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Planting a Bulb Garden

The Martha Stewart Show, November 2009

Beautiful bulbs can give your garden a stunning explosion of color all year long if planned properly. Garden historian and bulb expert Anna Pavord advises planting them in complementary combinations.

Bulb Combinations
Anemone and Narcissus
Anemones and narcissus make a lovely pairing because of their form, texture, and color combinations. Anemones come in fragile, gentle colors, and often thrive under trees or in other cool, shady places.

Narcissus are available in more than 2,000 different varieties -- for a more informal look, try the wild-looking options; for window boxes or scattered planting in the grass, try miniatures.

Lilies and Allium
Voluptuous and dramatic lilies go particularly well with the unique lollipop shape of alliums. Excellent in pots, lilies make superb cut flowers. Plant white lilies to stand out in shade or at dusk; yellow and orange lilies shine in sunny spots. Alliums make a lovely addition to winter arrangements. By choosing varieties carefully, you can have different alliums in bloom for many months.

Colchicum and Cyclamen (pictured)
Both autumn bloomers, these two plants produce flowers with colors that meld together in an entirely natural way. Colchicums, commonly known as "naked ladies," come in soft colors that perfectly suit the misty days of fall. Sturdy varieties can be planted in grass, mimicking the way they once grew in the damp meadows of Europe.

Cyclamen plants are a particularly rewarding bulb, offering three months of gorgeous swept-back flowers followed by five months of elegant foliage during winter.

Planting Bulbs
Once you have chosen the bulbs that are right for your garden, it is important to learn how to plant each correctly.

Anemones have uncompromising, twiggy tubers and can be difficult to tell which way to plant. Simply lay the tubers on their sides, and let them work it out. Just soak before planting.

In the wild, crocus grow in full sun and well-drained soil -- try to find a similar location when planting them in your garden. As a rough guide, plant the bulbs three times deeper than the height of the bulb itself.

Narcissus bulbs vary enormously in size. No matter which kind you choose, it is important to use bonemeal, a natural, slow-release fertilizer, to maintain the plants' health.

Galanthus bulbs hate to dry out -- if you can, acquire them "in the green," meaning dug up just after flowering and sent out with their leaves still growing.

For more information, check out "Bulb," by Anna Pavord (Octopus Books), and visit the International Flower Bulb Centre at

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