Many cite the long-lasting and unsightly foliage of spring bulbs as a reason not to grow them. I have two answers for that. One is my ongoing strategy: grow the temperamental tulip hybrids that don’t perennialize as annuals. I find the pleasure they give and the fun of changing them up more than worth the cost.
But there’s another, even better, strategy. Grow bulbs for their foliage. Here are some of my favorites where the foliage is almost as striking as the flowers. Best of all, this appears very early in the spring and lasts for weeks.
The small, lily-like flowers are exquisite, but so are the glossy, mottled leaves. I wish they lasted all summer. They’re coming up now (under a thin but tedious layer of ice/snow/whatever). The Pagoda hybrid provides the showiest; natives have more mottling but aren’t as big and glossy.
This Greigii are playing nicely with the nearby Brunnera.
It depends what variety you get of these. Mary Ann and Oratorio have very marked, dramatic garnet striations. Fire of Love’s foliage is such that you’d be fine if no flowers came up at all. It’s worth shopping around among the mail order places to find other varieties—I don’t think I’ve tried them all.
I can’t vouch for these myself, but I believe some of them are known for foliage.
Darwin Hybrid Jaap Groot
Surprisingly, some of the big hybrids do have cool, white-edged foliage; this is one. We’re told this happens because of insufficient pigmentation and chlorophyll in the plant cells on the outer edges.
Viridiflora China Town
This “green” tulip has strong, white-edged, blue-green foliage that lasts a really long time. It takes quite a while for the flowers to emerge above it, and that’s fine with me.
I am so, so ready for bulb season. Really. Any day now.