How to Plant a Carpet of Blue Spring Flowers
Years ago, Martha Stewart Living Magazine featured an article about a bulb planting project at Martha’s home in Bedford, NY. The goal was to create a swath of blue spring flowers that would bloom under an established linden allée.
The planting scheme featured six types of spring bulbs in various shades of blue. Combining several different types of bulbs was an aesthetic choice, but also a practical one to ensure a long flowering period from early through mid-spring.
I have never forgotten that image of a carpet of heavenly blue flowers, and this fall, I am finally giving it a try — although on a much smaller scale!
In the MSL article, bulbs were planted into well-prepared beds beneath the trees. There were no other plants, and no mention of what would fill these beds after the bulbs finished blooming. My bulbs were planted into an existing bed that runs along the edge of a woodland. The area faces north and is in full shade during the summer months. It’s already home to some low-growing perennials, including astilbes, ferns, and hostas. In the spring, before those perennials emerge, there are snowdrops, two types of white daffodils and white trilliums. I think the blue spring flowers will be a nice addition.
Most of the bulbs in this planting scheme are early bloomers that grow best in climates with cold winters. If you garden in zone 8 or warmer, experiment with a small number of bulbs before going all out on a large planting. Here are the bulbs that I am including in my carpet of blue. I’ll come back and add the “after” photos next spring!
Best Bulbs for a Carpet of Blue Spring Flowers
Anemone blanda. Also known as Grecian windflower, these daisy-like blossoms have golden yellow centers and lacy foliage. I am using the variety ‘Blue Shades’, though Anemone blanda is also available in white and pink.
Chionodoxa. Commonly known as glory-of-the-snow. The star-like flowers have six petals and bloom in clusters atop slender stems. They are also available in white and pink, but I am planting ‘Blue Giant,’ which has sky blue petals, crisp white centers, and pale-yellow stamens.
Scilla siberica. Commonly known as Siberian squill. These little bulbs have dark stems, topped with a cluster of cobalt blue parasols. Scilla siberica grows just 4” tall and usually spreads over time.
Muscari. The planting at Martha’s house included two types of muscari. I am also planting two: Muscari ‘Blue Magic’ and Muscari latifolium. The flowers of Blue Magic shade from dark to light and are a stunning cornflower blue. Muscari latifolium grows about twice as tall. It has two-tone, blue-black flowers that bloom a bit later and last a bit longer.
Preparing the Soil for Planting
Bulbs should always be planted in well-drained soil that’s never soggy. Loose and relatively crumbly soil makes it easy for the bulbs to establish roots, which needs to happen quickly — before the soil freezes. If the soil in the planting area is heavy or compacted, you can improve it by adding compost. During the summer months, when the bulbs are dormant, they need very little water. When they are actively growing (spring and fall) they should have relatively consistent moisture.
If you plant your bulbs into a new garden bed where there are no other plants, loosen the soil 6-12” deep and remove any weeds. Dig in some compost or leaf mold if you have it. When adding bulbs to an existing garden as I am, it’s still important to prepare the soil in each of the planting pockets.
Planting the Bulbs
For the project at Martha Stewart’s house, the bulbs were poured into wheelbarrows and mixed before planting. Bulbs were then scattered over the beds and planted where they landed. This technique creates a pointillist effect with a relatively consistent look across the entire planting area.
Another option would be to keep each type of bulb separate and plant them side by side in small groups to achieve a patchwork effect. It can be a little challenging to make this sort of planting look random, so I decided to mix all the bulbs together.
When planting big bulbs, such as tulips, daffodils or hyacinths, I often start by loosening the soil in the planting area with a garden fork. Then I place the bulbs where I want them, and push each bulb down into the soil until it’s at the proper depth. With small bulbs, I find it easier to dig out a planting pocket, scatter the bulbs and then replace the soil.
When scattering small bulbs, don’t worry if some of them wind up on their side or even upside down. Once they sprout, they will head for the light and bloom properly.
Caring for Your Blue Spring Flowers
All of these blue spring flowers are perennial, so if they are happy where you plant them, they will bloom again each spring. An annual top-dressing of compost will provide all the nutrients needed.
After the bulbs finish blooming, let the foliage remain in place until it dies back naturally. This allows the bulbs to replenish their reserves so they can multiply and bloom again the next spring. Since the foliage of these bulbs is narrow and grass-like, it doesn’t have a big presence and fades away pretty quickly.
There are lots of low-growing perennials that would be good companions for these spring bulbs. Consider heuchera, hellebores, ferns, astilbes, corydalis, hosta, brunnera and pulmonaria. Another option would be a ground cover such as vinca.
This sort of mixed planting of blue spring flowers would work well beneath most any deciduous trees or shrubs. It would also look pretty lining a walkway, edging a stream, or decorating the edge of a woodland.
Learn more about growing spring-blooming bulbs in these articles on our website: How to Plan a Spring Bulb Garden, 5 Ways to Plant Fall Bulbs (video), and Bloom Time Planning Guide for Spring and Summer Bulbs.
You can read the Martha Stewart Living Magazine article HERE.