The practice of planting spring-blooming bulbs is a timeless expression of faith. You plant, you wait, and—hopefully—you marvel. And in the Pacific Northwest, spring certainly wouldn’t be spring without those sunny yellow daffodils popping up across town. But there’s the risk of tipping into the English cottage garden look. A modern Portland spread calls for more Joan Miro, less Thomas Kinkade. When you’re planting this fall, opt for one of these dynamic, strongly architectural flowers in groups of 20 or more, and add a bold pop of intentional design to your yard.
These bombastic, globe-shaped blooms grow up to a foot in diameter and offer a punch of color and striking texture. Plant tall varieties amid summer perennials to conceal the foliage when it turns tawdry brown. These look lovely contrasted with spire-shaped flowers like eremurus and kniphofia. TRY: Allium sphaerocephalon (“drumstick” allium, with reddish-purple egg-shaped flowers), A. schubertii (reddish-pink “fireworks” form), Globemaster (tall, violet orbs)
Spectacular early-summer spires are composed of thousands of densely packed flowers, blooming upward from the bottom of each willowy spike. Also known as desert candles, foxtails require rich, well-draining soil in full sun that dries out in summer, without competition from spring through early summer—perfect for dry gravel and succulent beds. TRY: Eremurus bungei (yellow), Cleopatra (burnt orange), White Beauty (white with yellow centers)
Blue and white spires offer soft, vertical elements in damp areas of the garden. Native to the Pacific Northwest, camas lilies are valuable to pollinating insects and turn sunny, damp areas into dramatic sweeps of color, especially when planted en masse. TRY: Camassia cusickii (light blue flowers, yellow anthers), C. leichtlinii Blue Danube (darker violet-blue) or Alba (a green-tinged, creamy white form)
Slender two- to three-foot stems are topped with fireworks-like sprays of drooping, bell-shaped florets tinged green, plum, and cream in late spring. These are exquisite interplanted with perennials and ornamental grasses, especially those with spire forms and strong horizontal elements, in hefty clumps. TRY: Nectaroscordum siculum ssp. bulgaricum