Buried Treasures: From Ruby Tulips & Golden Narcissus, to Sapphire Bluebells, Some of Springtime’s Loveliest Jewels are Planted in the Cool, Autumn Earth…

A tisket, a tasket, a basket full of Narcissus. These bulbs were planted last autumn in my garden…

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. In fact, I think the waiting is 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? 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 somewhat fiery personality, and the act of gardening calms me down; soothes my moods. I learned this in childhood, and perhaps this 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…

Crocus Petals Unfurling â“’ Michaela at TGE

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 Ferncliff, 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…

Leucojum aestivum (Summer Snowflake) in the Secret Garden at Ferncliff – This Gorgeous Flower Takes My Breath Away…

Scillia hispanica  (Spanish Bluebells) are Beautiful Both in a Vase and in the Garden, Planted Here with Companion Hostas in May at Ferncliff

Narcissus ‘Fragrant Rose’ in the Northwestern Garden, Beneath the Syringa ‘Mme. Lemoine’

When designing with bulbs, 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, Burpee, Dutch 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 at Ferncliff. 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 at Ferncliff. A nearby Daphne and emerging coral bells (Heuchra) will conceal the yellowing daffodil leaves as they die back later in dormancy.

A Common, Striped Crocus in Radiant Violet and Orange (from an unnamed bargain batch)

Narcissus ‘Rip Van Winkle’, purchase from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, here at Ferncliff. These daffodils go into dormancy and disappear between three enormous Amsonia illustris.

Camassia quamash is an early-summer blooming beauty. I like it in meadow-combinations with ornamental grass and other native wild flowers. Read more about this beauty in my post about Camassia here.

Fritillaria, one of my favorite spring flowers, does very well planted in the ornamental grass garden

As the Snow Recedes, Crocus tommasinianus (aka ‘tommies’) Burst Forth from the Earth in a Luminous-Lavender Hue. Here planted with Ground- Covering Heuchera at Ferncliff.

Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’ – If You Aren’t Careful, Snowdrops Can Become a Special Obsession All Their Own…

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 witch hazel (such as ‘Diane’)

Bulbs and Companions in the Secret Garden at Ferncliff (Here, ‘Sterling’ Narcissus is planted with Euphorbia, Heuchera and Matteuccia pensylvanica beneath Stewartia pseudocamilla)

Bulbs and Companions in the Secret Garden at Ferncliff (From left: Erythronium, Narcissus ‘Sterling’, Helleborus x hybridus ‘Royal Heritage Strain’, with emerging Actaea racemosa and ferns)

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 at Ferncliff. Read more about Erythronium by clicking back to a special post on these hat-like spring beauties, here.

Muscari at the Base of the Secret Garden Steps in Early Spring. Notice the emerging perennials, surrounding all of the bulbs.

Scillia siberica  (Siberian squill) Makes an Early Appearance Beneath Shrubs at Ferncliff…

Bulbs and Companions form a Colorful Carpet Along the Secret Garden Entry – Ferncliff 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, Cimicifuga racemosa ‘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’, Cimicifuga racemosa ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, Helleborus x hybridus ‘Royal Heritage Strain’, all beneath Stewartia pseudocamilla

Pulmonaria saccharata ‘Mrs. Moon’, here in the central garden at Ferncliff (planted with Alchemilla mollis) is a freat companion plant for early bulbs…

Crocus Emerging from Dried Grass at Ferncliff

You can read more about bulb-mania, and find the definitive guide to bulbs, by Anna Pavord, in my post for Barnes and Noble’s Garden Variety Blog here.

Article and photos are â“’ Michaela at TGE

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One Reply to “Buried Treasures: From Ruby Tulips & Golden Narcissus, to Sapphire Bluebells, Some of Springtime’s Loveliest Jewels are Planted in the Cool, Autumn Earth…”

  1. Deb Weyrich-Cody

    Hi Michaela, It just totally blows me away when I see all of the work that you’ve done at Ferncliff in such a relatively short period of time. Your plantings and gardens illustrate the ebb and flow of the seasons so wonderfully… beautiful, beautiful. Thank you for sharing. xo Deb

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