How to paint with tulips

Designer dabs bulbs into gardens where color will mean the most

October 01, 2006|By Marty Ross | Marty Ross,Universal Press Syndicate

Jacqueline van der Kloet has a refreshing way of planting tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and other spring-flowering bulbs: Forget about old-fashioned sweeps of red or yellow and concentrate instead on striking accents, echoing patterns and brilliant little pools of color.

Van der Kloet, a Dutch garden designer, developed her style in her own garden in the small town of Weesp and then planted her ideas at Keukenhof, the famous garden in Lisse, in the Netherlands, where hundreds of thousands of bulbs bloom from March through May. Her "inspiration gardens" at Keukenhof are designed to bring great design ideas down to the scale of people's backyards. The concepts will work, no matter where your garden grows.

Instead of packing 200 tulips into a flower bed all by themselves, van der Kloet likes to use fewer bulbs in mixed beds, placing the tulips, daffodils and other bulbs carefully among perennial plants and small shrubs.

"I'll plant between 20 and 50 tulips," for example, she says, "but I plant them like they have been scattered. Tulips have a wildflower look, and if you plant them with the right perennials they can look like a flower meadow."

In one garden at Keukenhof, van der Kloet planted pink tulips and white hyacinths with peonies and delicate white bleeding hearts. Little botanical tulips (T. turkistanica) filled in around the skirts of the peonies.

"I like to design gardens in which plants can grow through one another and pop up in unexpected places," van der Kloet says. "Of course there is a basic structure, which is important in every garden, but within it, perennials and bulbs lead their own lives."

In formal gardens, she might stick with one color, as she did last year in a garden of clipped boxwood hedges. She packed up to two dozen white tulips into each of a dozen 18- and 24-inch terra-cotta pots and placed them carefully around the garden. The effect was clean and crisp as a starched apron -- and utterly sophisticated.

In the past couple of years van der Kloet has been working with the great Dutch plantsman and designer Piet Oudolf to incorporate spring-blooming flowers into his designs for public gardens in the United States.

They planted tulips and alliums among the extensive perennial beds at The Battery in New York. The golden-yellow trumpets of the daffodil `Peeping Tom' flash in the soft spring light just as the foliage of perennials begins to emerge and fill in around them. Nearby, large translucent globes of purple Allium christophii are planted with prairie dropseed, a wispy ornamental grass.

Van der Kloet's deft and delicate approach to bulb plantings places great emphasis on garden settings and natural surroundings. Bulb flowers are chosen to complement the blooms of flowering trees and shrubs and to echo and accent existing palettes throughout a garden.

You don't need a long list of plants to make a beautiful garden, van der Kloet says. At Keukenhof, she designed a garden with purple tulips, white hyacinths, euphorbia and hellebores, surrounded by evergreen shrubs.

"If you use the right balances you can make a very beautiful garden with only five species," she says. "A special garden always has that balance, and that's what makes it exciting."


Three mail-order sources for spring-flowering bulbs are:

Brent and Becky's Bulbs (

Scheepers ( and

Colorblends (

Brent and Becky's Bulbs sells prechilled bulbs for gardeners in the South.

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