A PASSION FOR PLANTS: October 2008
by Nancy Schramm
The bulb is the plant world's ultimate surprise package. There is simply no way to look at an unknown, dormant bulb and guess what the plant or flower will look like. In addition, bulbs that planted in the fall often don't emerge from the ground until spring, completely surprising some of us less-organized types who may have forgotten exactly what was planted where. If you act quickly, there is still time this fall to plant a variety of bulbs that will surprise and please you for years to come.
The first bulbs I ever planted were the large, traditional yellow daffodils (Narcissus). I still love them because they are so easy to grow and care for. All you have to do is plant them in full sun, in an area where there is little summer water. Even the gophers and deer leave them alone. But don't stop with just the yellow ones, there are many lovely daffodils with different colors, shapes, and forms.
Tulips have always seemed like too much work to me, until I discovered species tulips. To the casual eye, species tulip flowers are nothing like the formal looking bulbs that must be planted every year, but they have a charm all their own. In this climate, if you plant the species that need little winter chill, the bulbs can be left in the ground to naturalize and re-bloom year after year. I'd recommend Tulipa bakeri "Lilac Wonder" which has a large lavender flower with a yellow throat, and T. tarda for an open star-shaped flower that is mostly white and yellow.
I love blue flowers. Muscari, the grape hyacinth, will give you blue flowers in every shade imaginable. Super easy to grow unless you give them too much water and shade, these grassy leafed bulbs are especially nice planted in masses. The typical varieties are fairly small (less than 12" tall) and are suitable for containers. These bulbs are said to be deer-proof.
Another easy spring blooming bulb is Galanthus or snowdrop. These little wonders are the first to bloom as winter turns to spring. Pendant, bell-shaped white flowers are often tipped with green. They are so popular in England that there are whole societies dedicated to growing and admiring snowdrops. They are deer-proof, too!
So far, we've only been talking about spring blooming bulbs. But there are some wonderful choices if you want a little fall flower color, too. Probably the most common, and the easiest, is the true Amaryllis, A. belladonna, the Naked Lady. Dug and planted during or immediately after they bloom (the month of September), they will usually bloom again the next year. However, if you dig them at any other time, they may sulk for years before blooming again. Plant amaryllis with some of the bulb exposed in a sunny location, and you can completely forget about them. They need no supplemental irrigation. Amaryllis are usually pink in color, but a closely related cross called Amarygia comes in colors ranging from pure white to a dark pink that might be called red.
Colchicum is a fall blooming corm, often called autumn crocus. Plant them in full sun where they can remain undisturbed, with just a little water during their dormancy (summer) and you will be rewarded with amazing flowers in the fall. I just saw some C. "The Giant" that were at least 5" across, no more than 5" off the ground.
I can recommend two mail order sources: McClure & Zimmerman www.mzbulb.com and Van Engelen Inc. www.vanengelen.com.
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