Herbaceous bulbous plants or simply “bulbs” can play a welcoming first act to an on-going performance of color throughout the growing season. The West Virginia Botanic Garden showcases many hardy bulbs in most of our existing gardens that provide unexpected color in the late winter. Those early bloomers then give way to spring’s bounty of perennials, flowering shrubs, and trees. Snowdrops (Galanthus) and crocuses (Crocus vernus) planted throughout the garden are usually first to emerge –many times through snow. In March over twenty different varieties of Narcissus bulbs bloom in the lawn space at the main entrance. The WVBG is open daily from dawn to dusk.

Planting bulbs directly in a yard area can add depth and a bold splash of color to any landscape that is easily maintained by the season’s first grass cutting. To avoid a rigid grid layout, bulbs are best planted in random drifts or in groups of three. Most bulbs perform best in full sun or partial shade in fertilized and well-drained soils. Of course here at the WVBG we must consider browsing deer, especially in late winter/early spring when early blooms first appear. Bulbs like iris, daffodil (Narcissus), and grape hyacinth (Muscari) are far less palatable to deer than tasty tulips (Tulipa) and lilies (Lilium).

As a designer, there are a few occasions when deer tolerances, plant availability, and many other design limitations can be overlooked. One such occasion happened recently when I had the privilege of being a part of a design team for this year’s Spring Show at Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh. Our team, Wallace Pancher Group (formerly Hays Landscape Architecture Studio), planned a design theme that carries through eight different Conservatory rooms. The rooms showcase over forty varieties of bulbs interplanted with other herbaceous perennials, flowering woody plants, and exotic tropical species to provide a striking display. This year’s theme, “Masterpieces in Bloom,” will bring famous paintings to life in floral displays. Visitors will have the opportunity to walk into masterpieces like Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and Monet’s “Waterlilies.”

So wherever you may be, look around to see the little reminders that spring is finally here! The Spring Show is running through April 10th at Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh. For more information on the event and Phipps conservatory, check out their website at phipps.conservatory.org/calendar/ detail/spring-flower-show.

By: Phil Cole, Assistant Site Manager

Originally published in our Spring 2016 newsletter

Crocus vernus in the Eclectic Garden.

Photo by Phil Cole.

Concept sketch of one of the rooms planned for the Spring Show at Phipps Concervatory based off of Monet’s “Tulip Field in Holland”.

Sketch by Phil Cole.

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