Beyond Tulips and Daffodils

by Pam Roy, edited by Bruce Gaudette
September 5, 2009

Last Saturday’s rainy weather reminded me it’s time to start thinking about spring color.  With only slight suggestions of fall’s brilliant fiery displays appearing, spring may seem way out in the future, but now is the time to pick some spots in the garden for bulbs to brighten up those late winter and early spring grey days.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against tulips and daffodils.  Those cheerful yellow daffs never fail to elicit a smile with their promise of better weather on the way.  Tulips, when planted in bold masses make dramatic colorful statements in the spring landscape.  What gardener can resist an annual pilgrimage during the height of the daffodil or tulip displays in Skagit County.  spring crocus, hyacinths and grape muscari have also been long time favorites, I’ll admit.  However, there are many other choices of bulbs, just waiting to be tucked into a spot in your garden.

Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snow) is one of the first bulbs to bloom in spring and is native to alpine meadows of Crete and Turkey.  Six-pointed star shaped flowers in blues, whites or pinks appear along six inch tall stems.  These should be planted two to three inches deep and three inches apart.  Divide these when the flower quality starts to suffer.

Puschkinia scilloides, a member of the lily family is a perennial growing from a bulb and prefers full sun to light shade.  This bulb likes regular water. With such a name, one would expect something interesting and this delightful early spring bulb does not disappoint!  Pale blue flowers may have greenish blue stripes through the center of the petal and stand atop a six inch stem.  These can be planted late summer of fall and seldom need dividing.  Puschkinia look best planted in masses.  They seldom need dividing.

Brighten up the yard in late winter or early spring with Eranthis hyemalis (Winter aconite).  This small bulb has yellow buttercup-type flowers appearing in late winter or early spring.  Their diminutive height of 2-8 inches makes them a good choice for rock gardens.

A bulb that’s offering spectacular color right now is Colchicum (Autumn crocus).  Broad leaves shoot up in the spring, then disappear.  In the fall, bright pink, lavender or white flowers appear, standing twelve inches tall…now that is different!

Most bulbs prefer well drained soil.  Some varieties prefer full sun, while others will tolerate light shade.  Select varieties of bulbs that fit into the individual microclimates of your yard.  All bulbs will benefit from fertilizer at time of planting, either worked into the entire bed, or added to individual planting holes.  Most bulbs need water during their active growing period, but can do without much water during dormancy.  When planted in masses, or drifts, bulbs make a stronger statement in the garden than when planted individually here and there.  Find a place in your yard to try one or two of these bulb suggestions and look forward to their spring show.

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