Every spring, especially after a long winter like this past year, people love to see those harbingers of spring: bulbs! Spring bulbs are hardy enough to survive our winter and magically pop up when the temperatures are warm enough to coax them out of their winter slumber. They are also a great way to bring life and colour to the otherwise dormant garden. If only you could purchase the bulbs when they are in bloom, the decision-making would be easier.
If you like bulbs you can definitely plan to have a constant show until your perennial garden wakes up.
Just a few of our favourite early species are Winter Aconite, Snow Drops, Scilla, Iris Reticulata and Tulipa Tarda. These are some of the small flowers that form masses in lawns and gardens very early in the spring. Tulips and daffodils are the favourites of many people. They are available in hundreds of different varieties and colours, and bloom from mid-spring all the way into early summer. A new species of tulip for us this year is Praestans Moondance — a lovely crisp orange-red with a blush of yellow. Species, or botanical, tulips are the best naturalizers and will multiply each year. They have smaller flowers and bloom much earlier than many other varieties.
Tulips and daffodils may be the most popular however there are many other exciting species available. Alliums have really gained popularity in the last few years and their striking ‘ball on a stick’ growth offers a unique architectural shape in the garden—which we appreciate year round.
New this fall is a variety of Fritillaria, Vivaldi, a shorter (24”) Crown Imperial variety, but in cherry red! It offers a great contrast when planted within mass plantings of spring bulbs.
Plant spring bulbs now!
The time to plant spring bulbs is from mid-September up until frost. The fall is a great time to be in the garden. The temperatures are comfortable and the bugs are mostly gone.
Another question asked often is where to plant them? You may have a great amount of space which is currently covered in hostas or other perennials, but these plants are dormant when the spring bulbs will be coming up. As you tidy up your garden, cut back the hostas as they die back to discover a lot of areas to dig holes between them. Plant at least five to seven bulbs in each hole for best effect. Mass plantings also allow you enough flowers for cutting —it’s so nice to celebrate your own flowers indoors as well.
Fall is also the time to plant varieties of charming fall blooming crocus and Colchicum. These unusual flowers send up their leaves in the spring and their flowers in the fall. Their common name is Naked Ladies! With only the flowers piercing the landscape they need some foil or background—plant amidst ground covers for great effect. The Sativas fall crocus is also the Saffron crocus, and the stigmas can be harvested for cooking.
While planting your spring bulbs, take the opportunity to seed some more radish — Watermelon or White Icicle are good varieties for cooler temperatures. Also, it’s a great time to re-seed lettuces or mesclun mixes for late fall harvest. Grow your own ‘greens’ as long through the season as you can. Nor is it too late to enjoy growing gourmet Japanese baby white turnips named Mikado. Many other plants can be seeded to grow into the fall for as long as the season will allow. They may not make it to full maturity but baby beets or beet greens can be very welcomed in late October. Baby kale shoots are also a nice addition, especially for added nutrition in salads.
Planting bulbs that will bloom the following year is like planting hope, with the anticipation of the beautiful flowers to come. Fall into your garden and extend your season and your enjoyment! As your garden falls into its winter dormancy and the blanket of snow protects your work, you can dream of the bulbs you planted and the joy they will bring you after another Canadian winter.
RICK WEINGARDEN and ALLAN WATTS own Anything Grows SEED Co. (www.anythinggrows.com). They can be found at the Western Fair Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market on Saturdays, and at various gardening events around the region.