They’re here. They’re filling up the mailbox and attempting to entice.
They speak to new life, not the fading life we see as the weather changes and there’s less and less sunlight each day.
It’s technically still summer, not yet fall, but the spring flower catalogues are arriving in the mail just the same. Everything outside is still green and lush, and if the rains aren’t too bad there will be sunflowers yet to bloom, cherry tomatoes to pick and carrots to pull up. I should not be thinking of the spring and daffodils and tulips, but I am.
The pretty color catalogues arrive two, three and four at a time, each one prettier than the next. All hold the promise of clean, clear, pristine spring beauty. From the brilliant yellows of the first daffodils to the bright reds of the last tulips and all of the subtle pastel shades of spring, they call.
They say, “Plant a few; everyone has room for a couple of bulbs.” No matter how strong my intentions to cut back or just get one small bag of bulbs, I can never resist.
This year my focus is on the unusual or the not as common spring bulbs: the tiny, early-spring species tulips; the interesting whites, pinks and salmons of the daffodils; and the tiny minor bulbs in shades of blue.
Most of the tulips we all know are the big, 12-18 inches tall, cup-shaped flowers of late April and May. The species tulips are smaller, some only 6 inches tall, early blooming, mostly in April, and generally produce their delicate blooms for many years.
The tiny tulip biflora, white with a yellow center, is only 5 inches tall, has three flowers per bulb and is a wonderful choice for well-drained rock gardens. The small tulip batalinii “Salmon Gem” opens a warm, salmon pink and matures to a bright salmon pink.It blooms in late April.
The choice for my garden this year is tulip baceri “Lilac Wonder.” It has a rose-lilac flower with a yellow center and blooms a little latter than most species tulips, in early May. Lilac Wonder is 7 inches tall. These tulips, like all tulips, need full sun, six or more hours of sunlight per day, and well-drained soil.
Don’t put any bulb in an area that has standing water over the winter. The bulbs will rot. If your soil doesn’t drain well in an area that never has had standing water, add some sand to the area beneath the planting hole. It should increase the drainage.
In daffodils, I am looking for a color other than yellow. I have hundreds of yellow daffodils and I love them, but I want to add to the interest of the garden in March and April.
The large yellow trumpet daffodils generally come out in April. This year I’ll plant daffodils with a pink cup. The daffodil “Mrs. R.O. Backhouse” was introduced in 1921, has white petals with a pink cup, grows to 14 inches tall and blooms in late April. It will find a prominent place in my front garden this year.
“Audubon,” an 18-inch-tall daffodil with white petals and frilled, coral pink cup, is another good choice. For a late season, May daffodil, the Poeticus “Pheasant’s Eye” is a wonderful choice. It has pure white, slightly curved petals with a tiny frilly yellow cup rimmed with red. This is one of the last daffodils to bloom in the spring.
All daffodils repel rodents and deer and, unlike some other spring bulbs, can last for years, growing into large clumps that can be divided after three to five years. Daffodils are the most reliable, economical, hardworking and long lived bulb in the garden. They should be planted in full sun and deadheaded after blooming, taking the faded flower off so they will not go through the effort of producing seeds. This will return energy to the bulb for next year’s flowers.Don’t cut back the foliage until it turns yellow and withers. This, too, helps to retain the bulb’s vigor.
All bulbs should be planted after the first frost. The root development will continue because of the warmer soil temperatures. If bulbs are planted too early they may try to push up leaves, which is detrimental to the bulb development and will impact spring flowering. When planting bulbs, a general rule is to plant them three times the depth of the size of the bulb. Most all bulbs can be planted up until the time the soil freezes, December in most years.
There are other bulbs to add to the spring garden, from the tiny bright cobalt blue Siberian squill that blooms in April to the large American native Camassia with its tall (up to 3 feet) spikes of blue star flowers that bloom in May/June, to the early (April), small members of the iris family, the rock garden iris. I’ll be planting some iris reticulate “Harmony’ with mid purple standards and deeper purple falls splashed with yellow and dotted with black.
More and more people are getting to know alliums, members of the onion family; they, too, like daffodils, repel rodents and deer. Most are purple, a few white, and they stand tall holding their spheres of stars high above the emerging May/June flowers and foliage. I’ll be planting allium aflatunese “Purple Sensation” in the front garden.
I have caved in and have spent a rainy afternoon looking at what could be. I cross-checked brightly colored catalogues that promise colorful life after a long dreary New England winter. There are always new colors and shapes for the garden, some are new to the market like daffodil “Audubon” and others have been around for centuries like the Siberian squill, introduced in 1796. They all are little jewels waiting under the soil to awaken and shine.
I have now picked out new gems for my garden. Please know there are always little spaces in the garden for hopes, dreams and a few well-placed little jewel-like bulbs.
Here are a few of the hundreds of catalogues for fall bulbs:
John Scheepers, www.johnscheeper.com
McClure & Zimmerman, www.mzbulb.com
Dutch Gardens, www.dutchgardens.com
White Flower Farm, www.whiteflowerfarm.com
Bluestone Perennials, www.bluestoneperennials.com