Cultivating a Culture of Gardening™

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Garden Compositions – To Bulb or Not to Bulb

That was the question. Actually, the question centered more around the issue of planting something in the ground that wouldn’t be seen for at least four months, then rising to bloom for only a few weeks. Basically, this gardener wanted to know, “Are bulbs worth the bother?” I don’t think she realized she was asking this question to someone who plants around 500 bulbs every year in my own yard, sometimes donning a headlamp to plant late into night hours. My simplistic response is, “Do you like surprises? Do you love little hints of good things to come?” The beauty of crocus, daffodils, tulips, and hyacinth is not just in their startling burst of color on a winter weary landscape. Their beauty is entwined with the message that compels their arrival. But the never-ending philosophies of life that can be drawn from gardening can wait – let’s talk bulb basics.

Bulb Basics

The major portion of bulb activity that occurs in fall involves the purchase and planting of daffodils (jonquils), tulips, crocus, and hyacinth. You will also find a rich assortment of other interesting bulbs available such as scilla, fritillaria, anemone blanda, anemone coronaria, muscari, allium, and arum italicum. These big, audaciously named plants bring texture and variety to your garden but do not have the flamboyant flowering of the four bulbs types first mentioned. Count on your daffodils and crocus to be your steady naturalizers – they will multiply and come back every year so put them in a perennial bed or an area that you won’t be digging in on a regular basis. Hyacinth and tulips are bulbs that I encourage folks to plant as annuals. Not only do they not handle our southern summers well, but their foliage is harder to mask after the blooms are gone. These two are fantastic for annual beds or in front of hedges and fences for a strong early spring color array.
A few details you will want to pay attention to when buying your bulbs are:
1. plant height – how tall is the flower when it blooms
2. blooming time – is this an early, mid, or late bloomer
3. multiple or single blooming – how many flowers will come from each bulb
4. sun requirements – will this bloom in part shade
5. pre-chilled – in our zone you will want for all your bulbs to be pre-chilled to ensure they are ready to bloom again.
Some of my favorite places to order bulbs are ,,, or buying them from local nurseries. If you are somewhat bulb-savy, check out Costco or Sam’s. Plan on planting your tulips in clusters of 10 -12 and plant them closer than the packaging calls for. Large masses of bulbs have an incredible impact if you want to plant 5 or 6 rows in one area. Remember to plant your shorter bulbs toward the front and your early tallest plants in the back of the bed to be blocked by later bloomers.

Best of Bulbs

While I can readily say that I have never met a bulb I didn’t like, there are a few that stand out as favorites for our area. Here is my top twelve list of favorite bulbs:
1. Daffodil ‘Tete-a-tete’ –5-6 in.; early bloomer; yellow
2. Daffodil ‘Mount Hood’ – 15-17 in.; mid-bloomer; white/cream
3. Daffodil ‘Tahiti’ – 16-18 in.; mid-bloomer; yellow/orange
4. Daffodil ‘Ice Follies’ - 16-18 in.; early/mid-bloomer; light yellow
5. Daffodil ‘Cheerfullness’ or ‘Yellow Cheerfulness’ – 14-16 in.; late; white or yellow
6. Daffodil ‘Rip van Winkle’ – 5-6 in.; early; yellow
7. Tulip ‘Angelique’ – 14-16 in.; late; pink double
8. Tulip ‘Apeldoorn’ or ‘Golden Apeldoorn’ – 18-20 in.; mid-bloomer; red or yellow
9. Tulip ‘ Voyager’ – 16-18 in.; mid-bloomer; red flower with variegated foliage
10. Fringed or Parrot Tulips for a fun textured look
11. Crocus ‘Flower Record’
12. Hyacinth ‘Peter Stuyvesant’

Don’t be afraid to plant bulbs up to New Year’s Day. The rumor that I fill my son’s Christmas stockings with bulbs and a note saying that they won’t get their presents until all the bulbs are planted is NOT TRUE!! (Feel free to use this idea but don’t tell your kids you got it from me!) The point to be taken is that you can spend your holidays putting in the last of your bulbs.

Barbara’s Bulb Banterings

Life is full of great lessons that we can glean anywhere from kindergarten, Mayberry, golf, or gardening. But the message from planting bulbs is one few of us can do without. We plant with usually only a picture of what’s to come, then we often lose sight of what is promised; we forget the work endured as we hunker by the winter fireplace perusing the spring plant catalogs. Then one cool late winter morning we walk outside to see our beds are filled with little nodding heads of yellow, white, purple or pink. We have not been forgotten, life perseveres through cold and harshness, and beauty erupts from even the darkest or dullest of places. Bulbs bring us the message of hope. That message is what keeps me planting at 10:30 at night with headlamp, down jacket, and warm gloves. Yes, Virginia, bulbs are worth the bother.



At October 20, 2009 at 12:47 PM , Blogger Sheila said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At October 20, 2009 at 12:49 PM , Blogger Sheila said...

I need to start planting my bulbs later! Gardener's Question Time here in the UK just announced trial results showing that end of January planting of tulips gave equivalent results to November plantings...just a few days' difference in flowering times! (end-February planting didn't work...almost none flowered).

At October 22, 2009 at 8:57 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have planted over 400 bulbs this year, and probably over a thousand over the last 4 years. It feels like a lot of bulbs going in, but it never feels like enough when they are flowering.

At October 23, 2009 at 12:35 PM , Blogger Sue Swift said...

Wouldn't be without them. Seeing the tips gradually come through in the coldest months makes the winter bearable. And ok, they only flower for a relatively short time - but they're glorious ...

At October 25, 2009 at 7:43 AM , Blogger Beth said...

Stunning picture of the flowers, will definitely make my day. Keep

At October 25, 2009 at 7:47 PM , Blogger barbara wise said...

Always room for a few more bulbs! Thanks for the feedback!


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