Flower bulbs bring color and interest to a garden from early spring through fall. Bulbs are at their most effective with some planning to group them by variety, height, color and blooming time. Using commercial guides will help especially with issues of height, but a successful layout depends on some analysis of your planned location and the effect you wish bulbs to have.
Plannng Your Layout
For a large bulb garden layout (more than 6 square feet or small clusters distributed over a bed containing other plants or shrubs), take photographs of your space. This will help record what the space looks like when other plants come into leaf or bloom. Photos also let you see your yard as others see it. That may help you decide the quantities of bulbs you need for a particular effect--perhaps more than you thought while standing close-up. Six yellow tulips, for example, may cheer you as you enter and leave your front door, but it takes a dozen or more to signal spring to those walking past your house.
Bulb catalogs and online sites let you plan layouts at leisure. Make a list of your favorite bulb choices, noting color, height and bloom time (early spring, mid-spring, late spring, summer, late summer). Both height and bloom time will help determine locations of bulbs in a bed. In general, little bulbs bloom earlier than big ones. The only logical time to put taller bulb blooms in front of shorter ones is when post-bloom foliage needs camouflage.
Coordinating a Layout with Yard Conditions
Several factors determine the ultimate performance of your bulb garden: water, sun, soil and temperature. Naturalizing daffodils on a slope, for example, may dictate extra watering by hand if rain runoff is rapid. Early daffodils planted close to a large azalea will receive stronger sunlight than the late tulips you want to put right next to them, as the azalea comes into leaf and begins spring growth. Raised beds and planters tend to have warmer soil than in-ground beds; the downside to this is that bulbs spending the winter in raised beds and planters need enough soil to insulate them against freezing.
Coordinating a Layout with Architecture
A successful bulb garden layout reinforces architectural elements already present on your property. For this reason, fewer and fewer gardeners tend to lay out bulbs in single straight rows like little soldiers. Take inspiration from arches and curves, present both in the land and in the buildings on your property. Nestle bulbs in oval clusters between two rock shelves. Follow the curve of a wall, fence or entry path. Group bulbs in abstract shapes near shrubs or trees. Think in patches or blobs of color rather than thin formal lines. Use your photographs and sketch out your ideas.
Extending the Bulb Season
While in many areas bulbs are strongly associated with fall planting and spring blooming, many kinds of bulbs continue to bloom throughout the entire summer. Add gladiolus, crocosmia, dahlia, caladium, begonias and cannas to your bulb assortment. Planted in spring and "lifted" for indoor storage during fall and winter, summer bulbs bring intense colors and some surprisingly large flowers to your landscape. From tiny end-of-winter snowdrops and aconite to August plate-size dahlias, bulbs enhance your yard for a long blooming season.