Planting Ahead

While we certainly plant up The Garden at Newfields for guests to simply enjoy, we also know many of you use your visit to Spring Blooms presented by Wild Birds Unlimited to gather inspiration for your home garden. I know whenever I visit other gardens, I am always noting plants or designs I might find a way to incorporate into my gardens at home and work. Imitation is the highest form of flattery after all. Here is some quick advice on how I translate inspiration I gather from public gardens I visit into the garden of my dreams the following year.  

A few things to consider before you arrive at Spring Blooms for your window-shopping extravaganza:  

  • If your home garden is in central Indiana and you are getting inspiration from The Garden at Newfields, you are at an advantage! You know all the plants you see can grow right here in central Indiana. If you are visiting a garden in a different area than your home, you’ll need to note your USDA Hardiness Zone. Indiana is in Zones 5 & 6. Indianapolis is a soild Zone 6. Check the map to learn yours! Knowing your Zone will help you in your Google phase later.  

  • Good things take time. A garden is no exception. Many of the plants you covet were planted in the fall—and you’ll need to wait to put your inspiration to work in the fall.  

  • Start by setting a reminder to yourself on your phone. Let’s be good and set it for mid-September and label it— “Start Planting Ahead!”. This is your note to your future self to start designing your garden.  

  • Take a picture while you are here this spring. Take a whole bunch of pictures. Think you will remember the color of that tulip? No. You will not. Think you will remember the name of that pansy? No. You will not. So, take a picture of the plant and the label. Jaime Frye here at Newfields does a wonderful job labeling the plants you’ll see at Spring Blooms. Of course, sometimes the label is not right next to the plant, but I promise it is there.   

  • Where are the plants you like growing? Sun? Shade? How tall and wide do they grow? How much space do you have available? Do you want to plant containers? You can create a beautiful garden in containers. What can easily be added to your current plantings? Would some alliums look good with that Baptisia? Also very importantly, when did they bloom, early April? Mid-April? May? Will the plants you select all bloom at once, or bloom throughout the season? I like to add this information into the notes on my phone, then confirm my observations through my friend Google when September comes, and I am planting ahead

Now, I have been a horticulturist at Newfields for 30 years, so I can anticipate the flowers that are going to steal your heart. Let’s talk about them to give you a head start on your Googling next September.  

Tulipa Impressionable Blend, mixed tulips, Pop-up Garden, 2021.


Spring flowering bulbs set the most hearts afire this time of year. Spring flowering bulbs, like tulips, are planted in the fall. If you want a garden of tulips in April, you have to remember to buy them in September. Then, you have to remember to plant them! Fall-planted bulbs can be planted any time before the ground freezes but ideally sometime in October. January works too if that is when you find them in the garage. You can often get sale prices in summer for fall delivery. On the opposite end, you can get sale prices again in December when the store is desperate to get rid of them. Earlier is better but life is life. 

Some fall planted bulbs are true perennials, some are more temporary visitors to your garden. The Queen of Them All, the tulip, is more the temporary type. Yes, I know, Marsha and David, you have tulips that have lasted for ten years. Please bear in mind that is as unnatural as your love of hot dog water as “stock” for chicken soup. On average tulips will give you one good year, a second decent year, a third “well something is blooming” year, with annual diminishing returns. I would never guarantee anything after year one. They are not that expensive so replenish them annually. Tulips are a favored food of squirrels, chipmunks, deer, and voles. Try applying repellents like PlantSkydd, NOT moth balls. You may also take the time to cover the planting area with chicken wire then put a thin layer of mulch on top. Or you may prefer to live life on the edge and do nothing. And remember, if you aren’t living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room. 

Narcissus 'Mount Hood', trumpet daffodil, Efroymson Family Entrance Pavilion, 2021.


If that sounds like a lot, guaranteed success comes in the form of daffodils (Narcissus). They are the workhorses of the spring blooming bulbs. They tolerate all soil types if not obscenely wet, full sun is best, but part shade works, plant too deep or too shallow and they still bloom. You can choose everything from giant trumpets to tiny miniatures, traditional yellow, all sorts of white, plus cups of pink, orange, or red. Many are pleasantly fragrant, and all make great cut flowers. You can find daffodil varieties that bloom from February to May. Best of all, perhaps, daffodils are varmint proof–no squirrel, chipmunk, or deer damage. 

Daffodils aren’t the only longer-lived fall-planted bulbs. There are lots of others that are likely to catch your eye in The Garden during Spring Blooms and beyond. Summer snowflake (Leucojum), ornamental onion (Allium), winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), snowdrops (Galanthus), trout-lily (Erythronium), grape-hyacinth (Muscari), Spanish-bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica), Siberian squill (Scilla sibirica), are all ready to be planted before the ground freezes and will add color, texture, and depth to your garden. Slightly less long lived on average but worth planting would be hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis) and netted iris (Iris reticulata). This list is by no means inclusive of all yet does make a good starting point.  

LEFT: Helleborus orientalis, Lenten- rose, 2017. RIGHT: Iris reticulata 'Harmony', netted iris, Horticulture Society Overlook, 2021.


Now, for those of you who aren’t interested in planning ahead—Spring Blooms has plenty of non-bulb plants that are likely to catch your eye. Spring blooming perennials are a good garden investment, most are very tough, and many are shade tolerant. You can plant them in the spring and all the way through September. There are lots of options that bloom all spring. Natives like wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) and red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) are great. Hellebores (Lenten-rose, Christmas-rose) come in a wide range of colors from soft pastels to deep dark colors including near-black. The first year may not be so colorful but in future years you will be greatly rewarded.  

With spring annuals note that there are more than pansies available including leafy vegetables, check out Jamie Frye’s article, Not Your Average Pansy, to learn more about these. But save yourself potential heartbreak don’t plant spring annuals until early to mid-April. Temperatures in the teens can even damage acclimated plants. 

Irvin Etienne, Curator of Herbaceous Plants and Seasonal Garden Design, Wick Cutting Garden, 2020. Artwork: Cracking Art, Giant Snail (detail). Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, Mrs. Pierre F. Goodrich Endowed Art Fund, 2018.20 © Cracking Art.  


A few final thoughts. Don’t buy too many bulbs (advice I never give myself…the photo above, but I like you). 500 small snowdrops may not be bad but 500 extra-large daffodils could be daunting. Buy fewer then add more the next year. A failed planting is not a failed gardener. Things don’t go well sometimes. Try again. Experiment. Cut bouquets. Take time to enjoy your garden work. Have fun. 


Annuals: An annual plant is a plant that completes its life cycle, from germination to the production of seeds, within one growing season, and then dies. Needs to be re-planted year after year. 

Perennials: A perennial plant or simply perennial is a plant that lives more than two years.  


Spring Blooms is presented by Wild Birds Unlimited. Lead support for the River of Bulbs is provided by Catherine M. Turner.