Most bulbs lend themselves to natural plantings that mimic nature. Those that naturalize form into drifts and clumps naturally, just as wild plants do. Depending on your situation and the effect you want, the two most common wild gardens are meadows and woodlands
A garden meadow is a lawn left unmowed until midsummer when patches of spring crocuses, calochortuses, reticulata irises, snowdrops, anemones, daffodils, brodiaeas, or other spring bulbs can bloom and then ripen their foliage. Bulbs that are adapted to the region will naturalize; plantings are more or less permanent, and bulbs multiply over the years, expanding in natural drifts.
A permanent meadow (one that doesn’t become a lawn for the summer) can include wildflowers and wild grasses that keep the area colorful for a long time and hide the withering bulb foliage. This type of meadow is mowed once a year—usually in midsummer, and takes little further care. If the plants are adapted to your region, they don’t need summer water, and fertilizing isn’t necessary once the meadow is established. Colchicums and autumn crocuses can renew the flowering-meadow effect after vegetation has been mowed in midsummer.
A sloping or uneven area with good drainage is most suitable. The bulbs look best planted in clumps and loose drifts. One way of planting is to throw out a handful of bulbs, then plant each where it falls. For a small-scale, easy-maintenance meadow of small bulbs, consider using, instead of grass, a ground cover such as chamomile or yarrow, which looks at home in a meadow, requires little or no summer watering, and remains—or can be mowed—short.
Another “wild” garden is the woodland garden, where a wide range of bulbs look at home and can naturalize. Deciduous trees, before they leaf out, allow the bulbs plenty of sun for blooming and ripening of foliage. The soil tends to be acid in most woodlands. Soil that is too acid can be “sweetened” with limestone. Many bulbs are woodland natives adapted to growing under trees. In fact, because the tree canopy deflects summer rain and tree roots help keep the soil dry, woodland gardens suit most spring-blooming bulbs, and a number of summer- and fall-blooming ones as well.
Some of the spring-blooming bulbs that thrive in woodland gardens are trilliums, bluebells, arisaemas, chionodoxas, eranthises, galanthuses, lilies-of-the-valley, some tulip species, crested irises, daffodils, erythroniums, some fritillarias, and most grape hyacinths.
Summer-blooming bulbs for woodland gardens include some lilies, some alliums, and the spectacular cardiocrinum. All should be positioned carefully according to the amount of light they need because few thrive in deep shade, and some demand lots of sun. Autumn-flowering bulbs for woodlands include some of the cyclamen species, colchicums, autumn-flowering crocuses, and zephyranthes.
In order to create a woodland garden, you don’t need acres of woodland, or even a large grove. As few as two or three deciduous trees can help provide the shade and refreshing atmosphere of a woodland.