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Northeast Gardening: Little Bulbs Make Big Statements

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

When it comes to bulbs, Lowe's Northeast garden expert Irene Virag knows that good things come in small packages.

Bulbs go into the ground when fall beckons.
Gudoshnik tulips come up like a sunrise.

Fall is bulb-planting time, and as usual I'm just catching up. But it's still a joy, not in the planting perhaps but in the knowledge of what will flower in the spring. For me bulbs are nature's little miracles: Each contains enough food and nutrients to sustain it through the winter.

I always plant daffodils (even though I have about a thousand naturalizing in my yard) because you have to love a bulb squirrels won't eat. And when it comes to tulips, I never forget my all-time all-star, Gudoshnik, which comes up like a sunrise in orange, rose and yellow.

I also plant Princess Irene Tulips--how could I not?--with fragrant orange and purple 12- to 14-inch-tall flowers. They look great blooming above purple pansies or equally diminutive Anemone blanda, also known as Grecian windflower.

Wildlife tend to avoid Chionodoxa or glory of the snow.

Anemone blanda is a little flower that makes a big splash as one of the munchkins that add color and contrast to the bulb world. The daisylike blooms of purple, pink and white grow from tubers, and it pays to soak them overnight in lukewarm water before planting so they'll plump up and put out roots faster.

I'm at a point in life where I appreciate the little things, and that goes for the garden too. So let's consider the minis of the field--the so-called minor bulbs such as the early birds: winter aconite, for example, and snowdrops, a.k.a. Galanthus nivalis. And Chionodoxa, more poetically known as glory of the snow.

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) is the season's first yellow.

Winter aconite, a.k.a. wolfsbane or Eranthis hyemalis, is the season's first yellow. It belongs to the Ranunculus family and, as its cousin the buttercup, scores high as a big delight in a small package. The cup-shape bloom sits on fans of bright-green leaves, reminding me of a hula dancer in a grass skirt.

Plant snowdrops  by mid-October for rewards like this.

Snowdrops open their nodding, white-wing flowers when spring still seems like a far-off wish. So humor them and plant them by mid-October. They're 5 inches tall, and deer, squirrels and chipmunks leave them alone. These hungry marauders also avoid Chionodoxa, which shows lavender-blue blooms that fade to white in the center.

Iris reticulata needs well-drained soil.

The first arrivals include dwarf Iris reticulata, which comes and goes early but never disappoints. Its charming violet-scented flowers are perfect for rock gardens and woodland borders as long as they're in well-drained soil.

Tulipa tarda is a botanical tulip native to central Asia that grows happily in this country from zones 3 to 8. Its white-tipped yellow blooms return year after year and spread like a groundcover.

And then there's yellow Tete-a-tete, which brightens perennial borders that have yet to awaken. It creates a nice effect scattered among drifts of light-purple scilla. Tete-a-Tete leads a brigade of sunny little daffodils such as multi-flowering Chitchat and Gipsy Queen, which dances onto the scene in dark yellow and mellows to pure white.

Crocuses may be the best known of the small bulbs, and there's little that beats the sight of one poking its head through the snow. Just remember: They're like candy to squirrels. Some garlic spray might help.

Grape hyacinth or muscari stops growing at about 6 inches.

And take a chance on Muscari or grape hyacinth, and enjoy its tiny, true-blue flowers that stop growing at about 6 inches.

Muscari latifolium is a variety to look for. It produces a two-tone blossom--bright blue on the top and deep Concord grape below. It makes a nice bedfellow with daffodils and early tulips.

Whatever you pick, remember that in gardens as in life, more often than not it's the little things that matter.

Let me know your bulb favorites. Remember: Size doesn't matter.