Don’t underestimate small bulbs. "It's not a question of how tall bulb flowers are, it's how
they express themselves," says Piet Oudolf, the famous Dutch garden designer whose stylish
plantings are inspired by nature, interpreted with an artistic eye and great confidence. Small
spring-blooming bulbs such as crocus, scilla, chionodoxa, grape hyancinths, and species tulips
figure centrally in Oudolf’s designs for large public gardens — including New York’s exciting
High Line and Chicago’s spectacular Lurie Garden in Millennium Park — and they sparkle in home
“Every little thing that happens in spring is worth gold,” says Oudolf. “After a winter you
want to see things come alive, and bulbs are one of the first experiences.” They capture your
attention, even from indoors, and draw you out into the garden.
Fall is the time to tuck these little bulbs into flower beds, so they can establish roots
and be ready to send their flowers up as soon as the sun warms the soil in spring. They’re easy
to plant. In the artfully designed, sweeping perennial beds at the Lurie Garden, the small
bulbs were distributed in a most informal way. Bulbs were mixed together in wheelbarrows and
then tossed by the handful into designated areas in the design. They were planted where they
fell, 4-6 inches deep. Where the plans called for crocus, anemones, and grape hyacinths, for
example, different kinds of bulbs often ended up in the same holes. It looks crowded, but the
bulbs will thrive; you don’t even have to worry about whether they are right-side up — in early
spring, they’ll find their way up.
Deciding on a few such combinations and repeating them through the garden creates a pleasing
rhythm, Oudolf says, but by hand-tossing the bulbs, the planting will not look stiff or
self-conscious. Instead, "they look like they have seeded,” he says, “but in fact you have
planted it, and it just looks spontaneous."