Bulb-planting tips from the Keukenhof gardens

Bulb-planting design tips and inspiration from the Keukenhof gardens

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After our long Canadian winters, early spring usually sees me heading outside in the yard every day to see which spring bulbs have bloomed since the day before. They’re among my favourite flowers because they are harbingers of the growing season. In Lisse, a town in the Netherlands, about seven million flower bulbs bloom each spring throughout the 32 hectares (about 79 acres) of gardens at the Keukenhof. Resplendent colour combinations and creative display ideas are planted to inspire gardeners from all over the world. They’re also living business cards for the Dutch growers who supply the bulbs. I’ve had the good fortune to visit the Keukenhof twice now and if I lived closer, I would go every year. Here is some inspiration that I brought home from my most recent visit to the Keukenhof gardens.

First things first, I should say that the Keukenhof gardens are a hop, skip, and a jump from Amsterdam Schipol Airport. There is a special bus that takes you straight there (the bus trip and admission are included in the price). The airport is also really easy to get to from Amsterdam. I was visiting as part of an Avalon Waterways river cruise, so I got there by motor coach. Other companies also include this stop on spring tours. Here is a video of me at the gardens that I appeared in for BestTrip.tv.

Ideas from the Keukenhof gardens

Just a quick note before the pretty pictures. When planting your bulbs, be sure to read the packet for pertinent info on depth, light requirements, etc. There are some great tips on planting bulbs here. For some of these ideas, like the Dutch wooden shoes, you’ll want to purchase potted outdoor bulbs from a nursery in the springtime to put the look together (unless you dig them up from an inconspicuous spot in the garden. Ok, let’s get started.

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Find a new use for old pottery
This container covered in Delft-style blue and white pottery would likely never survive the freeze/thaw cycle of our harsh winters, but it’s something that can be pulled out each spring. In a couple of gardens, this ubiquitous pottery style was used to create a chandelier of blooms, various containers, bird houses, and even little watering stops for pollinators.

Delft pottery in a display garden at the Keukenhof

I fell in love with this garden with its white and blue colour scheme, and imaginative containers using bits of Delft pottery.

Create a bulb montage
How cute is this post with pottery and Dutch wooden shoes planted with spring-flowering bulbs? I can see this working on a fence or in a more protected area of the garden, like a patio. What about a pair of shoes hung on a front door? Too much?

A bulb montage in a garden at the Keukenhof gardens

Dutch wooden shoes and Delft pottery create a lovely little tableau in the garden. This could work well in a patio area.

Mix your bulbs
I had the pleasure, recently, of listening to Jacqueline van der Kloet, who was a keynote speaker at the annual symposium for GWA: The Association for Garden Communicators. Jacqueline is a famous garden designer from the Netherlands and I gained so much inspiration from her talk. I’ve been reading her book Colour Your Garden because I love that she applies the naturalistic planting style to bulbs. She’ll toss a few varieties in a wheelbarrow, mix them around, and then scatter them in a garden, amongst perennials, digging the bulbs in where they end up. This creates a more natural, untamed look that I’m keen to replicate.

Scattering spring bulbs for a natural look

These bulbs have been scattered in a straight border, but I’m looking forward to scattering bulbs among a perennial bed I have at the corner of my lot.

Plant a meadow of bulbs
When you’re at the Keukenhof, don’t be afraid to stray off the beaten path in certain spots. In one woodland area, there are dirt paths leading to hidden gems, like this little magical meadow of muscari.

A meadow of muscari at the Keukenhof gardens

If I wasn’t up for seeing where some of the little paths led, I wouldn’t have found this colourful “river” of bulbs!

Plant bulbs in a raised bed planter
There are a couple of things going on here that I love. The raised bed planter with its pastel sides is something I’d like to build. I really like the look of some rows of wood that are left bare and how the paint is more of a light wash, rather than super solid. Secondly, the plant combos are fantastic. They’re vibrant, with different heights and types of bulbs.

If you don’t have a big garden, you can still enjoy spring-flowering bulbs in a great container. You do want to make sure that if you leave your container outside for the winter that it’s in a sheltered area where the bulbs won’t freeze solid. Also, you want to make sure that you don’t plant too close to the sides of the container. However, nurseries also sell potted bulbs in spring, so you could always wait to buy those to create a container arrangement.

Raised beds with bulbs at the Keukenhof

I love the half-painted, rustic look of these wooden raised bed planters full of bulbs on display at the Keukenhof.

Line a path or driveway with bulbs
Plant bulbs beside a pathway in your yard or along a driveway. If you have problems with deer and squirrels, be sure to plant varieties they won’t eat, like daffodils.

Line a driveway or path with spring-flowering bulbs

If you have a spot that you usually fill with annuals along a pathway or driveway, plant bulbs in the fall for a spring display.

Play with texture
I love the contrast of textures created by the Japanese maple in the background, the tall, proud fritillaries, and the short muscari. It gives this garden a more wild, untamed look! Also, take a look at the spiky yellow tulip at the top of this post. There’s texture in the bloom itself!

Fritillaries and muscari

I love the look of fritillaries. They remind me of Muppets and add wonderful height and interest to the spring garden.

Plant a monochromatic colour scheme
Choose one hue and stick with it, mixing different varieties of bulbs for a monochromatic look in the garden. You might also pick bulbs that bloom at different times, so that you have constant colour.

Monochromatic spring bulbs

Pick one colour and stick with it!

Put a ring on it
How cute does this young tree look, encircled by hyacinths? This is another example of planting spring-flowering bulbs that will come up before you plant your annuals.

Hyacinth bulbs planted around a tree at the Keukenhof

Created a circular pattern around a tree.

Paint a large area with stripes of colour
Mimic the fields that surround the Keukenhof gardens by planting rows of colour. You may not have the space, but you could attempt this on a smaller scale.

Stripes of spring-flowering bulbs

The fields around the Keukenhof are really something to behold. The first time I went, I rode a bike from the gardens to get a closer look. Depending on the size and scale of your garden, recreating this look would definitely give your house curb appeal!

Plant bulbs in window boxes
Build a set of shelves or “window boxes” to fill with bulbs in the spring and other bright annuals in the summer, like maybe nasturtiums, which will trail over the sides. And I absolutely LOVE the fencing material. It looks like woven jute.

plant bulbs in window boxes

These are the types of aspirational ideas that I love to take home from any garden I visit.

Think you’ll try any of these ideas in your own garden?

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Bulb-planting ideas and inspiration from the Keukenhof gardens

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