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Shorter days. Cooler nights. A gardener’s fancy turns to thoughts of bulbs: What’s new this year? How can I boost color in the spring? How do I extend my bloom time? Solutions abound at the Fall Bulb Festival, the area’s largest and most diverse bulb marketplace. The annual event sells more than 200,000 bulbs, from tried-and-true performers to more exotic varieties appealing to the connoisseur.   

PHOTO: Crocus chrysanthus 'Blue Pearl'

Crocus chrysanthus ‘Blue Pearl’

“We change the palette to include something new each year,” said Stephanie Lindemann, manager of horticultural events. “We like to offer gardeners a wide choice of colors, growing habits, bloom times, and hardiness.”

Gardeners seeking early signs of spring will be happy to see Crocus chrysanthus ‘Blue Pearl’ among this year’s offerings. It’s a favorite of horticulturist Tom Weaver, who oversees the Graham Bulb Garden. The pretty flower—pearlescent white, flamed with blue—brightened the Bulb Garden lawn last spring. It’s also a good candidate to use in perennial borders, under trees and shrubs, and among ground covers.

Another newcomer, Narcissus ‘Frosty Snow’, builds in variety and interest with its color-changing ways. White petals open around a yellow cup, which slowly shifts from white with a yellow rim to pure white. “It’s almost like getting three flowers with one bulb,” Weaver said.

PHOTO: Tulipa x kaufmanniana 'Early Harvest' and Muscari

Tulipa x kaufmanniana ‘Early Harvest’ interplanted with scilla and Narcissus (yet to bloom).

The deep orange of Tulipa kaufmanniana ‘Early Harvest’ can bring warmth and vibrancy to a spring garden, according to Weaver, who recommends partnering the “intensely” orange blooms with a blue anemone (Anemone) or squill (Scilla). ‘Early Harvest’ also offers a more compact height and perennializes well, making it a better bet to return year after year.

PHOTO: Hyacinthus orientalis 'Pink Elephant'.

Hyacinthus orientalis ‘Pink Elephant’

A vivid garden palette might benefit from Hyacinthus orientalis ‘Pink Elephant’. Its large, fragrant flower spikes are the palest pink tinged with salmon. Such faint pastels and whites can have a calming effect in a garden and give the eye a place to rest, according to Weaver. Companion planted with a coral-cupped narcissus, ‘Pink Elephant’ could also be used to create a nostalgic feeling.

Allium ‘Pink Jewel’ can step up in early June, right after the tulips are done for the season. “It fills in the gap when there’s not a lot blooming,” Weaver says. The 6-inch flower clusters are composed of cheerful raspberry-sherbet pink florets with bright green centers.

Can’t wait for spring? Pick up a fall-blooming crocus and plant it as soon as you get home. New among this year’s offerings, you’ll find Colchicum ‘Violet Queen’. The large blooms combine beautifully with ground covers, providing a rich, purple color in September and October. ‘Violet Queen’ is pest resistant and naturalizes readily.

Learn more about new additions and old favorites at the Fall Bulb Festival on Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Preview shopping for members only will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, October 10.

Expert staff will be on hand this weekend to describe the hundreds of tulips, narcissus, and specialty bulbs available. Explore diverse growing options, and discover innovative ways to incorporate bulbs into your garden design. 


©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Things move quickly in the bulb garden in the spring!

In three weeks, we’ve already seen the “little blue bulbs” (Scilla and Chionodoxa) come and go, the first of the species tulips burst forth with color, and the foliage fill out, creating a rich, green backdrop, allowing the flowers to shine. Even with our cold spring, we’ve already had a month of flowers—which goes to show just how tough these plants really are. We’re on our third flush of flowers while many other gardens are still just waking up for the season.

PHOTO: A view of the south path, dotted with the blues and reds of scilla and tulips.

The south path on April 21, showing the last of the Scilla and Tulipa batalinii ‘Bronze Charm’

The little blue bulbs are making way for the most popular and well-known of the bulbs; the daffodils (Narcissus) and hybrid tulips. We’ve also got many types of Fritillaria, Corydalis, and Muscari adding unique colors and forms to the display. The foliage is filling out, creating a lush oasis of green in an otherwise still-dreary spring.

PHOTO: A view of the south path, now filled with narcissus.

The south path on April 30—note how the Scilla and tulips have given way to Narcissus, with many more flowers waiting to burst forth

Photo: A combination of differently-shaped blooms in purple and white make a beautiful contrast.

Corydalis solida ‘Purple Bird’ and Muscari aucheri ‘White Magic’

PHOTO: Closeup of Muscari 'Pink Sunrise' blooms.

Muscari ‘Pink Sunrise’

Look closely as you walk along the paths, and you’ll see many unique flowers, such as several varieties of Erythronium and Fritillaria of all different sizes and colors.

PHOTO: A closeup of Fritillaria imperialis 'Aureomarginata'.

Fritillaria imperialis ‘Aureomarginata’

PHOTO: Closeup of Erythronium hendersonii in bloom.

Erythronium hendersonii

On May 1, we had our first Meet the Horticulturist for the season. I had the opportunity to lead a group of visitors around the Graham Bulb Garden and highlight some of the most unique and exciting things in bloom. Some visitor favorites included Corydalis varieties with their jewel-toned flowers and soft cushions of blue-green foliage; the cheerful spikes of blue, white, or palest pink Muscari; and dwarf Iris ‘Evening Shade’, which is a new hybrid Juno iris, with a unique growth habit, that looks very much like a miniature corn plant. Another plant that really wowed the visitors was the variegated crown imperial fritillary (Fritillaria imperialis ‘Aureomarginata’).  

Meet the Horticulturist events are a great way to get a more in-depth view of some of your favorite gardens. We’ll be featuring four more throughout the summer, with various other gardens as the highlight. Come talk with us!

PHOTO: Narcissus in the Bulb Garden.

Narcissus are just starting to put on a show.


PHOTO: Closeup of dwarf Iris 'Evening Shade'

Iris ‘Evening Shade’


©2014 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Though it’s still winter outside, Tim Pollak, Outdoor Floriculturist, and his team in the Production Greenhouses are getting ready for spring on the inside. Tim takes us on a tour of the Production Greenhouses to show us what they are growing for spring this year. All year round, his staff and volunteers work to grow many of the annuals that are later planted in the display gardens at the Chicago Botanic Garden. See what it takes to grow all of those plants!