Bulbs in a Rock Garden

In most books on rock gardening, a large part of the space is devoted to the description of plants, and of individual varieties. This is as it should be, and to those who are taking up seriously this fascinating form of gardening, the acquisition of at least one or two of these larger volumes is by all means recommended. Anyone planning a rock garden should conduct more research than simply what this article contains.

Bulbs for a Rock Garden:

To one who thinks of bulbs in terms of Darwin tulips with three-foot stems, and the modern Giant Trumpet daffodils, in the spring garden, or of gladiolus and dahlias throughout the summer months, the rock garden would seem to offer no suitable place of residence for this important group of flowers. Many “complete” catalogs of rock garden plants contain never a whisper concerning bulbs, though often including shrubs, evergreens, and garden fountains.

It may be argued that the bulbous flowers, even when dwarf enough to merit a place in the rock garden, are not sufficiently similar in habit of growth to other rock plants to entitle them to recognition. This, of course, is a matter of taste and not to be dogmatically settled one way or the other. The contention that bulbs are not legitimate subjects for the rock garden has had more weight abroad among the advocates of alpine gardening, pure and undefiled than it has in the states.

In most American rock gardens, bulbs have been made welcome and are likely to be used more rather than less in the future, as knowledge concerning them becomes more widespread. For one thing, they may be successfully grown over a much wider range of climatic conditions than the true alpines.

But the fact that there are some bulbs which may be welcomed into the rock garden, makes it no less necessary to have them qualify as to size, habit of growth, and character. The first point is easily settled. The most extreme novice at rock gardening would hardly think of including Darwin tulips or gladiolus; in general, 12 or 15 inches will mark the limit in height. These types of bulbs fit well with rock gardens with classical garden features, such as those found in the Williamsburg Collection.

Failing to pass in habit of growth and character, are such obviously formal things as hyacinths, double tulips, and most of the Early and Cottage varieties—even most of the daffodils are a bit too bulky and stiff and garden-border looking.

But, fortunately, we have left a most gay and companionable little company which includes such things as the smallest of the daffodils, which are lost among their more robust sisters in the garden border, even though they may be grown there; many of the fascinating little tulip species; the trooping company of the brave-hearted “minor bulbs” which come to meet the spring almost before the earliest of the rock plants have opened an eye—the grape hyacinths, snowdrops, scillas, chionodoxas, and dainty little wild crocuses.

One should never want to be without these little treasures in their rock garden, even if located where all the most difficult and rare alpines might be grown. There are many others equally desirable, including numerous native American species which are gradually becoming available, to extend the season of little bulbs in the rock garden from the grape hyacinths, through the later blooming scillas, to the autumn flowering crocuses in the fall.