April 21, 2012

Lesser Used Spring Bulbs

Fritillaria imperialis 'Aurora'

Last autumn, you may remember that I wanted to start planting larger groups of bulbs, and that instead of buying 6 or 12 of one variety, that I would limit my choices, but but many dozens of only a few varieties - a more serious way to design a garden, and indeed, the right way if you want nice sweeps of bulbs. This is particularly true for the more unusual bulbs, such as these fine Fritillaria imperialis var 'Aurora', a bulb that we typically see planted alone, as a sentinel in a bed of other bulbs, but one which only recently, I discovers grows in massive sweeps in the meadows of alpine Iran, where this bulb comes from. In the wild, they look natural, yet for years, I thought that this Frits were just over-hybridized monstrosities.

I purchased a dozen with the plan to buy 30 more this year, all of the same color. Fritillaria imperialis is available in  at least 6 named selections, ranging in golden yellow to brilliant carmine red, and even a variegated form. Be prepared for their scent, for every part of this bulb plant has a strong odor that drifts in the air, and one which I feel is not unpleasant,  but can be interpreted as 'skunkish'. The gardening books will tell you that it smells foxy, but here in the US, that means little to us. I kind of like it. 

Tulips rarely look better in their second or third year after planting, but this border of triumph tulips continues to bloom, even though they are in their 4th years in this location. The variety, 'Gavota' is a fav of mine because it is almost brown, with a nice gold edge.

Keeping a garden notebook is essential, if you want to remember what to order later in the season. For example, every spring, these gold-leaved Tradescantia look so nice with the few yellow tulips that I planted once in the gold and blue garden, that I need to remind myself to order lots of yellow tulip bulbs in the fall, so that this display can improve. Notice my new Itoh Hybrid peony that I just planted on the left? It was a present to myself. I needed another one ( right!). There are now four in this bed ( all yellow, naturally.

With well needed rain arriving tomorrow, I needed to catch up on some garden chores, such as painting the benches with a fresh coat of black glossy paint. I though of trying a color like a French blue, or plum, but decided to play it safe with black, besides, it matches the greenhouse enamel.

Leucojum aestivum 'Gravetye Giant' or Summer Snowflake, is one of the first bulbs to emerge for us in the spring, Shared with us by our good friend Susan,  she promised that this cultivar was not only true to its name, but also, that it would divide nicely and soon would provide us with a border of these 24 inch tall snowbells. It's well on its way. Now, I was more! Look for these long lived bulbs in the autumn bulb catalogs, you will have them for a lifetime.
Succulents await division. I am planting these in a large, steel urn again ( concentric rings, as I did a few years ago). In the winter, I keep pots of succulents growing everywhere in the greenhouse, just so I can repot them in the spring into various containers.

 I need to make a little time each day to stroll around the garden, to appreciate the spring display, for with the heat and dry weather that we've been experiencing, each plant seems to bloom and fade in just a single day. I rarely get home from work until 8:00 pm, so I miss a lot during the week. Thankfully, the weekends have been nice, although we do need rain badly.
Cornus controversa 'variegata' 

A bumblebee visits a nectar rich Fothergilla gardenii shrub, near the gravel walk which leads to the greenhouse. 


  1. Anonymous4:39 AM

    Nice. my grandmother had some of these spring plants in her small, beautiful garden. The Fritillarias were especially eye-catching i remember, but after she died they never bloomed again. I think they need some kind of special care they ve been lacking since then. The summer snowflake is called in my country the noble or imperial snowdrop , due to its size and good looks, somewhat more impressive than its modest cousin, the common snowdrop. Actually I always liked the latter on. They look great in groups . In my grandma's garden they made a nice contrast in the spring with the wild violets brought from the woods which since then have spread allover the garden. Very bold plants;They are still there.

  2. The Fritillarias are beautiful. I love your idea of planting these in groups. We're slowly ridding ourselves of grass in the yards and putting in more gardens. Perhaps I should set aside an area for these.

  3. I forgot to mention, Cynthia, that these are bulbs that can be long lived in the garden. Be sure to use a slow release natural fertilizer like bone meal, and leaf mould as a mulch - I have some that are 12 years old, and still blooming nicely. Sometimes, they take a year off to divide, but don't fret.

  4. Matt - have you had any problems with lily leaf beetles? I'm excited to move back to Mass. after grad school and hope to pay you a visit!

  5. My father loves Fritillaria imperialis. Apparently they remind him of his childhood in Esfahan, Iran where they grow in fields in the countryside. The Persian translation for their common name there works out to "Upside-down tulips" so that is what he calls them.

  6. Kaveh, how lucky your father is to have seen these Fritillaria there. It is one of my life-long dreams to see them growing in Iran in the wild. I've seen many photos of them in the mountains there, they look incredible, an yes, very much like tulips. Let us hope that one day, we can all travel there in peace again.

  7. I have not seen lily beetles this year, but in the past, I've found only a few - enough to pick off and crush. I think I have enough true lilies to distract them!


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