Sunday, September 11, 2011

Top Ten Deer- and Rodent-Proof Naturalizing Bulbs

Drumstick alliums provide height, color and a new
texture to the garden border in summer
It may seem strange to be writing a post on bulbs in September, but now is the time to plant for a colorful display next year.

I like bulbs which are easy to grow, bloom for a long time and naturalize (multiply) easily. However the deer also seem to look forward to these spring bulbs and just when I think I’ve got a handle on deer-proof varieties I discover that squirrels and voles have taken a fancy to my favorites! To save you similar heartache here are my top ten bulbs that are not on the menu for these pests.

Naturalized daffodils in the Wordsworth Daffodil Garden,
 Grasmere, England

Photo credit;
Daffodils (Narcissi) are the quintessential spring bulbs. Grassy meadows dotted with the classic ‘King Alfred’ variety are part of the spring landscape in many countries including England but there are many others to choose from. For example yellow ‘Cheerfulness’ offers small, pale yellow fragrant blooms, the award winning Irish naturalizer ‘Salome’ has long funnel shaped apricot-pink cups and Tete a Tete is everyone’s favorite dwarf variety.

Drumstick allium (Allium sphaerocephalon) has unusual egg shaped crimson flowers which bloom in July. At 2’ tall these make great punctuation points in the mid-summer border peeking out of a cushion of the yellow tickseed ‘Moonbeam’ (Coreopsis verticillata)  or amongst the taller golden variety ‘Flying saucers’ (C. grandiflora).

Grecian windflower (Anemone blanda) is perhaps one of the prettiest spring flowers, blooming throughout April and May. Shades of hyacinth blue dominate but mixtures with pink and white are also available. 4” tall

Wild hyacinth (Camassia leichtlinii coerulea) offer those of us with damp soils the opportunity to grow bluebell-like flowers. 24-30” tall in May/June.

Glory of the snow - a welcome
change from the usual spring display
Photo credit;

Glory of the snow (Chionodoxa gigantea) look wonderful with their open faced lavender flowers, each with a white eye. In England these used to bloom around the time of my son’s birthday (February) but here in the Pacific Northwest the colorful display can be as late as April. 5-6” tall

Giant snowdrop (Galanthus elwesii) – spring wouldn’t be complete without these creamy-white flowers tipped with green. March/April.  5-8” tall.

English bluebells partner with 'Sagae' Hosta in the
spring border. My design

English Bluebells (Scilla non-scripta syn. Hyacinthoides non-scripta).  Unike the invasive Spanish bluebells these are well behaved and have a wonderful fragrance which floats on the spring breeze. Naturalize these under deciduous trees for the best effect.

Grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum) border on a nuisance since they naturalize with abandon! However, I find them easy to remove so don’t consider them invasive. I like to grow these bright cobalt blue flowers underneath Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) which hides the dying foliage nicely and forms a pretty yellow and blue association.

Summer snowflake (Leucojum aestivum) provides the damp soil alternative to snowdrops. Racemes of bell shaped milky white flowers stand 12-15” high in May and June.

A splash of yellow winter aconite is sure to brighten
the grey winter days.
Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) is one of the earliest bulbs to bloom, its yellow buttercup like flowers often peeking out from a carpet of snow. Although this has been around since the 1500’s it is not widely grown here in the Pacific Northwest; a missed opportunity! Prefers partial shade and moist soil. 4” tall

So as you peruse the boxes of tempting bulbs available in the nurseries this month, remember to take a copy of this article with you to ensure that you, rather than the wildlife look forward to spring.

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Excerpt from Daffodils by William Wordsworth (1170-1850)

Online resources

Brent and Becky's bulbs. Catalog, podcasts, videos and more! Plus they are a really wonderful couple.


  1. Karen,
    You picked some lovely and unique varieties I especially like the winter aconite. I have been giving lectures on the benefits of species tulips, early blooms with strength to come back for many years in our gardens. There's a lot more to bulbs than Triumph tulips and Dutchmaster daffodils.

  2. I completely agree with you Richard. While there will always be room for the old favorites I enjoy these easy care beauties - and the deer don't!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.