’s best sellers.
Dahlia ‘Nick Sr.’, introduced in 2009, is still a best-seller for its 5-foot tall, sturdy stems that don’t fall over, along with stunning 11-inch red flowers. According to Nicholas Gitts of Swan Island Dahlias (Canby, Oregon), the stunning petals ruffle and turn to reveal a buff-colored underside. It’s the parent of Dahlia ‘My Hero’, introduced in 2019, which is red instead of purple with a silver reverse. It was put on the cover of the company catalog and became an instant sellout.
Dahlia ‘Diva’ is Swan Island’s number-one purple cut flower, with deep color and 6-inch, prolific, perfectly formed double blooms on long stems.
Prized by brides after Martha Stewart praised it in writing, Dahlia ‘Café au Lait’ initially did not impress Gitts when he grew it in the field, but it became a bestseller. “It’s not striking, but when you put it in bouquets, it’s fluffy, and the petals are curly,” Gitts said. “Put five in a bunch, and it stands out. We sell it for twice the price, and we can’t grow enough.”
For a delightful addition of shape and texture to your perennial beds, de Vroomen recommended the sterile Allium ‘Globemaster’. One of his favorites, it is strong. At 10 inches wide and the biggest of the alliums, the lavender star-shaped blooms last up to 4 weeks and are pest-proof.
“It dries back beautiful as the seasons turns, and you can just let them go, and then cut and let leaves the leaves yellow,” de Vroomen said. For a slightly different look and as a beautliful cut flower, Allium sphaerocephalon — known as the drumstick allium — dates to the 16th century. It is loved by pollinators and people alike for its heavy blooming wine-colored flowerheads that continue from spring to summer on 30-inch tall wiry stems.
It’s a given that customers look to maximize their flower power by seeking out varieties that naturalize, have many blooms per stalk and even rebloom. If they work as a cut flower, that’s a bonus.
In Hopkins’ experience, Tulipa ‘Antoinette’ boasts not only 3-6 flowers per stem, making for a perfect bouquet, but has a color change. It starts lemon-yellow and white, and over time the yellow becomes flaming raspberry.
A mid-season bloomer, the 18–22 inch Tulipa ‘Candy Apple Delight’ is a powerhouse of color and has the longest flowering period of all tulips, according to de Vroomen. A Darwin hybrid tulip, it keeps its flowers for a long period, comes back year after year and looks like what people expect a tulip to look like.
Also a Darwin hybrid, Tulipa ‘Akebono’ is de Vroomen’s all-time favorite. One of the new generation of late double tulips, it is hardy, strong and has long flower period of huge pale yellow flowers with a delicate red edge, green and yellow accents, and a light fragrance.
Schreiner claims Iris ‘Immortality’, a 29-inch blooming wonder, offers up masses of flowers midseason and again in late summer. Iris ‘Struck Twice’, a much better performer than ‘Champagne Elegance’ — which Schreiner said wholesalers default to — has the same color pattern but a better bud count. A modern flower at 37 inches, it is slightly taller.
According to the Garden Media Group 2019 Garden Trends Report, 83 percent of landscape architects say the hottest trend is sustainable gardens using native plants.
It used to be only shrubs, sedges and rushes in restoration-type and mitigation projects, according to Sheila Klest of Trillium Gardens (Eugene, Oregon). But now, even in some apartment construction, native perennials and native bulbs are being used.
“There is interest in native pollinators, and all of the native bulbs are good for that, as nectar plants,” Klest said. Landscape architects and home gardeners are also paying attention, as native bulbs can grow with no extra water, living naturally in the cycle of wet in winter, bloom in spring and dry in summer.
Klest notes that Iris douglasiana, a coastal native, is showy and being used more in commercial applications and works nicely in landscapes. It’s a good pollinator plant with attractive purple flowers and darker purple veining and bright green foliage. There are other showy and exquisite native bulbs that are easy to grow and accessible for homeowners, as well.
The 8-inch Erythronium oregonum (giant white fawnlily) for semi-shady areas, with mottled leaves and white flowers that curve down and petals that curve up.
The 12–18 inch Frittilaria affinis (chocolate lily), with mottled purplish-brown flower and yellow.
The 10–12 inch Trillium ovatum (wake robin), for shade or partial shade. It’s long-lived and showier in the garden than in the woods.
Camassia quamash (small camas), which Jeff Levy of Balance Restoration Nursery LLC (Lorane, Oregon) said are vigorous growers, have bulbs that are long-lived, lasting 15–20 years, and can be naturalized in a meadow and work as the first bloomer in a perennial garden. They survive summer droughts and are deer resistant.
For slightly bigger flowers, and taller, Klest recommends C. leichtlinii because it is a bit showier.
Brodiaea coronaria, also an edible, grows a 12-inch stem topped by a purple-blue lily flower blooming in late summer. Levy can hardly keep them in stock. “It is well-behaved, cute, ephemeral and doesn’t create a mess,” he said. “Most people find them charming.”
“No one buys a bulb without thinking of the flower,” Levy said. Lilium columbianum (Columbia lily) provides a show on 5–6 foot stems that carry orange flowers spotted with maroon that flower in the dozens June through September.
Likewise, Erythronium revolutum (pink fawn lily) is a special plant that does well inland, according to Klest. Although a more coastal plant that prefers wet springs in rich soil and well-drained, slightly moist summer soils, it has large, multicolored leaves, and bright pink, nodding, showy flowers on stems up to 18 inches tall. It fits right into naturalizing in more cultivated landscapes.
Landscapers are looking for tried-and-true varieties, and they will treat bulbs as annuals, according to Hopkins. He hopes that approach changes, especially when considering both the new Darwin hybrids and the species tulips naturalize.
Hopkins states that Tulipa ‘Purple Pride’ is the first true purple Darwin hybrid. Although a little bit more expensive at approximately 5–10 cents per bulb, it’s worth it for landscapers who get a large bloom, strong stems and a long-lasting rich-colored flower.
“The ‘Purple Pride’ tulips are some of the most exciting right now,” said de Vroomen. “Because of this breakthrough color and also because of the vibrant mix of colors that are reliable, perennialize landscaping plants.”
A top performer in a class that performs well overall, Tulipa clusiana is taller, at 10 inches, and showy, with dramatic red and white flowers that are consistent performers year to year, while also being the only deer-resistant tulip.
Giant Darwin hybrid Tulipa ‘Pink Impression’ is reliable for naturalizing, bloom time and sturdiness, a commanding mid-season 20 to 24-inch flower and a landscaper-preferred variety, according to Hopkins. It’s also a best seller for the landscape trade at de Vroomen, because it’s reliable and comes back easy.
“You can’t beat Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’ (large-cupped daffodil) and ‘Ice King’ (double daffodil) for naturalizing,” de Vroomen said. “And the bonus is fragrance, heaving blooming, vigorous growth and deer resistance. Plant them wider apart, about 3 per square feet, and they keep growing, and are frequently used for highway plantings.”
Many of the flowers already mentioned have fragrance, and then there are those varieties that reign on top.
The standard for large daffodils, the yellow 1938 introduction Narcissus ‘Dutch Master’ (18–20 inches), and the recent introduction miniature ‘Katie Heath’ (10–11 inches, so good for containers), white with salmon cups, are top sellers known for their fragrance.
Narcissus ‘Bridal Crown’ has fragrance in the extreme and a lot of it, as it is a double 14–16 inch daffodil with white flowers and egg-yolk colored petals.
Narcissus ‘Golden Echo’, from renowned breeder Brent and Becky’s Bulbs (Gloucester, Virginia), is new to Van Bloem. It’s popular for its fragrance, incredibly long bloom, and ease of use in containers.
Iris ‘Petalpalooza’, with peach-cream standards and blue and purple falls was introduced in 2019. It is already being offered to wholesale buyers, which Shreiner considers a quick turnaround. There are few in this color class, and considering the fragrance and prolific blooming, it is outstanding.
For moist, shady areas, Corydalis solida ‘Beth Evans’ grows in 6 to 10-inch clumps with of ferny foliage, showy spikes, and a mass of tubular pink and white flowers.
Scilla hyacinthoides ‘Blue Arrow’ reliably returns each year at 40 inches tall. It is longer than other Scilla with dozens of long-lasting lilac-blue star-shaped flowers. It thrives in the hot sun, but tolerates some shade, dry conditions and is deer-resistant. “It’s the kind of thing that when customers see it, they’ll buy it,” de Vroomen said.
According to Hopkins, fragrant Amaryllis are rare, and the new introduction Amaryllis ‘Santiago’ fits into the huge holiday bulb market with its bold candy-strip colors and subtle fragrance.
Hopkins believes double oriental lilies are increasing in popularity, with new solid performers not possible ten years ago that are showy and fragrant. In the Lotus Lily Series, the new Lilium ‘Lotus Beauty’ and Lilium ‘Lotus Elegance’ — the former in white and the latter in pink and cream, but both with slight speckles of burgundy — have huge, fragrant blooms borne on strong stems.
Containers and hedges
The staff at the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm can always tell which bulbs were potted during the season and used in display areas or in the big pots that directed people at events — those varieties always become their best sellers. It’s a reminder that customers tend to buy what they can see.
Tulip ‘Prinses Irene’ has been available (and visible) since 1949. It is still one of the farm’s best sellers, with a vibrant combination of orange and purple flame. Iverson describes it as a shorter variety, topping out at 14 inches tall, it’s great in a pot, especially combined with a purple tulip.
Narcissus ‘Winter Waltz’, bred by Oregonian Grant Mitsch, is a showstopper at only 12 inches tall. Hopkins explains that the trumpet changes colors based on environment and maturity, and can range from blazing orange to salmon in contrast with the white petals.
“The five dahlias in the Go Go Series are true pot types,” Hopkins said. With large blooms on short, 12–16 inch stems, they need no staking and bloom till frost.
Dahlia ‘Bluetiful’, compact and sturdy at 3 ½ feet and covered in 6-inch blue-lavender blooms, works as a hedge or in containers. Even after nine years, Gitts believes it is a favored variety. Dahlia ‘Lights Out’ is absolutely covered in 3 ½-inch black-red blooms on short, 3-foot hedgy bush that Gitts considers easy to manage.
Tracy Ilene Miller is a freelance writer and editor who covers several topics, including gardening. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.