At Home – Bulb flowers a perennial promise of spring
Plant now for spring colour
By: Susan Jones
| Posted: Saturday, Sep 15, 2012 06:00 am
If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft,
And from thy slender store
Two loaves alone to thee are left,
Sell one, and with the dole
Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
Growing bulb flowers can be tricky, but once you figure out their persnickety habits, they may be the best blooming things in your garden and could provide you with a rainbow of colour from March until May.
Tiny ground-hugging scilla and crocus are first and if we have a warm spring some varieties will bloom even as the snow is still receding away from the house. These inch-high flowers will be for your pleasure only, as no one else will see them over the mounds of snow. They tend to open wide in the sun and then wrap their leaves tightly against themselves as they hunker down for the night against the sun-heated soil.
As a general rule of thumb, most, though not all, of the earliest-blooming bulb flowers are blue or purple. Next to brave the spring temperatures are the yellow flowers, including yellow varieties of crocus, followed by the narcissus and daffodils. Finally the tall dark red tulips poke their heads up in May.
The Netherlands Flowerbulb Information website states that bulb flowers may easily bloom for 60 days if you plant early, mid-season and late bloomers. They refer to the experience as “building to a colour crescendo.”
Still the Netherlands website also advises that not all bulbs will bloom at precisely the time specified on the packages. So if you look at a package of pink and white tulips, for example, their blooming times may be different even though they are shown together.
“Don’t expect them to bloom like synchronized swimmers. They won’t bloom precisely together but they will bloom individually and overlap,” explains the site.
Still, planting a bulb in the ground and hoping for spring requires a leap of faith on the part of the gardener. Most of the bulbs available for sale in St. Albert come from the Netherlands or from growers in British Columbia. Those moderate climates are optimal for bulb flowers but obviously they grow here too.
The secret is to plant the bulbs deep. In the Prairies, it’s recommended that the bigger bulbs such as daffodils be planted a full spade’s depth into the soil. That’s because the Prairie garden will freeze and it’s not uncommon to find bulbs heaved up on top of the soil if they have not been planted deep enough.
The tiny, very hardy scillas and crocus only grow an inch or two in height, so don’t plant them too far in the ground, but still, make sure they have a good covering to keep them warm – about four inches deep and then covering them with compost should do. By spring the compost should melt into the soil and the reward is a carpet of blue scilla, which look like tiny bluebells.
Scilla will naturalize, which means they reproduce and spread. After a few years, you may be lucky enough to find these spring flowers blooming throughout the yard even though the grass is still brown and nothing else has come to life.
Every year there’s something new to try, even for a guy like Jim Hole, of Hole’s Greenhouses and Gardens, who said this fall he plans to plant crocuses in his lawn.
“I’m going to take my hand drill, use a big wood bit and drill little holes in the lawn. But I’m going to plant a swath of crocus, maybe like a Nike swoosh. If you just put them in little dots, no one will see them,” said Hole.
Sweet and sour
Hyacinths and Fritillaria imperiales are two bulb-flower varieties that are not considered hardy to this zone, but if babied, and put in a sheltered warm spot, they will be showstoppers.
Last year I planted hyacinths on the east and west sides of the house. Those on the east side never bloomed but the ones by the back step, which were against the house and in a hot place, were so fragrant and beautiful that absolutely everyone that came in the back door stopped to smell them. Best of all, they bloomed for at least three weeks in early May.
Hyacinths have kept up with inflation. One thousand years ago, Omar Khayyam paid a loaf of bread for one bulb. Now the bulbs cost just over a buck to purchase.
Fritillaria imperiales are more expensive and are hard to find. The ones on the Campbell River Garden Centre website are listed at between $7 and 10 each, but these two to three-foot tall plants have flower heads that can be six to eight inches in diameter.
Unlike perfumed narcissus and hyacinths, fritillaria imperiales stink. Some say they stink as badly as skunks, so plant them in a hot area that’s well away from the house. They are so spectacular to look at, they are worth the stench.