Bloom teams: How to blend bulbs for a stunning show

A by-the-season guide to colour-blending tulip bulbs.

Credit: Flickr / Leo-setä

We’re often asked: Will these tulips work together?

When it comes to selecting and scheduling “bloom teams,” try thinking of colour in the garden as “building towards a colour crescendo” where flowers come into bloom and decline at approximately the same times.

Don’t expect flowers to perform like synchronized swimmers. They won’t bloom together precisely; their bloom times will show a bit more individuality. At best, flower combos overlap over a stretch of time.

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Here is a selection of colourful combos of bulbs that should (more often than not) bloom together in particularly delightful ways. With the caveat that sometimes Mother Nature throws in a curve, these bulb teams should result in “very pretty and pretty-predictable bloom teams” that will flower throughout the spring season. All are planted in fall.

Early-Season – Blue, Yellow & White

Scilla siberica, Narcissus ‘Tête a Tête’, Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’
In this spritely combo, the cobalt-blue scilla are first to bloom. They continue to bloom for weeks as yellow Narcissus ‘Tete-a-Tete’ joins in, followed by white N. ‘Ice Follies’.

Scilla siberica
This delicate-looking but sturdy little colour machine produces stems supporting up to five bowl-shaped brilliant blue flowers each. The flowers emerge on still-short stems, then gradually rise to 20 cm (8 in.) in height by maturity.

Ice Follies
Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’ | Image: Flickr

Narcissus ‘Tête a Tête’
A miniature daffodil just 15 cm (6 in.) tall, ‘Tete-a-Tete’ bears an abundance of short-stemmed dangling flowers with golden-yellow outer petals that curl back to highlight deeper-yellow trumpets.

Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’
This medium-height large-cupped daffodil is a champion naturalizer famous for its ability to “come back” each spring, often for decades in settings where it is happy. Its performance is marked by two personas: the large frilled flower cups are lemon-yellow when they open, then fade to nearly white as the flowers mature.

Mid-Season – Red, Yellow & White

Tulipa turkestanica, Tulipa praestans ‘Unicum’, Tulipa tarda
These three botanical tulips combine to charming effect in the early-spring garden. If you like how they look, you’re in luck as all three are excellent naturalizers and will “come back” for years to come in many garden settings. Their mix of bright-green, grey-green and variegated leaves with creamy white margins provide a sophisticated backdrop for their colourful red and yellow flowers guaranteed to brighten the mid-spring landscape. T. turkestanica will bloom first, joined by T. praestans ‘Unicum’ and, slightly later, T. tarda.

Tulipa turkestanica (Species Tulip)
This is a wild-looking species or botanical tulip with grey-green leaves and up to 12 star-shaped, malodorous white flowers borne on 30-cm (1-ft.) hairy stems. Indeed these are quite attractive little flowers despite the smelly hirsute description. While appearing white at first glance, the flowers are actually flushed greenish-grey or greenish-pink on the outside, with centres shaded yellow or orange around brown or purple stamens and purple-tipped yellow anthers.

Tulipa praestans ‘Unicum’ (Miscellaneous Tulip) 
A bunch tulip (multi-flowering) just 30 cm (1 ft.) tall, ‘Unicum’ has variegated leaves edged in creamy white and clusters of up to five cayenne red flowers, each centred with a light-yellow base and blue-anthers.

Tulipa tarda (Species Tulip)
This 15-cm. (6-in.) tall bloomer boasts star-shaped yellow and white flowers that open wide in the sun, then close tightly overnight. Each flower is white with a greenish tinge and a vivid yellow interior edged in white. Its shiny bright-green leaves are lance-shaped, curved and often finely fringed.

Late Mid-Season – Red & White

Red Riding Hood Tulips
Tulipa ‘Red Riding Hood’ | Image:

Tulipa ‘Mount Tacoma’, Tulipa ‘Red Riding Hood’
In the garden or a container planting, taller T. ‘Mount Tacoma’ will bloom above shorter T. ‘Red Riding Hood’. This combination of white-over-red provides a fresh twist on a traditional spring-garden colour scheme.

Tulipa ‘Mount Tacoma’ (Double Late Tulip)
With lovely pure-white peony-shaped flowers atop 40-cm (16-in.) stems, this tulip has a commanding presence in the mid-season garden.

Tulipa ‘Red Riding Hood’ (Greigii Tulip)
A stout shorty only 20 cm (8 in.) high, this tulip bears plump carmine-red flowers with vivid scarlet-red inner petals framing a dramatic black inner base. Its wide soft green leaves are mottled with appealing purplish spots.

Early Late-Season – Orange Flush

Tulipa ‘Orange Princess’, Tulipa ‘Ballerina’
Here are two orange-superstars with very different personas that make quite the duo in the late-season garden. ‘Ballerina’ is tall, willowy and elegant with long stems and slim elongated marigold-orange blossoms. At half the height, peony-flowered ‘Orange Princess’ fills in below with a plump colourful presence.

Tulipa ‘Orange Princess’ (Double Late Tulip)
This 30-cm (1-ft.) peony-flowered tulip is light-nasturtium-orange flushed with reddish-purple and glazed lightly in warm pink. Its chubby bowl-shaped flowers are tipped with green on the outer petals.

Tulipa ‘Ballerina’ (Lily Flowered Tulip)
This lovely 60-cm (2-ft.) fragrant tulip technically features lemon-yellow flowers with blood-red flames, orange-yellow veins at the margins, star-shaped yellow bases, and cayenne-red inner petals feathered marigold-orange surrounding pale golden yellow anthers. But, forget all that – the overall effect is not really so complex: what your eyes see is an absolutely glorious shade of orange!

Late-Season – Pink and Purple

Tulipa ‘New Design’, Tulipa ‘Angélique’, Tulipa ‘Blue Parrot’
Tulip ‘New Design’ comes into bloom first, followed by ‘Angelique’. Both are noted for their long bloom times in the garden. As they reach full bloom, the purple parrot tulips join in. The purple flowers reach their peak on the far side of the pink tulips’ extended bloom-time.

Tulipa ‘New Design’ (Triumph Tulip)
Now here is an elegant tulip that blooms on the late side of mid season and thus happily teams up with earlier-blooming members of the Parrot and Double Late tulip groups. Its flowers are soft yellow flushed with pinkish white and edged in pale fuchsia-red. Inside each flower cup is a surprise: here the colour is soft yellow flamed with apricot and the base is an unexpectedly rich buttercup-yellow shown off by dark brown anthers. Even the variegated leaves are exotic – soft green edged in pale pinkish white.

Double Late Tulip
Tulipa ‘Angélique’ | Image:

Tulipa ‘Angélique’ (Double Late Tulip)
This 30-cm. (1-ft.) tall tulip is a big favourite – and no wonder! Its flowers are peony-shaped, fragrant and extremely long-lived in both the garden and the vase. Most call the flower “pink.” But, look twice – each petal is a whorl of shades ranging from blush to pale pink to rich rose, with flushes here and there of pale green, cream and pale yellow.

Tulipa ‘Blue Parrot’ (Parrot Tulip)
With its oversized flamboyant flowerhead atop a tall slender stem, this Parrot tulip bobs and flutters like its tropical namesake. Its bright violet-blue flowers, flushed bronze-purple inside, are wavy-edged and fringed like feathers.

Late-Season – Peaches & Cream

Tulipa ‘Apricot Parrot’, T. ‘Upstar’, T. ‘Queen of Night’, T. Spring Green’
How romantic can tulips be? To see, just plant this awesome team! A tip: pair any two, three or all four of these beauties for an array guaranteed to take your breath away. Each has an exquisitely lush flower noted for unusual colouration. Each is a top performer in the garden or the vase. Expect ‘Apricot Parrot’ to begin blooming first, quickly followed by the other three.

Tulipa ‘Apricot Parrot’ (Parrot Tulip)
This fragrant late bloomer presents a more flamboyant persona in the garden with ruffled, feathered petals reminiscent of tropical bird plumage. Each apricot flower is flushed and flamed with colour ranging from creamy white to yellow, salmon-pink and soft green. It stands 40 cm (16 in.) tall.

Tulipa ‘Upstar’ (Double Late Tulip)
‘Upstar’ seems to be pink perfection in a late blooming tulip, but in fact it is a creamy white tulip that “fades to pink.” This unusual effect occurs as the petals mature and broad bands of purplish-rose emerge to alter the flower’s colouration. The peony-shaped flowers are borne on sturdy 45-cm (18-in.) stems.

Tulipa ‘Spring Green’ (Viridiflora Tulip)
A translucent beauty of shimmering white flushed with pale green, this lovely green-feathered, ivory-white tulip strengthens the presence of its more stark dark-and-bright bloom partners. It is 50 cm (20 in.) tall, thus blooms right beneath the heads of ‘Queen of Night’.

Tulipa ‘Queen of Night’ (Single Late Tulip)
Introduced in 1944, ‘Queen of Night’ is still considered the blackest tulip ever bred. This classic cup-shaped tulip, 60 cm (2 ft.) tall, is a velvety dark maroon or mahogany, depending on the light. In shadow the flower can appear to be pitch black.