Friday, May 1, 2009

Spring Bulbs

On any given October weekend I can usually be found kneeling in the garden planting spring flowering bulbs. Since purchasing my property in 1998, I’ve planted somewhere between five hundred and thousand annually. At a dinner party a number of years ago, after I announced that my substantial bulb order had just arrived, my friends eyed me with pitying looks. Well suffice it to say, no one pities me now. 

Over the years my daffodils have multiplied to form luxurious clumps, as have the crocus, erythronium, scilla, snowdrops, leucojum, allium, lilies, anemones and camassia. Here in the northeast tulips must be replaced every few years to ensure substantial blooms. Though this might be considered a deterrent, it affords me the opportunity to try new colors and varieties, much in the way I add annuals to the garden each summer. 

Admittedly, planting bulbs can become a tiresome chore if the soil is rocky or composed of heavy clay. Luckily my property was once a farm. The soil here is every gardener’s dream, two feet of loam covering a base of golden sand. For those so inclined there are, of course, a variety of tools to expedite the planting process; bulb augers attached to electric drills, manual bulb planters that use foot power to remove a plug of earth, bulb dibbles, etc. However, I find the constant standing up and kneeling down tiresome. Instead, I prefer getting on my knees and digging individual holes with a trowel. Though, I’ll admit that when I planted daffodils in my field, I used a shovel to prepare holes large enough to accommodate a dozen bulbs at a time.

If planted judiciously, it’s possible to have bulbs in flower from late February until June. If Asiatic, oriental and the new orienpet lilies are included in the mix, the bloom season continues throughout the summer. Sadly, for the past few years the red lily beetle has been wreaking havoc with my lilies and I probably won’t be planting more this fall. When selecting bulbs the choices are infinite. Daffodils (also known as Narcissus) come in countless sizes and flower forms. In my front garden I’ve concentrated on pink-cupped daffodils. The hot colored garden is planted with deep yellows and oranges, and the blue and white garden has an assortment of white narcissus.

Generally, I avoid purchasing mixed assortments of bulbs, preferring large quantities of a single variety. I start by selecting one early and one late blooming daffodil, each of which I pair with an early and late flowering tulip. This ensures that I have a long period of spring color. For an earlier start to the season I add species and large cupped crocus, but there are a host of other choices as well. I’ve ordered many of my bulbs from the John Scheepers Bulb Company, Their catalogue is illustrated with beautiful color photographs, the pricing is reasonable, and the quality reliable.

For the most part spring bulbs prefer full sun and well-drained soil, though there are a few exceptions. Cammassia and leucojum enjoy a damp site and I’ve planted them around the farm pond. Many of the smaller bulbs like scillas and chionodoxas prefer the shade of deciduous trees. As a rule, I find that flowering bulbs show to best effect when planted in clumps of a dozen or more so don’t hesitate to purchase them in large quantities.

When you finish reading this post, do yourself a favor and write a reminder on your calendar to order bulbs this September. You’ll thank me next spring.

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