Anticipation. True gardeners really know how to revel in the wait. We are, essentially, pleasure-delayers. Gardening differs from many modern-day activities in one significant way: it is not an instant gratification activity. Not at all. Gardeners do a lot of waiting, watching and wondering. And really, this waiting becomes a way of extending our pleasure; a key part of the fun. What will the new Narcissus smell like? Will the white Erythronium blossom at the same time as the rose-tinted Hellebore? How long will it take for the Muscari to form a blue pool of blossoms at the base of the stone wall? Will the voles eat all of the crocus this year? I like wondering about things. I love forgetting about a buried treasure and then, in spring, thrilling upon the re-discovery.
Patience. Gardening has taught me many things, and I would say that whatever patience I possess —and heaven knows I am not known for it— I developed through the practice of gardening. Working with nature helps me to balance my impulsive nature, and has —quite literally— made me a more grounded person. I have a fiery personality. The act of gardening calms me down and soothes my moods. I learned this in childhood, and perhaps that is why I feel so strongly about connecting children to the non-instant-gratification pleasure of gardening. Waiting six months for a tulip to bloom is the exact opposite of waiting a nano-second for a text message. And I think that is a good thing…
The ritual of planting bulbs is, to me, a most delicious process. First, there is the hunting and then there is the choosing. Of course, the catalogues from fine companies, like Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, arrive in early summer, and I fill them with sticky notes and scribbles. Then —usually by mid-July— I begin filling my virtual carts online (the earlier you order, the better the deals). And oh, the wonderful, wonderful pleasure of selecting from amongst all of the beautiful, jewel-like treasures. With a garden as large as mine, I order most common bulbs in great quantity. But there are many opportunities for small-scale vignettes, showcasing those rare little surprises here as well; particularly in the Secret Garden.
Most spring-blooming bulbs perform best when planted after the soil has cooled to 50 degrees or lower (usually in mid-autumn here in VT) but before it has begun to freeze. (If your bulbs arrive earlier, store them in a cool, dry place until it’s time to plant). Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Winter aconites (Eranthus), trout lilies (Erythroniums), iris, and certain other corms, rhizomes, tubers and bulbs, (Galanthus for example) should be planted in late summer or very early autumn. Take care to give these species more time to establish. In fact some bulbs and corms, such as snowdrops (Galanthus), are best transplanted ‘in the green’ (meaning, they do very well when divided and transplanted in spring, after blooming). If you are new to the world of bulbs, pay close attention to the fine-print when selecting and ordering; taking care to research the cultural requirements of each species, to avoid disappointment…
When designing with bulbs —for myself of for my clients— I rely heavily upon my garden notes and photos, carefully taken the previous spring. I try to provide all plants, including bulbs, with their preferred, natural growing conditions. Most bulbs, particularly the Tulips and Daffodils, need good drainage. This is especially important in winter and again in the summer. So, I try to avoid low-spots in the garden, where water will settle. Other ephemerals, such as the woodsy Erythroniums, prefer a cool and shady spot in the garden. Snowdrops, Winter Aconites and Erythroniums do very well beneath the shadowy canopy of shrubs and trees. When planning a springtime bulb-show, it’s very important to remember that most bulbs will eventually go into summer dormancy. Companion planting is the most effective way to conceal withering bulb foliage (never cut foliage back until the bulb has completed it’s yearly cycle, your daffodils and other bulbs need to photosynthesize). Some easy combinations to begin with: daffodils planted between day lilies on a slope, trout lilies (Erythronium) planted amongst coral bells (Heuchera), and bluebells planted between ferns or late-emerging hosta. There are many, many great combinations (see some pictured below). Some companies, including Brecks, Spring Hill, Dutch Gardens, Old House Gardens and Brent & Becky’s Bulbs, offer great companion suggestions. I encourage you to look back at your garden photos and notes, and experiment with perennial combinations all your own. Remember, the experimentation and surprise is part of the pleasure! Plant bulbs that prefer full-sun and good drainage with similar perennials, such as ornamental grass and day lilies. Find shady spots between broad-leafed perennial plants, shrubs and trees for woodland bulbs. You will be delighted with the results all season-long…
A Pool of Blue Muscari has Formed Around the Base of Dan Snow’s Retaining Wall. In summer, Sedum ‘Vera Jameson’ will Take Over the Show, Concealing the Yellowing Muscari Foliage, Until it Withers Away.
Narcissus ‘Snipe’ planted with Sedum, near the Base of the Secret Garden Steps. A nearby Daphne and emerging coral bells (Heuchera) will conceal the yellowing daffodil leaves as they die back later in dormancy.
The Spike-Hair of Narcissus ‘Rip Van Winkle’, a Spontaneous Purchase from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, Always Makes Me Smile. Daffodil Foliage Goes Yellow in Dormancy so I Plant Them Where They Will Disappear Between Perennials
Camassia quamash is an Early-Summer Blooming Beauty. I Love Using It in Meadow-Combinations with Ornamental Grass and Other Native Wild Flowers. Read More About This Beauty in My Post About Camassia Here.
Chinodoxa luciliae gigantea – Glory of the Snow will Always Have a Special Place in My Heart. The Blue Flowers Bloom Very Early, and Multiply to Form Carpets. Low-Growing Chinodoxa Do Very Well Planted in Lawns (delay first mowing for best results) or Beneath Spring Blooming Shrubs and Trees. Imagine Them Combined with a Red Flowering Witch Hazel (such as H. x intermedia ‘Diane’)
Erythronium (the species is also known by various interesting common names, from dog-tooth violet and turk’s cap to trout lily) in the Secret Garden. Read More About Erythronium by Clicking Back to a Special Post on These Hat-Like Spring Beauties, Here.
Bulbs and Companions form a Colorful Carpet Along the Secret Garden Entry in Early Spring. (Daphne ‘Carol Mackie’ is the fragrant, mounded shrub on the left, and lavender-blue Phlox divaricata ‘Clouds of Perfume’ scents the air. Also here, Muscari, Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’ and various Sedum)
Ground-Cover Companions for Bulbs Can Play with Foliage and Flower Contrasts. Here, Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ offers a bit of drama in this Secret Garden vignette when combined with Tiarella cordifolia (foam flower) and Leucojum aestevium (Summer Snowflake)
The Secret Garden in Early Spring: ‘Sterling’ Narcissus, various Euphorbia, Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’, Matteuccia pensylvanica, Tiarella cordifolia, Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’, Paeonia mouton x lutea ‘High Noon’, Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, Helleborus x hybridus ‘Royal Heritage Strain’, all beneath Stewartia pseudocamilla
For Springtime Dreams & Obsessions: Bulb by Ana Pavord
A Version of This Post First Appeared on The Gardener’s Eden in September 2010
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