While daffodils may dazzle, tulips tantalize and hyacinths haunt us with their heavenly perfume, these are but a small sampling of what the wonderful world of bulbs has to offer. These large, flowering beauties certainly can capture the imagination but do not overlook the potential of lesser known bulb species commonly but inappropriately referred to as minor bulbs.

Two especially attractive features of these bulbs are their relatively inexpensive price (so buy in large quantities) and their tendency to naturalize so they are not in need of constant replacement.

One early bloomer I am quite fond of is the snow crocus, sometimes called the bunch crocus. Flowers may be smaller than the later blooming giant crocus but there are many more of them. In a sunny, southern exposure, they will bloom in early March after a snowless winter.

                         C. vernus & C. chrysanthus ‘Cream Beauty’.

Snow crocus species include Crocus chrysanthus, C. sieberi and C. tommasinianus. There are a number of named varieties and these are well suited to planting in lawns as the foliage will ripen before your lawn needs cutting.

                                             Crocuses naturalizing in lawn.

I love irises and am especially smitten by the netted iris. These miniatures, including the purple I. reticulata and the sweet-scented, bright yellow I. danfordiae, reaching only 4 inches tall in bloom and often peaking through the snow. They naturalize slowly but surely, and after flowering, long narrow foliage appears and dies discretely away.

                                            Beautiful blue Iris reticulata

Personally, I would advise against planting Star of Bethlehem, Ornithogalum umbellatum. Despite its rather innocent name and pleasant description, “pure white, star-shaped flowers”, its been called an “impressive naturalizer” and I can attest to that. Its flowers are lovely, but they only open on sunny days and the copious foliage smothers anything growing nearby, turns an ugly shade of yellow and lasts for months unless you remove it. Anyone desiring these bulbs should contact me as I weed them out by the bushel every year only to be rewarded by their return each spring.

                     Star of Bethlehem from http://www.courses.missouristate.edu

At the other extreme, I cannot get enough of Erythronium a.k.a. dog’s tooth violet or trout lily. These exquisite creatures are rather costly, but their beautiful, mottled foliage and delicate, lily-shaped blossoms are well worth the price. You will find yellow ones blooming in woodlands in spring, but the pinks and whites are found in bulb catalogs.

                                 White trout lily in a woodland garden.

Another top performer is Camassia, also called quamash or wild hyacinth. The bulbs are rather foul-smelling but have never been bothered by any wildlife or insect in my garden. Beautiful, bluish, star-shaped flowers adorn 18-inch stalks in late May. A white cultivar is also available. Camassias are great for cutting, prefer a moist soil, and clumps increase in size each year.

Snowdrops, Galanthus sp., are familiar to almost every gardener but for a little more pizazz, try the double variety, ‘Flore Pleno’. These grow to only five inches high with full, ruffled flowers and are quite a delight in early spring.

                  Snowdrops can handle winter weather as their name implies

A late bloomer is the summer snowflake, Leucojum aestivum. Slow to naturalize, it will form good-sized clumps eventually. The white, delicate, bell-shaped flowers are perched on 15-inch stems and tipped with green. Summer snowflake does well in lightly shaded, moist spots.

                 Summer snowflake – I’ll have to take a better picture next year!

Try some of the minor bulbs if you haven’t given them thought before. Plant in groups of a dozen or more for greater impact. Their beauty and resilience will surely please.

Dawn P.