The Art of Spring Bulb Displays

Spring is season of promise. Cherry trees and magnolias are in full bloom, baby lambs and goats frolic in green pastures, and our favorite spring bulbs put on their annual display in a rainbow of colors. I recently enjoyed a visit to a client's garden that was a true delight with hundreds of daffodils, species tulips, and grape hyacinths creating an intricate carpet that the entire neighborhood could enjoy as they strolled by.

In my own garden I have to outwit both deer and rabbits, so my spring bulb selection is limited to daffodils, English bluebells, wind anemones, and winter aconite (although I suspect the rabbits are responsible for the dwindling numbers of the latter). I therefore especially appreciate truly abundant displays in private or public gardens, and few do this better than Filoli Garden in San Francisco.

I was fortunate to visit there in 2013 and spent several hours enjoying both the remarkable tulip displays and warm sunshine.

Potted Displays

The best public gardens offer ideas for the home gardener, regardless of how large or small their space might be.

These simple, terracotta pots had been filled with tulips  and other spring bulbs that were then  brought out for display as each variety reached its peak.  That is certainly something even I could do, perhaps growing them initially within the confines of my protected vegetable garden. Terracotta wouldn't survive Seattle winters but I like the idea of using one consistent pot color and style – perhaps some of the faux terracotta might work and be frost resistant?  Perhaps a succession of colors in different pots? Maybe I can just plant them in black nursery pots and slip these inside my decorative pots when the moment is right?

At Filoli the pots were clustered together on steps, in doorways, around statuary and used to line pathways, all ideas we can re-create in our homes.

Landscape Displays

Where tulips were planted in the ground they were corralled by manicured boxwood hedges, vibrant under the dappled canopy of the flowering cherry trees. Every garden had its own color scheme which the tulip displays highlighted. This simple design is so much more dramatic than a mix of colors might have been.

Perhaps you might focus on a single color in your front garden that echoes or complements the color of your door, whereas in the back  there might be an opportunity to introduce a new color scheme. Even if you didn't want to limit yourself to just one color perhaps you could plant blocks of individual colors rather than a random assortment throughout the space?

Abundance was key to the display at Filoli too. Planting a soldierly row of 10 bulbs, or even a single cluster of 10 isn't nearly so striking as a mass planting of 100 or more. Just because the packets you see in the stores contain 10 bulbs doesn't means that's all you should plant. Consider planning and ordering ahead from a bulb grower. You can often get great "early bird" deals and can order in bulk at considerable savings. For bulk daffodils and many other bulbs I order from Brent & Becky's Bulbs in Virginia (such a lovely couple too!) For bulk tulips I would look at one of the specialty growers; do a quick online search for "bulk tulip bulbs".

Final Thoughts

The other thing I learned? It's OK to sit once in a while and simply enjoy them.

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This is an updated post, originally published in March 2013.


  1. Patty Patterson on April 13, 2021 at 7:55 am

    Can tulips be planted now with any promise of blooming next Spring?

    • Karen Chapman on April 13, 2021 at 8:05 am

      Hi Patty, no – and you won't even be able to buy them now. But if you plant in late October/early November they will bloom next spring. Now is the season for planning your orders though.