The modern garden

The modern garden is characterised by straight lines, geometrical forms and a limited number of features, all coming together to create a restful impression. The principle here is "less is more"! Minimalism is the key concept where the modern garden is concerned. Large format tiles and slabs in concrete or natural stone are another common element.

Still, reflective water features, finished with natural stone, (stainless) steel and large elements like giant pots look appealing and are effective in creating atmosphere. Large numbers of flowering bulbs of a single variety are an outstanding addition to such a space, planted in straight strips or blocks.

A tip from Dick Beijer: "In the garden next to our office we have an area of grasses mixed with Allium. This makes a superb combination: the fragile grasses, always in motion, interspersed with the lilac bulbs of the onions, you can't help feel touched by it." Dick points out that the same effect can be achieved in limited spaces. "Put ten tulips of the same variety in a tub on a terrace or balcony,  the result can look stunning also. It's not about big, bigger, biggest, it’s consistency that matters.

Colour or combinations

We're lucky that such a wide range of bulbs is available, it means that there are almost infinite possibilities for designing a contemporary garden: delicate and discreet, for example with early-flowering "Jack Snipe" narcissus, or stylish and impressive, perhaps with a combination of dark "Woodstock" hyacinths and violas in harmonising colours.

In a successful modern design both the shapes of the plants and their colours are carefully matched. Contrast a one-for-one combination of tulips and daffodils with a multicoloured mix of tulips freely spread among multi-headed hyacinths or perennial ground cover. Architectonic versus free, both equally attractive.

Then there are many other less common bulb varieties whose neutral (or striking!) shapes earn them a place in the modern garden. Allium ursinum (ramsons) fall into the former category. It thrives almost anywhere and with its star-shaped flowers forms immense carpets under trees and shrubs. Allium rosenbachianum "Album" and white Zantedeschia by contrast are real eye-catchers for a spot that gets plenty of sun.

A rule of thumb is to use the minimum number of varieties to get the maximum effect.

Grass and ornamental grasses

A grass lawn is neutral, controlled and linear, the ideal backdrop for flowering bulbs. One possibility is to lay out strips of a single type of bulb, closely planted. Strips of one or more types of bulb of the same shade with some spacing between can also produce an attractive effect, as though a coloured wash had been laid over the lawn.

Another idea is to cut fanciful shapes into the lawn, creating usual planting beds which might be filled with a mix of bulbs, planned to flower successively: weeks of ever-changing colour! Strips of flowering bulbs of differing lengths and spacings in a single colour will produce a modern, graphic effect.

As well as perennial plants, trees and shrubs, annuals can be ideal companions to summer-flowering bulbs.  Delicate grasses are also perfect for this application. You can see fine examples at the Floriade flower exhibition.

Less common summer bulbs and corms
  • Leucocoryne is related to Allium, a decorative, slender, strong and scented bulb variety which reaches some 25 to 50 cm in height.
  • Ixia has star-like flowers on long stems and comes in various colours. It ranges in height from 30 to 50 cm.
  • Cosmos atrosanguinea, often sold as an annual, is a summer-flowering corm with slender stems and downy deep-red flowers resembling single-flowered dahlias. This plant is sometimes called chocolate cosmos because of the smell of the flowers.
  • Galtonia (summer hyacinth) with its greenish white bell-shaped flowers is a real asset in any garden. It also attracts honey bees.
  • Triteleia ‘Koningin Fabiola’ is a pretty blue cut flower that reaches some 35 cm in height. The flowers resemble Agapanthus and can hold centre stage for as long as two months.

Blue is an ideal colour for the modern garden. If you are looking for low-growing types consider fields of Scilla siberica, borders of Scilla mischtschenkoana or Iris reticulata, a river of wood anemones (Anemone blanda "Blue Shades") or masses of purplish blue crocus. The taller specimens might include purplish-blue Allium or Camassia, which are particularly suitable as accent plants in borders with decorative grasses and foliage plants.

Simplicity and balance are key concepts in modern garden design. No colour that matches the picture better than white, symbol of purity. There are white flowering bulbs in every shade, from dazzling pure white through to creamy or greenish shades. Strips of white narcissi, a field of white tulips or a lawn speckled with white crocus are excellent motifs in a minimalist contemporary garden.

Pots and containers

Pots and containers are indispensable garden features, thanks to the potential they present for instant decoration.  When it comes to filling pots, bowls and containers, the possibilities are endless. The only precondition is that planting should be wind-resistant. So apart from crocus, Scilla, Chionodoxa and grape hyacinths it will be low-growing tulips and the smaller crowned narcissi which are in the frame here.


Annual bulbs require no additional feeding, everything they need is already stored inside the bulb.  Perennial bulbs extract a lot of nutrients from the soil, so they do need supplementary feeding.  Artificial fertiliser is the best choice during the growing season.  Self-propagating plants and flowering bulbs are in their natural location and do not require additional fertiliser.

If a lot of hoeing is required it may be wise to plant the bulbs a little deeper than is normally indicated.  Are you seeing black spotting on the leaves of perennial bulbs flowering in damp or dark spots? There's a good chance they are suffering from Botrytis. Ideally these leaves should be cut off before neighbouring plants are affected.