Saturday, November 29, 2008

Beltsville Library: spring bulb planting

I planted bulbs at the Library this weekend: 90 blue Chinodoxa, 32 blue Hyacinths, 75 orange and yellow Darwin Tulips 'Banja Luka', 45 dwarf Narcissus 'Tete a tete', and 24 Alliums 'Purple Sensation'. All are good cultivars, none especially rare or exciting. I also planted two cultivars of Colchicum in late summer, three red Spider-lilies (Lycoris radiata), and a couple of varieties of Asiatic Lilies at the same time.

I planted the Chinodoxa in a drift, the Alliums as individuals 8" apart in three groups, and the others in clumps of 6-15. All of these, excepting the Tulips and possibly the Alliums, are long lasting bulbs that will increase in number every year. Clumps of brilliantly colored flowering bulbs are not only beautiful, but are repetetive design element that help hold the garden together.

When you plant bulbs, don't forget about their foliage! Naked-ladies are wonderful when they flower in late summer on leafless stems, and the foliage is a welcome green addition to the garden in the winter, but when it turns into brown mush as the rest of the spring garden is peaking....well, you want them where you can ignore them. Grape Hyacinth also has foliage that can distract from the plan of a garden. Yes the bulbs flower in the spring, but the foliage lasts a long time and comes up again in late summer becoming a significant visual element wherever these bulbs are planted. Daffodils foliage doesn't die gracefully. It isn't true that you have to leave it until it turns completely yellow; you can safely remove it when its lost half of its color....still that leaves a lot of time for it to look miserable while the plants around it are beautiful. I find that in highly visible areas it works to plant narcissus in clumps and limit the number of clumps. If you take 36 bulbs and space them individually,, every place you planted a bulb there will be dying foliage next spring and every subsequent year there will be more and more. Eventually a large bed can be pretty horrible looking for a good part of the spring. If you plant them in three groups of 12 or four groups of works better. Mass planting of daffodils are beautiful, but are better in areas that can be ignored when the flowers are done.

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