FROM TINY BLOOMS that goose the last of winter to garden stars that bridge the gap between spring and summer, the following so-called “minor” bulbs complement familiar spring show ponies, like daffodils and tulips. Duly dug and planted this fall, these perennial bulbs will energize the garden for years to come.

Snowdrops (Galanthus sp.) show up early in the new year, even if the ground is frigid or covered in snow — proof of life in the garden. Demure white blooms dotted with green nod at the top of 4-inch stems and grassy foliage. Woodland natives, snowdrops prefer light shade and well-drained soil that doesn’t completely dry out in summer. Select named and often costly varieties if you must, but even the commonly available G. nivalis will brighten dark days.

Species crocus, sometimes called snow crocus, appear in February, just as winter has overstayed its welcome. Smaller and a bit more elegant than stocky Dutch crocus that bloom a bit later, these garden gems are available in shades of soft lavender and creamy yellow to deep purple and a saturated gold or bright orange.

A Chance to Buy Bulbs

Shop for these bulbs and many more at the Hardy Plant Society of Washington’s annual fall bulb sale on Sunday, Oct. 16. Details at

Provided that you can keep squirrels from devouring the newly planted corms, all crocus are long-lasting once established and readily multiply. Crocus tommasinianus bulbs, affectionately referred to as “tommies,” are said to be less attractive to furry-tailed rodents, but I’m not sure the squirrels got that memo. Plant pros suggest mixing cayenne pepper into the soil at planting — take care to protect hands and eyes from caustic wafting pepper — or weighing down new plantings with a light piece of wood, like a shingle, until the bulbs begin to root in.

Snow crocuses are extremely affordable and well worth tediously protecting for the early and enduring color they bring to the winter garden. My advice: Plant lots.


Grape hyacinths (Muscari sp.) are another family of resilient spring bulbs. Commonly available M. armeniacum verges on weedy, but it’s easy to forgive the plant’s profligate nature when an ever-increasing number of cobalt blue blooms appears in the garden each April. Other species that are less aggressive at seeding about include M. latifolium, with distinctive two-toned blossoms in deep blue and periwinkle, and M. ‘Valerie Finnis’, a delicate sky blue. Grape hyacinths aren’t fussy about exposure, but a sunny location brings on earlier blooms. Cut back after flowering to control seeding.

● Just as the last tulip is fading but before most hardy perennials begin blooming, globes of ornamental onions (Allium sp.) appear in the garden. Allium aflatunense ‘Purple Sensation’ arrives in late May with deep violet, baseball-size blooms on 24- to 30-inch stems. As June progresses, the starry blooms of A. christophii and A. schubertii appear one after the other. The former produces amethyst blooms that are nearly a foot in diameter, while the latter is an impressive sparklerlike blossom that’s almost as big as a volleyball. These larger blooms produce showy dried seed heads that persist throughout the growing season and can be brought indoors for holiday décor. The nectar-rich blooms of ornamental onions are adored by bees, butterflies and other pollinators, and make fabulous cut flowers, although all but the honey-scented A. schubertii have a whiff of onion to them.

● Last on my by-no-means-complete list of treasured perennial bulbs is Triteleia laxa (sometimes listed as Brodiaea laxa), a bulb that’s native to western North America. Slack starry blooms appear in late June into early July. ‘Corrina’ has deep blue bloom; other varieties are pale violet, rose or white. Like all the bulbs mentioned here, Triteleia naturalize and spread in the garden.