Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tulips and Other Spring Bulbs

If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft,
And of thy meager store
Two loaves alone to thee are left,
Sell one, and with the dole
Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.
--Saadi, Persian Sufi poet, in Gulistan (The Rose Garden), 1258

I know tulips should be a spring subject but now is the time for you to choose and plant your bulbs that will bloom in spring. Tulips are known for not being long living bulbs. Unlike the daffodil, tulips will often peter out after a few years. It’s not your ineptitude as a gardener; it’s usually just the nature of the bulb. If you want your spring bulbs coming back year after year, most garden writers suggest daffodils rather than tulips. That said however, I have had daffs bloom beautifully for 2 springs only to have them totally disappear after that. Experts will say I must have voles, moles or squirrels who are the culprits. Well, squirrels will dig them up from the surface, which is easy to spot…so that’s not my problem. I’ve never seen mole hills in my yard and I have no idea about voles but I suspect not them either. I do know daffodil flowering decreases as the clumps grow and get crowded. That’s not my problem here either as crowded clumps would have a mass of leaves. In that case dig them up after the foliage has died completely back, divide the clump and replant, spreading the joy in more areas of the garden. Garden experts WANT to give you an answer (too wet, too warm, too cold, too deep, too shallow or critters), but sometimes I think the answer is simply “that’s just the way it goes with some bulbs”. Simply move on, buy more and don’t get the same one next time. Well of course I did try the same again…and lost them too. Several years ago I was enamored with the white petal, greenish cup daffs. I bought several varieties, all of which were delightful the first year only to disappear forevermore. (sigh) Happily though, the super fragrant Erlicheer daffodil has come back spring after spring. The mildly fragrant Thalia continues thus far and Tete-a-Tete has been a faithful miniature returning too. I love poeticus, the short deep colored cupped narcissus with white petals, notably the Narcissus poeticus “Pheasant’s Eye”. Alas, after 2 years they have left me as well.

But I am undaunted! I have turned my attention to other spring blooming bulbs like Muscari (Grape hyacinth), Hyacinthoides (Spanish bluebells) both of which “self seed, spreading rapidly”. Ooh, bad news in my garden so I deadhead them, foiling their “irrational exuberance”. I’ve also planted Fritillaria meleagris (checkered or snakehead lily -I like the purple ones), Fritillaria michailovskyi (pictured here), Crocus, Hyacinths (which also slink away as the years wan), Galanthus nivalis (snowdrop), Erythronium ‘Pagota’ (trout lily), and Tulips.

So getting back to tulips, abit more than 7 years ago throughout the garden I planted 100 Tulipa “Gavota”. It is a beautiful long pointed burgundy tulip with yellow edging. As of now I have maybe a dozen left as they slowly disappear. Originally I bought a bag at Costco. Now I can only find them on-line at just a few sites, at a much higher price of course. I would love to plant another 100 Gavota. It’s amazing how put together a garden looks when color or texture is repeated throughout. Seven years and counting of longevity doesn’t seem too bad…does it?

I recently discovered another email newsletter adding it to my list of favorites. It’s by Ken Druse, entitled Real Dirt and in his latest edition he writes, “…That said; one bulb in the garden hasn't failed me yet. It is a late-season heirloom tulip I bought from Old House Gardens [www.oldhousegardens.com] called 'Insulinde'. The petals or tepals are striped or flamed purple on white. In 2009, the blossoms lasted - from bud to tepal drop -- an astonishing four weeks! And this is a perennial plant returning every spring as large and strong as the previous year.”

I almost forgot to mention the species tulips. Much smaller, some don’t even look like tulips but I have Tulipa turkestanica, they are so sweet. Tiny in size by comparison to today’s standard tulips, they close up at night and open by day also, but they don’t abandon the garden over time. There are several varieties to choose from. Mine came from McClure and Zimmerman (mzbulb.com) I think.

Now about those dying bulb leaves. Yes, you must leave them intact to wither even though the flower has dropped off. It is through the leaves that the bulb is fed and strengthened for next spring’s flowers. If you remove them before they have withered you are starving the bulb. For 8 weeks or more after the flowers are finished, the leaves will continue to grow and produce food for the bulb. If you tie them in a knot, band them or braid them they will not only look silly, you are also reducing the amount of leaf surface the sun and air can access. Also, be sure to deadhead after the flowers fade so the energy can go into the bulb, not seed head production. If you simply cannot leave bulb leaves to die naturally in your garden, perhaps you shouldn’t include bulbs in your plantings.

Speaking of critters… if you ever see your crocus petals just laying on the ground…that is squirrels! I’ve watched them, with their front ‘paws’ pick off the petals, turn them over, nibble something delectable from the base, drop the remainder 0f the petal to the ground and proceed likewise through the whole patch! Apparently my buttery yellow crocus taste better than my purple ones. Sheesh!

So it’s September!! The spring blooming bulbs are in the stores, nurseries and catalogs now just waiting to be snuggled down into your dirt for the winter!

Photos: Fritillaria michailovskyi, Tulipa “Gavota” - courtesy Pat Chissus


fitfeat said...

I adore spring flowers! They always remind me of when I was really little - my mom was always great with her garden. I loved daffodil and crocus, and I think the other one that I loved the smell of was hyacinth? My all-time favorite was the snapdragon (but I have NO clue if that even comes from a bulb! I do NOT have a green thumb at all!)

You have to snap a picture of a squirrel picking the petals! :) What a great shot that would be!

hope you are having a great Labor Day!


Joan said...

Hi Shari, thanks so much for writing. And thanks for sharing such nice memories. So many people have a plant or two in their gardens that remind them of their mom or grandmother. As a matter of fact I have the old fashioned coral bells that my mom has in her garden and her mother before that! Even if you don't have a garden, simply a pot by the door with spring bulbs (yes the hyacinths are super fragrant) and in summer you could plant some snapdragons (not a bulb)in the same pot as the bulbs die down, would bring such wonderful memories for you. Joan

fitfeat said...

Hi Joan! thanks for the reply! Great idea on planting one by the door! Would I plant those now if I'm putting them in a pot? Or is that something that I can plant INDOORS just before spring and it will start blooming inside and I can move it to my porch? (See, I told you I'm a complete dunce when it comes to gardening!) :) Hope you are having a good week! It's already Friday-Eve again!


Joan said...

Hi Shari, great question! And you're not a dunce. You'd want to buy them now while the bulbs are for sale and fresh. You won't be able to find spring blooming bulbs for sale in the spring, that's when they sell bulbs that will bloom in the summer/fall. If you bought them now and waited they could rot, and if you planted them indoors for winter and put them out in the cold in spring, the shock of the cold after house temps would mess them up. The leaves would probably turn brown. They need cold winter temps followed by a spring thaw to set them in motion. Be sure to protect ceramic pots and bulbs in it from hard freezes and snow. Both could crack the pot and freeze the bulbs. Glazed ceramic pots fare better than unglazed. Plastic works too. This is now a garden above ground, not protected by surrounding dirt. They'll need some water so as not to dry out but don't want to be constantly wet either. A protected place under the eaves or in a basement window well if you have one. For a really bad cold snap I move pots into the garage for a time. However I garden in a fairly mild climate, your local nursery folks will be able to help you with your specific climatic worries and suggestions for successful pot culture. Have fun!! Joan