LET’S FACE IT: Winter can be dark and depressing. The average day in February in the Pacific Northwest barely gets 10 hours of (mostly cloudy) daylight. But what if I told you a sunshine-inspired display of late-winter blooms could call in the light and perk up your spirits?
The key to this hypothetical botanical cure is twofold: yellow blooms — and lots of them. Let me explain. Yellow is the brightest color on the spectrum, so yellow plants and blossoms are the most visible, even in low light. The second part of this floral equation calls for generosity and abundance. According to social scientists and designers who study this sort of thing, color and multiplicity are key factors in cultivating emotional well-being and joy.
Early-blooming bulbs in shades of yellow furnish the soggy garden with light, a virtual sunbreak if you will, and are economical enough to encourage lavish planting. Timing is key; we’re looking for a display that will carry us from darkest winter through to the gradually lengthening days of spring.
Not only are crocuses one of the most affordable bulbs you can purchase, but they’re also one of the earliest blooms to show up in the garden. Scatter them in beds and borders like you toss spare change into the jar on your dresser, and watch their numbers multiply and grow from year to year. But why wait? Plant purposeful puddles of 10, 15 or 20 bulbs for a sunny lift next spring.
Specie crocus, sometimes called snow crocus, are one of the first bulbs to bloom, with the earliest flowers showing up sometimes as soon as late January. Crocus chrysanthus ‘Cream Beauty’ is a soft lemon, while ‘Goldilocks’ has deep honey-gold petals flushed with purple-brown feathering. Larger-flowering Dutch crocus follow the earlier blooms. Crocus flavus ‘Golden Yellow’ produces deep-yellow, 5-inch blooms. After crocus flowers are spent, fine grassy foliage emerges to harvest the sun and recharge the bulbs for future blooms. Specie crocus also multiply by seeding about if seed heads are left to mature.
Continue to call forth the light with sunny yellow daffodils. Like its name suggests, Narcissus ‘February Gold’ is an early one with classic blooms, reflexed petals and a slightly darker trumpet atop 10-to-12-inch stems. Diminutive ‘Tête à Tête’ is prized for its prolific blooms, with two to three miniature blooms per 6-to-8-inch stem. Daffodils make terrific cut flowers, but be sure to leave the foliage to ripen naturally and recharge the bulb for next year’s flowering show. Planting daffodils in the company of hosta or a deciduous ornamental grass like variegated purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea ssp. caerulea ‘Variegata’) is a gardener’s pro tip for disguising fading bulb foliage.
The luminous soft yellow, lilylike blossoms of yellow fawn lily (Erythronium ‘Pagoda’) appear in early spring atop slender nodding stems that emerge from attractive chocolate-speckled green foliage. Unlike crocus and daffodils, fawn lilies appreciate cooler growing conditions that don’t dry out, making them ideal for planting in the shade garden among ferns and hosta, where their numbers will increase from year to year.
Fall is planting season for spring-blooming bulbs. Be sure to tuck in some golden blooms to enlighten and lift dreary winter days.