Bulb Planting Tips from a Dutch Garden

Muscari and Pansies
Get design ideas for your bulb garden from the Dutch designers at the Keukenhof Gardens. Here are some tips we harvested on a recent trip.

It's hard to believe that 60 years ago the world-famous Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse, Holland, was a hunting preserve. Today, it hosts a spring show of millions of flower bulbs in a wide array of beds and borders. This amazing public garden is a treasure trove of great gardening ideas.

Test Garden Tip: To visit, plan early. The Keukenhof is open from March to May each year.

See Special Varieties

When you visit the Keukenhof, you also get a sneak peak of new plant varieties. For example the 'Henry Hudson' tulip was introduced to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the English captain Henry Hudson sailing his Dutch vessel into New York harbor and landing on Manhattan Island. It's a bright orange species tulip, similar to the bulbs that were popular in the Netherlands when Henry Hudson arrived in America.

Try Containers

Only growing 8 inches tall, 'Henry Hudson' tulip makes a great container plant. It has crimped, blue-green leaves and bright yellow stamens. It looks stunning in this blue ceramic planter.

Create Rooms

Better Homes and Gardens magazine was involved at the 2009 Keukenhof. In fact, we had a display garden at the Keukenhof, which was designed and built to represent American garden style. It included garden beds, a fireplace, sitting area, and an outdoor kitchen.

Plant in Drifts

When you visit Keukenhof, you can't miss the gigantic beech trees that line the paths and roadways. Underneath each tree, you'll discover gorgeous flowerbeds. Here, 'Tete-a-Tete' daffodil, blue muscari, and red tulip 'Mad Lefeber' provide a carpet of color.

Test Garden Tip: For best effect, plant bulbs in large groups or drifts.

Make Great Combinations

At Keukenhof, garden design ideas pop up at every corner. Along this pathway, a trio of classic bulb varieties creates a memorable combination. It includes yellow 'Monte Carlo' tulip, red 'Fusilier' tulip, and 'Geranium' narcissus.

Test Garden Tip: Brightly colored varieties often look their best when planted near a white-flowering bulb.

Grow More

Masses of double pink tulips, blue muscari, and orange tulips prove that a bulb garden doesn't need a lot of variety to make a big impression. Get the same effect in your garden. Just plant a dozen or two of each type next to each other.

Enjoy Doubles

Add to your garden's impact by including some double-flowering varieties. Here, bold double-flowered narcissus join forces with a rich carpet of blue muscari.

Go Bold with Color

Another great way to increase the color show in your borders is to choose varieties with multicolored blooms. In this bed, the double red-and-white tulip 'Willemsoord' looks terrific planted next to the cream-and-white flowers of 'Cheerfulness' narcissus.

Combine Varieties

Mixing tulip varieties that bloom at the same time is a great way to add impact to your garden. Here 'Cape Cod' and 'Negrita' tulips share a bed. The dark plum blooms of 'Negrita' look terrific integrated with the amber flowers of 'Cape Cod'. Pink hyacinths bloom nearby.

Plan for Fragrance

Keep fragrance in mind when you plan your garden. Bulbs such as hyacinths are richly fragrant and will quickly perfume your entire yard. In this bed, the delightfully scented 'Pink Perfection' hyacinth teams with blue muscari and 'Grand Style' tulip.

Test Garden Tip: Hyacinths aren't the only fragrant bulbs. Many tulips and narcissus are also scented.

Create Contrasts

The great thing about bulbs is that they are available in so many forms and colors. In this garden, for example, a slender ribbon of 'Monte Carlo' tulips winds its way through a blue border of stocky hyacinths.

Add Height

Always leave space at the back of your border for tall plants. Growing up to 4 feet tall, variegated crown imperial fritillaria, makes an impressive backdrop.

Test Garden Tip: The bulbs of crown imperial fritillaria have a strong skunky odor. Some people believe they repel moles.

Underplant Trees

Because they bloom so early in the season, bulbs can be planted directly under deciduous trees. By the time the trees leaf out and shade the area, the bulbs will be done blooming. At the base of this tree, we found 'Paperwhite' narcissus and 'Spring Green' tulip with a few boxwoods.

Mix in Perennials

Brighten a spring garden by planting bulbs among perennials. The bulbs will lead off the flower show, giving perennials time to mature and take over as the bulbs fade. At Keukenhof we found this lovely pairing of lamb's ears and red tulips.

Keep Your Color Scheme Simple

Planting bulbs of complementary colors next to each other is a sure way to create impact in the garden. This spectacular bed contains pink double tulips framed with a small army of blue muscari.

Include Shrubs

Dutch garden designer Jacqueline van der Kloet creates many of the outstanding mixed beds at Keukenhof. Here, she combined 'Valerie Finnis' muscari, orange 'Verona' tulip, white 'Tres Chic' tulip, and 'Romance' narcissus with the beautiful white blooms of spirea.

Repeat Colors

Before you plant, do some research. Choose varieties that complement each other in height, bloom time, and color. Here, the petals of 'Orange Emperor' tulip blend perfectly with the centers of the 'Royal Orange' narcissus flowers.

Pay Attention to Bloom Times

Tulips and narcissus are a classic combination. But because most narcissus bloom earlier than standard tulips, select late-blooming narcissus varieties to partner with your tulips. In this bed, 'Unique' narcissus and 'China Lady' tulip bloom in concert.

Grow Bulbs in Containers

If you're short on garden space, consider growing bulbs in containers like this galvanized pail. You can often find prestarted tulips, narcissus, and hyacinths for sale in the spring at your local garden center.

Make Memorable Combinations

At Keukenhof we found this amazing display of galvanized containers filled to the brim with different varieties of muscari and pansies. By working with just one main species of bulb, you can be sure that all of them will bloom at the same time. This is a great way to decorate a wall, patio, or porch.

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