Bulbs. The ultimate in optimism. You plant this little brown, papery thing in the fall, just before the ground freezes solid and gets covered with snow, only to thaw and be rained on few months later, and you expect that little brown thing to grow into a beautiful flower? Well… yes! And that is exactly what happens. The trouble is, after the flowers are faded away, there is so much summer left that they tend to get forgotten about, and it is all too easy to miss planting time altogether and then wish the following spring that you had planted more. So this blog entry is your reminder- think about ordering your bulbs now! If you order them by mail, they will be shipped to you at the proper planting time- what could be easier! You can also get them at your local garden center, which is advantageous because you can see them before buying, and your friendly garden center folks will be able to tell you when they should go in the ground and answer any questions that you might have in person.
What follows is a list of our 8 favorite bulbs, and at the end we will tell you where you can get them, and offer some tips on buying.
1) Daffodils. What garden would be complete without these sunny harbingers of Spring? Some may not know that in addition to yellow, daffs come in other colors- white, pink, orange, green, and even combinations of colors. They can be tall or tiny, single or double, and will bloom from April through to May if you plant the right varieties. If you are intrigued and want to know more, there are daffodil shows throughout the country where enthusiasts bring all sorts of new and wonderful daffodil varieties for us to look at. For information about a great Daffodil show in Massachusetts, check out the Tower Hill Botanic Garden website.
2) Crocus. Like the Daffodil, the Crocus is another plant that is synonymous with Spring. They pop up suddenly n March, and you will hear people exclaiming to each other, “I have a Crocus blooming in my yard! This welcome little flower comes in shades of purple, yellow, and white, and will brighten up any spot. Plant them near your door, or where you park, so that you don’t miss the show when it comes. For those of you who like to cook, plant the Saffron Crocus. (Crocus sativus) The spice Saffron is actually the dried stigmas of the Saffron Crocus – which explains why Saffron is so expensive, if you think about it! So why not grow your own?
3) Snowdrops. Sometimes blooming even earlier than the Crocus, snowdrops are, perhaps, the most under-appreciated of all the spring bulbs. Because they are white, they tend to blend in with the snow and so are often missed. But they are beautiful and delicate with their green accents, and if you plant some where the snow tends to melt first, the snow will be replaced by these gentle blossoms, signaling that Spring is on its way.
4) Scilla. Another tiny flower, Scilla blooms in April here in New Hampshire. On its own, one Scilla blossom is worth looking at, but in mass plantings, they are breathtaking. Because they naturalize so well, if you plant a few handfuls every year, you will soon have a carpet of them. The bulbs are tiny, but don’t despair, you don’t have to dig hundreds of tiny holes. Just dig a large, shallow hole approx. 3 times the depth of the bulb and set a number of bulbs in it, about 3 inches apart. Then fill it in- easy!
5) Muscari. Also known as Grape Hyacinths, these little plants have a personality all their own. Like Scilla, they are easy to plant a lot at once, and look great in a mass. But in small groups, they are fun, too. With the exception of some that are all white, they tend to be shades and combinations of blue, so having clumps of different varieties around your garden can be a lot of fun. Give them a try!
6) Tulips. A mainstay in the summer garden, tulips are loved by many. They come in almost every color from red to black (no blue tulips yet, however) and can be single, double, or even fringed. Their only short-falling is that they tend to be short lived, as their flower production slows down after a few years. There are “perennial” tulips available, and are worth planting if you can find them. They are smaller than the traditional tulip, but we know of some that have been coming up and flowering well for over 20 years!
7) Oriental Lilies. A mid to late summer flowering bulb, Oriental lilies add a wow factor to the garden that few other plants can match. Stems laden with huge, often intoxicatingly scented blooms are like daytime fireworks as they elicit the same “oohs” and “aahs” from their viewers. They are prone to attack by the red lily beetle, so they are not entirely care-free, but they are worth any and all effort that needs to be expended to allow them to strut their stuff.
8) Allium. Who can resist the “ball-on-a-stick look of the Allium? Alliums can be short or tall, with balls of flowers from an inch to 10 inches across. They are usually shades of purple, but some of them have white or pink or even yellow flowers. They look good in both small and large groups, and add interest and humor to the landscape. You can dry the flowers and use them for decorations -and, because they are a member of the onion family, deer tend to leave them alone! What’s not to like?
There are lots of others, and we encourage you to try them. Visit your local garden center, or try reputable mail order sources like White Flower Farm or Brecks. Know that in the bulb world, all bulbs aren’t created equal, and that it usually pays to skip the “cheap deals”. As a bulb is basically the food storage organ for the plant that you will see above ground, the bigger the bulb, it follows that the more robust and healthy the plant will be. Dried and shriveled bulbs won’t be able to produce a healthy plant, either. What you want are large, hydrated bulbs with the “paper” around them still intact. Cheap bags of small, dried up little brown things will yield poor results. So buy as many good bulbs as you can afford, and skip the “deals”. Follow the planting guides that come with the bulbs, and if you misplace them, a good rule of thumb is to plant them three times as deep as the bulb is tall, and three times as far apart from each other as the bulb is wide. And remember, if in doubt, the pointy end goes up!
Happy planting, everyone!