March 4, 2012

Forcing Bulbs and Spring Flower Shows

Not a public flower show, but  - kind of my private one. This was my sand plunge bed from last spring, with a few pots of 'greenhouse junk' reassembled for this photo.  Sadly, this is the reason why taking a trip to Boston on a Saturday to see the displays at the New England Flower Show just isn't as exciting as it once was. It's funny how ones perspective evolves with what one experiences in life. It just raises the bar for us, and I think that unfortunately, many are just happy with the less-challenging displays one sees at these spring plant flower shows.

This weekend marks the opening of many spring flower shows around the country. For me, one who has attended and even participated in spring flower shows for longer than I dare say, they have become rather sad - nothing more than lawn and garden shows, with truckloads of wood mulch, unrealistic plantings with few forced trees and lawns, and even fewer forced shrubs beyond the easy ones.  Sure, they are more about the retail area,so if buying anit-fog eyeglass wax, nylon garden flags and preserved bunches of eucalyptus is your thing, go for it. I miss the tall forced elms and oaks, forced lilacs and large tubs of flowering acacia trees.  I want to be inspired, educated, and want to see more than pre-fab gazebos, stone work  and wood mulch.

 But, that said, there are some well-produced shows still happening, ( Philadelphia, and others such as the Smith College Bulb Show), so if other shows are not terribly exciting for those of us who are more horticulturally, I can't can deny the hopeful and therapeutic effects of hyacinth scent and moist air at least! Those magnificent forced bulb displays and forced acacia trees of days gone by, so I just have to do them for myself, and so? I do.

One can force daffodils and tulips, but don't forget the lesser bulbs, many of them can be forced too. These Fritillaria were planted last year from some marked-down bulbs that never made it into the ground before the snow fell. I was lucky that the internal flower buds were not damaged by poor storage conditions. In the greenhouse, they bloom now, but they will be planted outdoors in April where they can grow on until summer, when they will go dormant. Next year, they should settle in and bloom in their new location as if nothing happened.

Lachenalia aloides ssp. quadricolor blooms alongside it's other relative, the fragrant Hyacinth.  This species is tender, and must be grown in pots indoors on cold windowsills or in the cold greenhouse where bulbs purchased in autumn, will grow and bloom with little care beyond watering much like paperwhite narcissus. Rarely seen today, these are also known as Cape Hyacinths, as they are native to the cape of South Africa. Grown in conservatories for nearly 200 years, they are only grown by serious collectors today, which is a shame.

Rarer narcissus, like these species ( Narcissus triandrus ssp. triandrus) are a little more challenging in some gardens, but they are worth the extra effort for their tiny nodding primrose-yellow bells in early spring. These are cultivated in pots which never freeze, but which experience near freezing temperatures in the greenhouse, where I keep them in a sand bed near the stone foundation. In the garden, they can survive our out winter if planted in a protected, well-drained location, but providing them a dry summer once the bulbs go dormant in July is the greatest challenge, so I keep these natives of Spain, in clay pots - making them more portable, and able to be placed on the hot, dry shelves in the greenhouse during the hot summer months.

Calochortus uniflorus

A native North American bulb from the Monterrey, California area. You may have heard of Mariposa Lily? Here is one of the many Mariposa (known botanically as Calochortus), and it blooms in a pot of sand, in the protected environment of the greenhouse here in Massachusetts where such species would die with out wet summers, and muddy springs. This particular species is Calochortus uniflorus, a lovely species with a delicate, tissue-thin blossom with a color that is difficult to define, somewhere between dove grey and pale violet with hints of sky blue.


  1. Fritz5:26 PM

    Your photograph of the calochortus is excellent. What a lovely, ethereal treat this early in spring!

  2. The Narcissus triandrus look super delicate. Can I ask, what is the actual flower size in cms? They are beautiful!

  3. Matt... I'm wondering if you might be aware od whether the American Sakurasoh Association is still in existence, and if so, how to get in touch with it... Thank you, Larry

  4. Nice pictures! Thank you for the information you have shared. When depending on greenhouses to bloom flowers it is indeed important to take note of the growing habits of the different flowers. You did a very good job.


It's always a good thing to leave a comment!