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Spring Blooming Bulbs Need Fall Planting

Spring blooming narcissus

Unnamed narcissus  was one of the spring blooming bulbs in my garden. All daffodils are in the Narcissus family

There is a world of spring blooming bulbs to plant in the fall. Daffodils immediately come to mind, but we don’t often think about the various forms and colors these flowers take. Think of the choices; you can plant large cup daffs in pale shades of lemon or pure white, but with frilled cups in shades of pink or orange. Precocious a particularly showy daffodil with icy white petals and a coral pink and very curly flat cup blooms mid spring.

If the large cup division is too flashy for your taste, you can first look at the small cup daffodils. They can surprise with a brilliant orange cup like Barrett Browning that blooms early to mid spring. Or you can choose Dallas and enjoy white serenity with a small frilly white cup that blooms late.

Double daffodils can go from the heirloom Albus Plenus Odoatus, so ruffly white that it  almost looks and smells like a gardenia and blooms in late spring. Another late bloomer is Delnashaugh, white with large overlapping petals surrounding apricot pink inner segments.

There is also a large family of miniature daffodils some of which are only three inches tall. Fragrant yellow Tiny Bubbles is four inches tall with recurved petals and blooms mid spring. Rip Van Winkle is almost out of  the miniature category because it can grow between five to eight inches. It looks like exploding yellow fireworks and blooms early-mid spring.


Poeticus daffodil

In the past I grew the poeticus daffodil which is a very old daff. I liked it because it was a heritage variety but also because it was just so simple, plain and elegant. At the same time I also love the Van Sion daff which was growing on our Heath property when we moved there. It was not plain or elegant, but I liked the wild explosion of golden petals that sometimes included many green petals. A friend thought it was the ugliest daffodil ever, but I disagreed.

A very different, and much less common spring blooming bulb is camassia, a member of the lily family. I have not grown camassia but the Brent and Becky catalog says it “tolerates damp meadows and pond edges as well as heavy clay soil.” I might have to give it a try.

Camassia florets

Camassia florets closeup

Camassia bloom late spring into early summer with three foot spikes of starry flowers in shades of white, blue and purple. Camassia attracts pollinators, but is deer and squirrel resistant. It likes sun but can take some shade.

One white variety, C. leichtlinii ‘Sacajewea’ is so named because Sacajewea helped feed Lewis and Clark this ‘quamash’ bulb which kept them alive when on the Weippe Prairie in Idaho. This was an important food for the Indians, but Lewis said it did his stomach little good.

When we look at large purple alliums it is hard to remember these grow from bulbs. The different varieties, from six inches tall to three feet or more bloom over a long season and help bridge the spring bloomers to the summer bloomers. They need sun and a well drained fertile soil.

Allium gigantium

Allium giganteum on Bridge of Flowers

The purple Globemaster allium always gets a lot of attention. The flower head has dense florets and can be a foot across on a three foot stem! Even though these alliums are large they should be planted in groups in order to make a real statement. Globemaster will bloom from late May into June. White Giant and A. christophii, also known as Stars of Persia, are of similar size but their blossoms consist of loosely arranged florets. A. christophii blooms in early summer. Its amethyst florets have a lovely metallic sheen on a two foot stem. White Giant blooms in late spring on a nearly four foot stem.

I have grown the unique A. siculum bugaricum with its numerous and graceful pendulous florets in shades of green, purple and white on 32 inch stems.

Petite Jeanine has airy and sunny yellow blossoms that bloom in early summer on 12 inch stems. Allim flavum has pendulous lemon yellow flowers on 10 inch stems. Allium oreophilum is only six inches tall but the loosely arranged pink florets work well, as do other small alliums, at the front of the border or in rock gardens.

Perhaps it is the tulip that can give us the widest range of color from icy white like the Clearwater early single tulip to the nearly black fringed Vincent van Gogh. In the past I rarely planted tulips because they are not dependable repeaters. However, in the limited  sunny (relatively speaking) and rich soil spot that is my tree strip garden I think a few tulips would brighten things up in May. I am willing to make a small investment.

Scarlet tulips

This spring blooming bulb is a brilliant, but unnamed tulip

For this experiment I want something bright and flashy like Flaming Parrot all red, yellow and white. Orca, a brilliant ruffled orange would really wake me up in early spring. Foxy Foxtrot with ruffled shades of apricot, yellow peach and orange is also tempting.

Bulbs give us the ability to enter spring with calm elegance or a brilliant splash. Our bulbs can surprise us all at once or they can amaze us with brilliance over a long season.

The options are endless and illustrated catalogs like Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, John Scheepers, Old House Gardens, Odyssey Bulbs and others will offer you a world of spring color.

Spring blooming tulips

Spring blooming tulips

Between the Rows  September 8, 2018

True Lilies, Martagon Lilies and How to Plant

Lilium "Casa Blanca" lilies

Lilium “Casa Blanca”

Lilies. There are all kinds of lilies: Lily of the valley, daylilies, water lilies, and sword lilies, but these are all fakes. True lilies belong to the very large Lilium family which includes more than 100 species. That means there are many colors, sizes and forms to consider for your garden.

Right now the florists and supermarkets are offering potted Easter lilies, but these cannot be planted in our gardens because they are too tender. However, among those 100 species are many lilies that can be happy in our Massachusetts climate.

The North American Lily Society says that Asiatic lilies are about the easiest to care for and the earliest to bloom. These lilies are hybrids of several other lily families. They come in many colors and forms, with upright or nodding blossoms, and no fragrance which makes them easier to enjoy indoors in a bouquet. Many find the lily fragrance overwhelming.

Over the years I have only grown a few lilies. The most spectacular lily I grew was the fragrant “Casa Blanca” with its large, brilliant white, slightly reflexed petals. This Oriental lily is a real show stopper.

Henryi lilies in the Heath garden

Henryi lilies in the Heath Garden

The Henryi lily is in a family by itself. In my Heath garden I grew sturdy white and gold Henryi lilies which were about five feet tall. The golden orange L. henryi had speckled reflexed petals, and White Henryi had a golden heart with a bouquet of blossoms on its stem. Needless to say they were chosen because my husband’s name is Henry, but there was another earlier Henry, Augustine Henry was a plant hunter who discovered this lily in Hubei province in China in 1888.

Lilium "Black Bearty"

Lilium “Black Beauty”

Right at the edge of our Heath patio I planted two tall lilies that resembled each other. I don’t think any of my photos show much difference between the two. “Black Beauty” an Orienpet hybrid, and Lilium speciosum rubrum both bloomed in speckled shades of wine-red with touches of white, and recurved petals. Both bloomed in August but “Black Beauty” had a light fragrance, while L. speciosum rubrum had a lovely rich fragrance. “Black Beauty” was the first Orienpet hybrid created by Leslie Woodriff who also created the “Stargazer” lilies.

I was unaware of scale so I was surprised when the flowers of the Martagon lilies I planted were very small. The plant grew to about four feet, but the delicate blossoms were very small with the graceful recurved petals thus giving it the name turk’s cap lily. Plant catalog photos do not necessarily give you complete information. It did all right in my garden, but it did not increase, probably because I failed to give it lime. Most lilies like an acid soil, but not martagons.

It used to be that gardeners were told it was best to plant lily bulbs in the fall, but that is no longer an imperative. Except for the martagons. Martagons should be planted in the fall, and their soil pH raised with ground limestone.

As I considered where I might plant a few lilies in my new garden I was caught up short because a review of planting instructions reminded me that lilies need good drainage. That was not a problem in Heath but I am not willing to doom any lily bulbs to a drowning death in Greenfield. No lilies for my garden.

When choosing a site for lilies remember that they need sun, but can tolerate a little shade. Martagon lilies are the most shade tolerant. The question is how to measure sun. Sun and shade shift and change all day in my garden, but I know which areas get six hours or more, which qualify as full sun, even if those are non-consecutive hours.

Martagone lilies

Martagon lilies with its small blossoms

Because lily bulbs will be waiting to start growing do plant them in spring as early as the soil is workable.

Lilies are big plants so while you are preparing the soil be sure to add some fertilizer. Some people just depend on a 10-10-10 general fertilizer. I prefer organic fertilizers. Nitrogen is especially important at the beginning of the season so it is good to find a fertilizer with an N-P-K that is something like 5-2-2. The soil should be fertilized when planting and again every spring.

Lily bulbs should be planted between four and six inches deep depending on the size of the bulb. While planting bulbs think ahead to the full grown plant which could be four to six feet tall, and could be holding up a whole bouquet of blossoms on a single stalk. This means staking is a good idea. While you might think that having sturdy garden stakes up all winter and spring is not very attractive, there is a remedy.  As you plant your bulb place a small stake near the bulb and then fill in. Water well so soil sets in all around the bulb with no air pockets.

The little stake can be removed in the spring and a sturdy stake slid in to replace it.

Make sure the bulbs are 12 inches apart. If they are large bulbs, make it 18 inches apart.

Finally mark/label the planting site so that you will not forget where you have a new planting. I confess I have tramped across planted areas in the spring because I forgot they were planted, and even pulled up early shoots because I thought they were weeds.

Are there any lilies in your future?

Between the Rows    March 31, 2018

Forcing Spring Bulbs


Mt Holyoke College Spring Bulb show

Mt Holyoke College Spring Bulb show

Are you thinking about forcing spring bulbs? Most of us will never have a March forced bulb display the way Smith and Mount Holyoke colleges do, but visits to these heartening spring flower shows do make the point that we can create an early spring in our own houses.

October is the month to prepare to force our favorite bulbs, daffodils, hyacinths, grape hyacinths, scillas, and amaryllis. The theory behind bulb forcing is that we have to fool the bulbs into thinking that winter has come, and then let them think that spring has begun. Most bulbs need twelve weeks of cold temperatures defined as between 40 to 50 degrees. These temperatures might be found in basements, or the refrigerator.

These forced tulips that did not have a sufficient cooling period

These forced tulips that did not have a sufficient cooling period

Potting up bulbs for forcing begins with clean pots of an appropriate size and good potting soil. Tulips can be planted three to a pot with a five inch diameter. Hyacinths and daffodils can be planted three to a pot with a seven inch diameter. The bulbs should be planted so that the tip of the bulb is exposed.

Little bulbs like crocus, grape hyacinths and scillas can be planted several to a single pot, depending on pot size and they should be covered with an inch of potting soil. Make sure you have allowed room in the pot for watering. Newly planted bulbs should be well watered after planting, but no more watering is needed while the bulbs enjoy their dormancy in a cool dark place.

Because each type of bulb has a different bloom period each pot should only contain one type of bulb. Because of the varying needs of bulbs, those in charge of the college greenhouses have a strict schedule for managing temperatures in order to have the bulbs come into bloom on the appointed dates of the shows. If you attend those shows you will also notice that the greenhouses are kept very cool throughout the run of the show to encourage as long a period of good bloom as possible.

When the long initial period of cooling is finished, and green shoots begin to appear, the pots of bulbs can be brought out into warmer and brighter rooms. If possible, put them in a fairly cool room, and never put them in direct sunlight. First the foliage will develop, then the buds appear and soon the flowers. Many of us keep our house cooler at night to save on heating bills; cool nights are very good for our growing bulbs. Some of us may have rooms that are cooler for any number of reasons and they also provide a happy location for the bulbs at night. Cool temperatures will help to prolong the bloom period.

Forced paper white narcissus

Forced paper white narcissus

Hyacinths and paper white narcissus can be forced in water as well as in soil. Hyacinths need a cooling period of only about eight weeks, but paper whites do not need any.  My own refrigerator doesn’t have room for pots of bulbs, but even I could put a some bulbs in a paper bag with a few ventilation holes in it and store them in the refrigerator. The caveat is that apples in the refrigerator will ripen the bulbs prematurely so a choice has to be made between the bulbs and the fruit.

Hyacinths look so pretty standing alone that hyacinth glasses have been invented. These glasses hold the bulb so that the bottom of the bulb can touch water and induce the growth of roots, and then the foliage and flower. Many garden centers sell these special glasses, and even pre-cooled bulbs so that you can start your forcing immediately.

Several paper white narcissus can be set on a bed of two or three inches of pebbles in a shallow pot. Cover the bulbs with just enough of the pebbles to hold them firmly in place. Then add only enough water to touch the bottom of the bulbs. You will have to keep watering as the bulbs grow. The rate and strength of growth will depend on temperature, which ideally should not be more than 70 degrees.

One year I grew paper whites in a four inch square glass vase. The vase allowed me to see the level of water, and it also provided support for the flower stems which can get floppy.

Right now garden centers are filled with boxes of potted amaryllis. These glamorous flowers come on the market intended to bloom during the December holiday season. They do not need cooling in basements or refrigerators.

Amaryllis is usually sold with its own pot with instructions to leave half of the bulb exposed. The pot only allows for about half an inch of space all around the bulb.

In the past I have treated amaryllis as an annual and never tried to bring it into a second season of bloom. However, last year when I was in a constant state of disorganization as we sold one house and moved into another house, the three pots of amaryllis got caught up in the waves of moving our stuff to Greenfield. This spring the pots with dry amaryllis bulbs surfaced. I watered them but had no expectations. Amazingly, two of the three bulbs sent up shoots. I set them outside and continued to give them very little attention. One of them even sent up a flower stem – which broke off when a squirrel was frolicking in the area and knocked the plant over.

Now I will experiment by cutting back the foliage and putting the potted bulbs in the basement for a nap. Will they wake up and begin a new life in 2017? We’ll see.

Between the Rows  October 8, 2016

Spring is Crocus Season



These crocus were just beginning to bloom when my husband and I were visiting our across-the-street neighbors. This is our neighbors first spring in the house and the patch of crocus was a lovely spring surprise.

crocus tommasinianus

Crocus tommasinianus

I think these crocus are tommasinianus, fondly known as ‘tommies.’ They are known for spreading generously because they propagate by seed and offset.

Purple crocus

Purple crocus

These purple crocus are growing in  the garden of my down-the-street neighbor. She has quite a stand. Both neighborns have inspired me.

Purple crocus

Purple crocus

Next fall you will find me planting crocus under the Japanese lilac tree next to the sidewalk.  These spring bulbs are so cheering, even on a day  when the skies are gray. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs is just one nursery that offers crocus in shades of white, gold,  and purple.

Smith College Bulb Show

Smith College Bulb Show

Smith College Bulb Show

The theme of this year’s Smith College  Bulb Show is The Evil Garden of Edward Gorey. There is more black and white in this show than usual, but the tongue-in-cheek tableaux next to various Gorey drawings, a dark but humorous look  at the garden.

Smith College Bulb Show

Smith College Bulb Show

The photo above is a reference to a Gorey drawing Great Uncle Franz being strangled by a snake.

Smith College Bulb Show

Smith College Bulb Show

But I ask you – how evil could any garden be  with all that fragrant pink?  I’m sure the Gorey House is equally charming.

The exhibit is open daily from 10 am to 4 pm EXCEPT Friday, Saturday and Sunday when it is open until 8 pm. A donation of $5 is suggested.

While there don’t forget to look at the new Permanent Exhibit – Plant Life Through the Ages: A Mural of Plant Evolution painted by Richard Evans.

Rise of Land Flora

Panel 3 – Rise of Land Flora




Scent of Spring at Mt Holyoke College Flower Show

Mt Holyoke Flower Show

Mt Holyoke College Flower Show

The Mt Holyoke College Flower Show, with its theme The Emerald Isle includes the fragrant spring flowers that we can enjoy in our own New England spring. The fresh fragrance that meets you as you enter the Flower Show greenhouse is the perfume of spring.  I wonder why more of us, including me, don’t think how easy it would be to enjoy that scent in our own houses. A few pots of hyacinths, and may a couple of a particularly fragrant daffodils like Cheerfulness would do the trick!  Maybe next year?  Forcing a few bulbs takes very little money or effort.

The Mt Holyoke Flower Show at the Talcott Greenhouse will run until March 20 from  10 am to 4 pm daily. There is no charge, but donations are always welcome.

Summer Blooming Bulbs and Tubers



I missed my chance to plant spring blooming bulbs in the fall, but I am ready for those summer blooming bulbs.

Last spring my husband and I travelled down to Texas to be present when our grandson Anthony was presented with his Boy Scout Eagle Award. There was an impressive ceremony and we were so proud of this whole Eagle family who had jointly done so much for the community.

Besides our family celebration, daughter Kate and I went to a wonderful nursery, the EnchantedForest, and bought some new plants including a caladium that Kate wanted to plant in a handsome blue pot she had just acquired. Caladiums are wonderful plants known for their large dramatic foliage. That foliage can be green and white like Aaron with neat white centers or White Cap which has a more free form pattern of white, or Moonlight which is almost all white. There are green and red cultivars like Scarlet Flame which is mostly scarlet, or Red Flash which has a lighter red with dark red veins and scattered pink and white flecks. There are also paler white and pink caladiums like Summer Pink and Summer Splash that have just a bit of green edging. All of them will light up the shade garden.

There are two main types of caladiums, fancy leaved and strap leaved. Fancy leaved caladiums have large heart shaped leaves on long petioles that can be up to 30 inches wide. Strap leaved caladiums have narrower, thicker leaves with shorter petioles making them more compact growers, like Rosalie with its red leaf and veins, and green margins.

Caladiums are native to South and Central America. The tender tubers are not hardy in our area, but they can be overwintered in a basement if the temperature will remain over 50 degrees. Tubers can be ordered in the spring and started in pots indoors about four weeks before setting out. They will not be happy and will rot in soil that is cooler than 70 degrees. Do you have a soil thermometer in your trug?  It’s time to think about that because soil temperatures are very important in deciding when some plants can be set out.

Caladiums need partial or high dappled shade, and a moist but well drained soil. The phrase ‘moist but well-drained soil’ always seems like an oxymoron to me, but the point is that the soil should never be waterlogged. Dig a generous helping of compost into the bed before planting, adding a little lime to keep the pH between 6 and 6.5. The tubers should be planted about two inches deep and then given a two or three inch layer of mulch. They must be kept moist, and they should get a helping of a balanced 8-8-8 or 6-6-6 fertilizer every six weeks or so.



Caladiums are all about gorgeous foliage. Crocosmias, native to southern Africa, are all about tall dramatic red flowers in mid to late summer. They make a real statement on the Bridge of Flowers and visitors always comment on the tall graceful wands of flame.  I used to think that crocosmia were too tender for our area, but with the change in the weather over the last few years, and I don’t mean this very unusual winter, I think there is a good chance of keeping them from year to year. I have talked to several gardeners who already say they cut the plant down in the fall, cover them with a deep layer of mulch to get them safely through winter.

Crocosmia needs full sun in well drained soil. The corms should be planted two to four inches deep and six to eight inches apart by mid April. It is best to plant five to ten corms per square foot. They will multiply and should be divided every two or three years. A healthy clump of crocosmia with sword shaped foliage will add texture and form to the garden even when it is not in bloom.

I have never tried to grow kniphofia (nee-FOF-ee-a), better known as red hot poker, because I thought it was too tender for Heath. However, they are such stunning exotic looking plants that I hope to give them a try in a carefully chosen spot in my new garden. Kniphofia  have a reputation for being easy to grow, needing only lots of sun and well-drained rich soil.

Kniphofia grows from rhizomes that must be planted two to three inches deep. Any deeper and it may not grow well. It will tolerate some drought, but dependable watering will bring those two to four foot spikes into strong brilliant red/orange/yellow bloom. If planting more than one at a time leave 18 to 24 inches between plants because they will achieve substantial size.

A final brilliant tuber that I have already ordered is the Gloriosa superba Rothschildiana, sometimes called the climbing lily. This lily with its sharply recurved blossoms in shades of yellow and red, depending on the soil, has tendrils that can climb up to six feet on arbors or trellises. I will grow it in a pot, with a trellis, so that I can be sure of keeping it out of harm’s way this summer while we have some exterior work done on our new house.

You may find these plants in garden centers in the spring, but you can also find them at American Meadows, 223 Avenue D Suite 30, Williston, VT05495; or Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, 7900 Daffodil Lane, Gloucester, VA23061.


I’ll give my talk at the Shelburne Grange on The Making of a New Garden on Wednesday, February 17 at Fellowship Hall, 17 Little Mohawk Rd, Shelburne at 7 p.m. The public is invited and I’ll be selling my book The Roses at the End of the Road.

Between the Rows   February 6, 2016


Little Bulbs – Early Spring Bloomers

Little Bulbs - Crocus and Glory of the Snow

Little Bulbs – Crocus and Glory of the Snow

The Little Bubs are the earliest to bloom.  This collection is crocus and Glory-of-the-Snow, otherwise know as Chionodoxa will be blooming on the Bridge of Flowers any minute.  I have Glory-of-the-Snow down by the vegetable garden, still covered by snow. Crocus and Chionodoxa  and deer and rodent resistant, and both will increase over time.



Most of my snowdrops are also still under the snow, but temperatures got to 50 degrees today, so I think they will emerge from their white blanket very soon. I got smart a couple of years ago and put a few snowdrop bulbs in the Herb Border which warms early, and lets the snowdrops claim the crown for first bloomers in my garden. I love these Little Bulbs, including scillas and grape hyacinths, because they are no trouble, increase in numbers every year and bloom early in great patches – once they get going.  Mine are planted in the lawn and I try to get the grass mowed very short when we go into winter, to let them shine more easily.

All the small bulbs should be planted in the fall. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs have a multitude of spring and summer blooming bulbs. Still

Smith College Bulb Show a la Giverny

Smith College Bulb Show

Smith College Bulb Show – Giverny Theme

The theme of  the Smith College Bulb Show is Giverny, Monet’s famous French garden. Today I was satisfied to be  in the Lyman Plant House in Northampton and dream of Giverny.

Smith College Bulb Show

Smith College Bulb Show

A better close up of Giverny colors.

Smith College Bulb Show

Smith College Bulb Show

A different view of Room One.

Smith College Bulb Show

Smith College Bulb Show

An overview of Room Two.  Note the water lily pillars and backdrops.  The scent of spring in every room.


The Smith College Bulb Show at Lyman Plant House will continue daily, from 10- 4 pm through Sunday, March 22.  The Spring Flower Show at Talcott Greenhouse at Mount Holyoke College will also run through Sunday, March 22. Hours are 10 – 4 pm daily.

Shades of White for Winter, Spring and Summer

View from the Bedroom Window

View from the Bedroom Window March 4, 2015

There are many shades of white in this world. Snow white is what I have been looking at for three frigid months now, but I dream of shades of white for spring and summer.



First come the snowdrops – as white as snow. A very welcome white.

Rhododendron 'Boule de neige'

Rhodendron ‘Boule de Neige’

Rhododendrons bloom towards the end of May, but ‘Boule de Neige’  (Snowball) has a memory of the white winter. Somehow this pristine white seems prettier than the snow.

Casa Blanca lilies

Casa Blanca lilies

High summer and the lilies are blooming. Blanca, blanca, blanca. White, white, white.

Mme Plantier rose

Mme Plantier rose

But perhaps my favorite whites are rose whites – Madame Plantier, rosa semi-plena, and Mount Blanc,

For more (almost) wordlessness this Wednesday, click here.