Pat finds too many varieties and they are too pretty
While attending a wonderful art show featuring my friend Trina Sternstein’s paintings at the Forbes Library, I couldn’t help using the library services as well. I was searching in the garden section for a book on trees, but I came away with Anna Pavord’s big book, “Bulbs.” When I got home I found that the mailbox was full of bulb catalogs, from John Scheepers, Van Engelen, and Old House Gardens.
That made for a very dangerous night, browsing through the book with its gorgeous photographs of the many faces of the allium to the three faces of Zantedeschia or calla lily. Can you imagine what kind of a list I could have made up going from the book to search through the catalogs to see if I could find the petite Allium flavum with its delicate and airy yellow blossoms in any of the catalogs.
In fact, I did find A. flavum listed in Van Engelen, but with no photograph, and in Scheepers with a tiny photo. I would have passed both by if Pavord had not directed me to search for this lovely thing. Giant alliums like Mount Everest and the violet-purple Early Emperor have their place, but I just fell in love with this dwarf allium.
Another series of photographs that caught my eye was of the Erythronium family, dogstooth violet or trout lily. Pavord shows pink, white and yellow varieties and varieties with severely reflexed petals. They are all lovely and very hardy. Our climate and acid soil suit them to a “T.” I found that Scheepers offers only the yellow Erythronium pagoda, which is fine with me. It comes with the urgent direction to plant it immediately upon arrival. Trout lilies cannot dry out. They need to be planted in rich soil in light shade. Right away. And watered well.
Here is the problem with bulbs. Each genus, narcissus, tulip, allium, lily etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, comes with such a variety of form that no catalog can carry all for sale, or truly capture the full beauty of each.
On the other hand, each variety, no matter how limited by lists or photos in a catalog, is beautiful. I don’t know if there is any such thing as an ugly bulb, or one that you would be unhappy with, only given that it is hardy in your garden.
Many bulbs bring us color and a promise of warm weather early in the spring. I have patches of snowdrops growing in grass down below the vegetable garden that bloom even while there is some snow on the ground. Because I rarely walked down in that direction so early in the season, I dug up a few last year and moved them into the Herb Bed in front of the house. I do see them earlier now, but I realize that I want a LOT of snowdrops in view. Like crocuses, these tiny plants really cry out to be planted in masses.
I also try to remember to have the grass cut short late in the season, just so the snowdrops won’t have to push their way through so much dead grassy debris.
There are many ways to use bulbs in the garden. I am partial to the large family of narcissus, which includes daffodils. I am especially fond of them because they are not bothered by mice or other burrowing creatures, or by deer. I plant them and I want to be the only one to cut them down.
My daffs are now mostly planted at the eastern edge of the lawn, where I can let the foliage ripen after blooming and not be bothered by the tattered and brown appearance. Letting bulb foliage die back naturally is key to the survival of the bulb. The foliage makes foodfor the bulb to store for next year bloom — and multiplication.
In my small attempts to limit the amount of lawn that needs to be mowed, I have planted the ground cover barren strawberry (Waldsteinia) at the farthest southeastern bit of lawn and underplanted that with daffodils. In the early spring, I sprinkle compost or greensand in the areas where bulbs are just sending up tiny shoots. Do not use nitrogen rich fertilizer on bulbs.
I can handle bulbs planted with a ground cover, but I prefer not to use daffodils or tulips in a flower border because of the unattractive problem of ripening foliage.
Some people plant wonderful bulb-only borders that are a glory in the spring and then plant annuals in that space when the old bulb foliage can be cut down.
All bulbs need to be planted in well-drained soil. Most of them like sun. Fortunately, in the spring deciduous trees are leafless so there is sufficient sun even in woodland areas. All bulbs use their foliage to gather strength for the following year so foliage must ripen for several weeks after bloom.
Having said that, I realize I do have some bulbs in the Lawn Beds, alliums, and lilies like Casa Blanca and Black Beauty. These have tall stems that can be cut back by a third after blooming. That late in the season, the stems that remain are not very noticeable among all the other mid and late summer foliage.
Do you have favorite bulbs? How do you use them in your garden? I would be happy to hear from other gardeners at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Readers can leave comments at Pat Leuchtman’s Web site: www.commonweeder.com. Leuchtman has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980.