A Lurie Garden Bulb Walk

Yesterday we were lucky enough to go on a tour of Lurie Garden’s spring bulb display with Jacqueline van der Kloet, who designed Lurie’s original bulb plantings in 2006. She’s in Chicago now to update those plantings, and will return in October to oversee the planting of thousands of new bulbs.

Jacqueline van der Kloet, far left, talks bulbs with friends of the Lurie Garden. 

I haven’t been to Lurie Garden since last fall, so the visit felt a bit like a homecoming. Perhaps this is why I didn’t take notes, which would have been a really good idea. But the real reason was laziness. I just wanted to soak in all the floral glory without scribbling on a notepad.


We started out in the Dark Plate, the partly shady portion of Lurie. I was delighted by the huge drifts of Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica).

Jacqueline talked about how perennials and grasses need bulbs to provide early color.


Persian Lilies (Fritillaria persica) were interplanted among the Bluebells. Usually I am not really fond of dark flowers or Fritillaries. But somehow the contrast between these two makes for a really exciting combination.


There were a number of big swaths of Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa). As the name implies, these are well-suited to partly shaded garden. Jacqueline pointed out that the same could not be said for some of the Tulips planted in the Dark Plate. After blooming, Tulip foliage needs lots of sun to generate enough energy for the following year’s bloom. Without it, they tend to become “blind”, meaning that they will send up leaves and no flower bud.

The new bulb plan will include lots of Snowdrops (Galanthus sp.) for this part of the Lurie Garden.


Daffodils tend to be more shade tolerant than Tulips. I love these Poet’s Daffodils (Narcissus actaea) – something tells me they will figure prominently in my bulb order for this fall.


There were some lovely drifts of white Tulips in this part of the garden, even if it’s not the perfect area for perennializing this bulb.


Heading over to the Light Plate, the part of the garden in full sun, I was struck by the big patches of Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum). Not a bulb, I realize, but a great plant, one that thrives here but struggles for some reason in my own garden.


One of the outstanding features of the Light Plate is the River of Salvia. And now the Salvia is foreshadowed by a River of Grape Hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum ‘Superstar’). This is just brilliant, in my opinion. Apparently it took a few years for the Muscari to multiply to the point where they had visual impact.



Here’s a closer look. Note that the Muscari are interplanted with Alliums, not sure what kind. I hope my friends at Lurie Garden don’t mind my showing this Dandelion, but I kind of like its little yellow dot in a sea of blue.

I was delighted to hear that there are plans for an even earlier river – this one of Crocuses. Though the mention of Crocuses made me think of rabbits. Jacqueline merely shrugged at the mention of the long-eared devils. She suggests interplanting bulbs that attract rabbits with Narcissus or others that rabbits find unpalatable.


The new bulb scheme will continue and strengthen the current approach of parallel drifts of color provided by adjacent plantings of different species.

I didn’t catch which white Tulips are pictured here, but Jo ana Kubiak tells me that the varieties include ‘Hakuun’, ‘Maureen’, and ‘Purissima’.


In the upper part of this photograph you can see that the Lurie Garden is not cutting back so close to the ground in order to protect overwintering pollinators and other insects. I thought it was a good look.


If you’d like to read more about their ecologically-minded approach to spring cleanup, check out this post on the Lurie Garden blog.


Another view of the River of Grape Hyacinths.


These ‘Lemon Drop’ Narcissus look pretty good among the straw-colored stems of last year’s grasses.


These are ‘Ballade’ Tulips in the southeast corner of the garden. It sounds like longevity will be at least as big a factor as color when varieties are chosen for new bulb plantings. Those dark stems are some sort of Baptisia, I think.


Our tour was over all too soon, but we got to hang out and talk plants for awhile while enjoying coffee and snacks. I was able to buy an autographed copy of Jacqueline’s new book, Colour Your Garden, which I look forward to reading.

Jacqueline van der Kloet will return in October to oversee the new bulb plantings – a massive effort with tens of thousands of bulbs. They’ll be looking for volunteers, and what could be more exciting!?

31 Comments on “A Lurie Garden Bulb Walk”

  1. I always enjoy a look around the Lurie Garden, especially looking at the city skyline in the background. We are just starting our spring planting, so I’m inspired by lots of the bulbs. Glad you enjoyed your day.

  2. Oh, I LOVE Jacqueline! Met her last year when in Chicago – quite by accident as we were waiting for the GWA bus (which was taking a very long time, so we walked instead) & struck up a conversation before I even knew who she was. I (of course) have her book and used her planting method when I scattered the crocus bulbs last year & plan on doing the same when I purchase bulbs this fall. Lucky you – I would volunteer to the planting in an instant!

  3. I’m always interested in your posts about the Lurie Garden. I didn’t realize they had so many early spring bulbs. I like the idea of the muscari river interplanted with the Salvia as a preview of it. I had muscari in one of my beds but spent some time this spring pulling them and all the tiny seedlings they make out. They really should come with a warning about how much they self-sow.

  4. I smiled at your decision to leave the notebook tucked away this time. Although I usually carry my camera, there are times when I leave it at home, and just go out to enjoy nature in a different way. Annie Dillard has written about the differences in walking with and without a camera, and I suspect there are analogues to walking with and without a notebook.

    I smiled at your dandelion photo. I like it, very much. The singular, out of place flower always makes me smile. I found a skeleton plant (Lygodesmia texana) in the midst of a field of red Gaillardia this weekend, and it was so appealing.

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