Best is a relative term. For an experienced perennial gardener, it might mean rare or valuable. For gardeners in the Upper Midwest, best means winter-hardy, but in the South, best may mean heat-resistant. For beginning gardeners, easy-to-plant bulbs that bloom with the least effort are best. The best bulbs perform reliably in a specific garden's soil, exposure and climate. In doing so, they confirm that their purchase was a terrific idea.
Winter-hardy bulbs provide the greatest show for the least effort. Very early bulbs are usually the hardiest. Three species of crocus are the earliest of the major bulbs to bloom. Because they often bloom as the snow melts, they are also called snow crocus. Crocus chrysanthu, native to Greece, are hardy from USDA zone 3 to 9. Crocus sieberi blooms earlier but is hardy only from USDA Hardiness Zone 3 to 8. Crocus tommasinianus is the earliest blooming and hardest to find species. Crocus chrysanthu comes in colors from cream to gold as well as the traditional species colors of violet to blue. All three species are smaller than Dutch crocus that bloom later and have a more limited range. Species crocus are well suited to small spaces like rock gardens. They are also perfect for naturalizing because their blooms are gone by the time the grass grows long.
The North American Lily Society divides lilies into nine horticultural divisions, each with its own remarkable qualities. Lilies bridge the growing season from spring into early summer. The Asiatic lilies are the hardiest division, but the huge flowers of the Oriental division and towering trumpet and aurelian division, some standing 7 feet tall, are not only lofty but varied in coloration. Colors range from purest white across the floral spectrum to dark purple with black details. The aurelians stand tall and bear nodding towers of brown-speckled pale yellow to dark orange "Turk's-cap" flowers.
Some bulbs form new plants quickly. Daffodils reproduce as rapidly as any other true bulb. There are 15 divisions, or types, of daffodils---the names jonquil and narcissus are also used for many varieties because terminology is not absolute. All daffodils produce bulbs with each spring bloom. Vegetative division every 3 to 5 years will keep them blooming well. Species plants are golden yellow and are quite rare but hundreds of colorful hybrids are available at garden stores and in catalogs each year. Of these, the King Alfred trumpet is one of the oldest and most reliable. The American Daffodil Society recommends many of the older hybrids such as tete-a-tete, unsurpassable, scarlet gem, cheerfulness, peeping Tom and spellbinder for naturalizing because of their prolific propagation.