Design Fail – too many bulbs, no pleasing patterns

The idea started late in the summer of 2019: I needed a spot to transplant both a tallish Sedum spectabile variety (now called Hylotelephium… argh!!!) and some Hens and Chicks. They had both spent the summer in a pot but the garden beds were full or reserved for vegetables and cutting flowers; I obviously needed to create a small new garden area – Hooray! A new micro garden to demonstrate my design flair! A new spot to try out some new-to-me spring bulbs. Off I went!

I created the new garden by expanding an existing border near the side of the house, in front of a small patio. After digging out the sod and edging it with small granite boulders, there was enough room for the succulents, some orange Echinacea seedlings plus the bulbs.

Here it is in September, 2019. The purple-leaf variety of Sedum in both back corners, a red-leaved Sempervivum variety in the front right corner, the Echinacea seedlings along the back and the big middle part just mulched over, waiting for bulb planting. Those small piles of stones is typical for my soil: heavy clay with lots of limestone.

But then I made my big mistake. Too many different bulbs, too small a space. I never thought it possible but the proof was there to see throughout last spring. The bulbs I planted were Exotic Emperor and Red Emperor tulips along the back (large, blowsy, interesting blooms), plus a bunch of small species Tulipa turkestanica in the right corner. In the middle I crammed a bunch of purple Hyacinth ‘Woodstock’ and, down front, a small species daffodil, Narcissus Hawera. I envisaged the white/yellow species tulips opening first, followed by yellow daffs, purple Hyacinths, then red and white tulips.

The image in my mind worked, but, in reality, the tulip foliage covered the Hyacinth, which seemed, when they bloomed, to be an after-thought, and totally out of place. The daffodils were so small, both foliage and flower, and bloomed so much later than I had anticipated, that they seemed lost in front of the much larger Hyacinth and tulips. Here’s how this micro-garden turned out:

April 17 – even this early, the tulips are towering over the Hyacinths….
April 25 – Tulipa Turkestanica in full bloom, Hyacinth ‘Woodstock’ starting and already being smothered by the larger tulip leaves. Narcissus just emerging down front.
May 5 – Red and Exotic Emperor tulips starting to bloom. Gorgeous, but clashing in colour and proximity with the Hyacinths
May 21 – tulips nearly done blooming, narcissus finally making a bit of a statement, the red Hens and Chicks on the right looking good.
May 30 – no flowers, just foliage that I want to leave, to feed the bulbs for future blooms…it’s time to plant edibles, if there was room.
June 5 – The Echinacea is starting to push through the large tulip leaves, but the small Turkestanica bulbs have proven a tasty feast for the chipmunk families that seemed to experience a baby boom last year…
July 3 – the Echinacea and Sedum are growing nicely. Fed up and impatient, I dug out all the tulip and Hyacinth bulbs, foliage intact, to make room for seed-started Swiss chard and Tagetes – marigolds.
July 24 – something – likely rabbits – has eaten the chard…heavy sigh. The Echinacea has started to bloom, and it’s not the expected orange…heavy sigh…
August 25 – Although this new micro-garden didn’t turn out as I had hoped, it wasn’t a total loss. The bulbs provided cut flowers in spring, the coneflowers and Zinnia growing here provided cut flowers in late summer, marigolds and Sedum looked good all summer and into the fall.
October 16 – the first frost of the year is expected any time now, so I cut back some of the fading marigolds and re-planted some of the bulbs, in what I hope will be a more pleasing pattern. Chipmunks got most of the tulips so this spring the Hyacinths should be front and centre.

Probably the most exciting and satisfying aspect of this micro-garden was the unexpected and copious amount of pollen produced by Tulipa turkestanica. These little beauties opened wide when it was sunny and closed tight at night – a handy protection since they bloomed in April and May, when overnight temperatures were regularly below freezing. Every day they were covered in honeybees and other pollinators – providing a welcome source of early spring food. And, especially at the end of April before the large tulips made an appearance, the new garden looked quite pretty.


  1. I can promise you as an impartial third-party observer (who happens to love plants) – this garden was definitely not a fail! It’s definitely given me more faith in my slowly growing daffodils.
    Are you going to try to recreate this at some point with a change to the density or timing?

    Liked by 1 person

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