19 October 2009

Gardening by colour: White spring bulbs

The weather here continues to be more like November than October: cold, wet, dreary, windy, rainy, repeat as necessary. It's been annoying because the great fall colour we often get has been somewhat beleaguered by excessive wind and rain, so that many leaves are just getting to their good colour when the wind shreds and sends them away. I've done nothing outside, but am declaring a day off indoors to catch up on much neglected matters, such as blogging and cleaning the house up.

Work took me out and around the other day and I landed in unexpectedly to visit a dear friend I hadn't seen in far too long. She was taking the opportunity of a decent (if cold) afternoon to clean up her containers, bring her houseplants in, and do other garden chores I've yet to touch. Naturally, we got on to the subject of planting bulbs and of colour and of other timely subjects.

Last year I received a box of white-flowering bulbs from the International Flowerbulb Centre, and managed to get most of them planted out before snow and surgery ended my gardening year. In talking to my friend, I remarked that while I love white flowers, I wasn't sure how much most gardeners would appreciate white bulbs after a winter spent buried in snow. We're really craving colour by March, aren't we? And we're not all into doing a white garden a la Sissinghurst, are we?
My friend pointed out, wisely, that white is an excellent colour for bringing out contrast and attention to other colours. And actually, it's pretty awesome by itself, just accompanied by sparkling green foliage, as with these 'Mount Hood' daffs.

When I got home, I got thinking about white bulbs in earnest, and went back through my photo libraries looking to see what I do have planted out there. Of course, the first harbinger of spring in our garden are the valiant white snowdrops (Galanthus, top photo) which are barely out of the ground before they're blooming. They are my favourite spring-flowering bulb, bar none. We do have some white crocus ('Snowbunting', second photo from top, named for my beloved snowbirds) but mostly I do prefer other colours in crocus. But I'm really partial to white or white-bicolour daffodils of all sizes and forms, including this double 'Sir Winston Churchill'.

'Thalia' is another favourite white daff, smaller than the standard types, and highly fragrant. In our garden it blooms with the forget-me-nots so we have this lovely sea of tiny, lacy blue flowers underpinning the wonderful daffs. Makes me very happy.

The last daff-family species to bloom in our garden are the 'Poeticus' narcissus, which don't come on til late May and into June. They're very fragrant and strikingly beautiful; they're also known as 'pheasant's eye' narcissus, and if you've ever fed pheasants in your yard and gotten close enough to watch them well, you can see the description fits well.

Normally, I DON'T plant white tulips. This is one situation where I really do want outbursts of colour. There are exceptions to that sort-of-rule, mostly having to do with form. These white parrot tulips have yet to reach their full glory, but I love the green and yellow feathering on the white, ruffled petals.

The double white 'Mt Tacoma' looks more like a peony than a tulip, but I do like its clean appearance. Behind it is perhaps my favourite of the viridiflora tulips, 'Spring Green'; again, that white-and-green combo just does it for me.

Muscari, or grape hyacinths, do very well in our garden, forming lovely clumps of fragrant, brilliant blue flowers. This white hybrid 'White Magic' appeals to me very much too, and I hope it multiplies as quickly as its relatives.

Lastly, we have the 'White Festival' hyacinth, which is amazingly fragrant. I planted these in the front garden near our main door and they sent out huge waves of fragrance this past spring. The fresh gold-green foliage of 'Aztec Gold' creeping veronica on one side of them, and the almost-black new growth of Actaea 'Black Negligee' made this little combination quite appealing.

I've found focusing on these white flowers has actually brightened up my weather-dreary day, bringing some much-appreciated light into my perspective. My plan is to focus on various colours over the next few blog posts, and maybe get some conversations going with more of you again. So it's over to you--do you like white spring bulbs? What do you plant?


  1. Oh I can't wait for spring time! I put in hundreds of bulbs this fall!

  2. White huh? I tried a white Knock Out rose this year and it was pitiful. The bugs ate it and the blooms did not show up. I tried a White Dome hydrangea by PW and it turned a dingy yellow so it got moved to an area I don't care if anyone sees. The only white that sang praises was my Limelight hydrangeas.

    As for bulbs, I don't have a single one. Not cause I don't want any ---I've just been too busy buying plants that give a house its bones for the landscaping. I will consider white when I get that luxury.

  3. I wrote about our white arum lilies (calla lily?) It is a focal point bar none, whatever else is blooming. Like a spotlight. Now, I have a delicate white wild gladiolus blooming.

  4. I love all the whites, I can understand your point about having snow for so long and having white flowers!

    We have so little snow here that to me white spring bulbs add a very welcome contrast to brown soil and dead plants... :D

  5. Ooh, so lovely, Jodi, and such a delightful foretaste of spring! Thank you!!!

  6. I've not done much with white in my garden, but am inspired by our post to try.

  7. Jodi, what a beautiful collection of white bulbs you are growing. I have never seen a white muscari though. thanks for sharing these flowers.

  8. You make an excellent case for white, Jodi. I don't plant many white bulbs other than some crocus and a few of the white daffodils that you've featured here. By spring I am definitely ready for some color! Pastels are my favorites for spring, but I've finally ordered some snowdrops for planting this fall. Let's hope the weather cooperates so I can get them in the ground before the snow flies!

  9. What a gorgeous post, just lovely, you have inspired me to plant some more bulbs. Thank you. Carol ann

  10. Hi Jodi!

    This year I'm using the narcissus cantabricus and albus plenus odorata, the tulip white triumphator, and, of course, snowdrops. Actually white tulips en masse are amazing, though that's not how I'm using mine.

  11. I love the whites and have the 'Thalia' daffs, which are one of my very favorites. Mine get quite large though.

    And the snowdrop...YES! Kerri, of Colors in the Garden, sent me a bag of them so I could have a nice little clump of them next spring. Prior to this, I'd only had just a few that have never multiplied, for some reason.

    Must get some white hyacinths. I have 'Blue Festival' so I think I need those 'White Festival' too!

  12. Yes, yes, yes to the brave little snowdrop. I judge every winter by how soon they appear, sometimes as early as January; last year not till March 1st. I can appreciate a strongly monochromatic palette, especially all-white. Fall has been so busy here that my bulb planting has been neglected. Must carve out some time.

  13. Jodi, I think your friend is right about white contrasting well with other colors. i often use whites in my containers to showcase purples and hot pinks.

    As to white bulb blooms, I have none prefering the bright yellows and pinks. But your Thalia and Winston Churchill daffodils are beautiful. And I am loving those white parrot tulips. I can see them planted amoung my pink and mauve ones-outstanding!

  14. Nice post.

    I'm a big fan of themed gardens or themed groupings so I really appreciate the list of white blooming spring bulbs.

    Some white anemone flowers would look pretty rad in this collection.

  15. I love white, when I am given a choice of colour, I always seem to go for the white, it doesn't matter to me what time of year it is. I have a ton of white bulbs, starting with snowdrops. One day I hope to have enough to do a Snowdrop Walk like the English do!

  16. Hi Jodi~~ I really like the white Muscari. I have only the blue variety. I completely swoon over Galanthus. My favorite Daf is 'Geranium' a late variety, white with an orange cup and pleasantly fragrant. It's a smaller blossom with several on a stem. Prolonged snow is not an issue here so white is nice, but I do like the colorful tulips. A very well written post, Jodi.

  17. White flowers can be a nice transition, a sort of morph from white as cold & wet to white as warm and fragrant.

    I really like Thalia, Spring Green, and the white muscari. I can't get my hands on Spring Green, unfortunately :( But I have a huge swath of the muscari and bought more this year it looked so lovely. I have a growing patch of Thalia, I love how they look like elegant egrets. I also have White Emperors, which are very persistent and have been multiplying for me well.

    What I really like about the white bulbs in the spring, beside the brightness and feeling of freshness that they bring, is that they give your eyes a resting place between colors allowing you to appreciate the next color that much more.

  18. Your weather sounds about the same as ours Jodi - November weather in October. November's ok with it's gray skies and chilly winds, but it belongs in, well. . . November!

    This is a great time to be thinking about spring and bulbs, and you've shown a wonderful selection of whites here.

  19. Hello,

    What a great post. Thank you for showing how beautiful white flowers are in the garden. I hope your October weather warms up a little.

  20. Very nice post, showing Narcissus my favorite bulb also :)

  21. Jodi, The White Magic muscari is beautiful...and the white hyacinth is much prettier then the too frequent pastels. I love the white daffs...they are a beautiful counterpoint to all the yellows I have in my spring garden. The question to ask is~~How did another summer go by with NO snowdrop order! Surely, it's not too late to find them! I remember how lovingly your spouse counted the blooms for you last winter while you had to be away! gail

  22. With snow blanketing my garden 6 months of every year... I often feel I get plenty of white without planting it. However! That Thalia Daffodil is so pretty I might have to give it a try. :D

  23. The Snowdrop:
    There is a weft of magic about that first snowdrop. This small blossom may have pushed its way through a mound of snow as a little light loveliness waiting to be noticed. Or it may have arisen, with its small bunch of greenery, from a cleft between two boulders in the rock garden. It has only message - the blinds of winter are being pushed up. Thank you for reminding me of that Jodi.
    The Gardener

  24. I'm a 'white flower' lover, loving this post, jodi! In fact, in winter, I love the reflection of snow (outside) and white tulips (inside) in containers filled with cranberries & fresh cut greens ... 'simple' stunning for the holidays (often too gaudy for me) like too much color in the garden ... white tones hyper-ness down :) Enough said, I'll simply leave with a (Hug).

  25. I wish I'd had time to plant bulbs. Daffodils are my favorite spring flower - their scent makes me so happy! Lovely, just lovely, Jodi!


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