September 15, 2009

Ten ideas for Planting Spring Bulbs

It all starts so innocently. A glossy Dutch bulb catalog arrives in the mailbox in mid-August, and I pretend not to notice it, slipping it quickly into the trash bid along with an L.L. Bean catalog. After all, it's August, it's all just junk mail. It just seems wrong to be ordering Narcissus while wearing shorts and flip flops. Bulb ordering is a task to be reserved for cooler weather, an arctic cold front, a rainy Saturday night, the sort of heavy, cold rain that only comes in the very last days of summer, making the last of the green tomatoes shine as if lacquered green orbs, the type of rain that doesn't even have a smell, for it is more of a sound. An event, even. Which brings me to the subject of rain.

In New England, cold rains in August are one of those events that signals that a change in seasons is beginning, for one will go to bed listening to the warm pouring rain, and then awaken in the middle of the night, to shut the windows, for the weather has shifted. You can see your breath, and suddenly, it's feeling very autumnal. Soup is made, the fireplace is lit for the first time, and the home is now scented with dusty heat, since the radiators are starting to come on for the first time since early spring.

It is at this time of year, cool, autumnal nights, early sunsets, when the bulb catalogs feel more attractive. In fact, stacks of them sit in the basket near my chair, even right now. They demand careful attention, for ordering species Tulips and selecting the perfect cultivars of Narcissis requires not only planning, but a hot bath, a glass of red wine, a pen a laptop and ...ok.......Trueblood and Hung marathon playing on the TV for background sound ( I KNOW, but one can't control both bulb ordering AND the remote, I don't have control over such things, I am only human).

I plan bulb ordering for a single weekend in mid September. Starting with Naricissus,miniatures for the greenhouse, bulbocodium types, Narcissus romieuxii, N. cantabricus and the like, those tiny, tender winter blooming Narcissus that can't freeze, and that bloom not unlike short, fat Paperwhites in tiny pots in November and December. Then, of course, there are Paperwhites, which I find sell out quickly if you want the more choicer cultivars, there are about 12 to choose from. I order 50 of each, since one can never have enough, they are perfect for hostess gifts if you don't feel like buying wine, a half dozen bulbs in a bowl with gravel, is a gift everyone loves. Then I order unusual bulbs for the gardens, Fritillaria's, tiny ones like F. pudica, and large impressive ones such as F. imperiallis, the crown fritillary. Last year I planted a dozen F. persica, which did very well in the raised rock garden, where the soil drains well, so this year, I will order the white form and maybe try for 24 bulbs.

Quantity is critical, with all bulbs. The trick for impressive displays in the garden, is simple, plant as many as you can afford. A hundred or two hundred Crocus make an impression which is difficult to forget. It is better to limit your selection to three of four species and get a few hundred of each, rather than to resort to 8 or 12 bulbs of twenty cultivars. A clump of ten bulbs is nice, but it is rarely impressive. If every year you buy two cultivars of Narcissus, but by a hundren bulbs of each, imagine what your garden will look like in five years.

You of course, do not need to order bulbs from a catalog, for since Fall is nearly here, boxes of Dutch Bulbs are appearing at local garden centers and Home Stores. Just be careful that they have not been stored indoors, for the heat of an average store will cause the flower bulds to abort, or become deformed. The best garden centers will store their stock outdoors, or in cool greenhouses. Remember, bulbs are alive, and poorly stored bulbs are not worth the price. I do, however, do not pass up sale bulbs at Home Depot and Lowes around Halloween, for a bag of Narcissus,even if plain yellow, are perfectly fine for naturalized plantings, for the few that have aborted one does not notice.

Right now, bulbs are everywhere, and it is the perfect time to pick some up, and plant them, they are practically fool proof.

1 comment :

  1. Thanks for the good tips about storage-I will keep that in mind as I am getting my bulbs this year!


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