Bulb Borders

When we think of bulbs in the home garden we usually think of borders. The English, those masters of garden borders, distinguish between borders and beds. Borders are at edges of gardens, against walls or hedges, and beds are elsewhere. Beds are often thought of as containing organized plantings of bedding plants, and borders are mixed or less formal. In this section borders refers to both beds and borders, except where a distinction is important. In most respects, beds and borders are identical. Borders can be herbaceous (all flowers) or mixed (containing both flowers and shrubs). Bulbs have an important place in both.

In mixed borders, where a backbone of shrubs is complemented by a seasonal succession of perennial flowers, there is little digging. This means that bulbs can be planted and, with luck, escape the depredations of the shovel. In herbaceous borders, particularly those containing annuals, there is inevitably more cultivating and digging, so it’s necessary to mark the locations of dormant bulbs. Bulbs in herbaceous and mixed borders must usually be able to grow in rich soil, perhaps with fertilizing and summer watering. Many of the modern hybrids-lilies, bearded irises, tulips, narcissus, and dahlias, for example-have been bred to flourish under a wide range of garden conditions.

Many natural species accept richness and summer moisture, such as crown fritillarias and the ornithogalums. Other species can be used in spots where there is little or no feeding and scant summer watering—for example, corydalis among perennials and species cyclamen among shrubs. Successful border gardening is largely a matter—and a challenging one—of planting so that pleasing combinations of flowers bloom simultaneously and are succeeded by others. Using bulbs in the border makes this easier.