A Taste of Spring

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Remember these?

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Here they are, in their full glory.

(Please disregard the background. It’s a Civil War artifact that belongs to the Spoiler. It was his family’s).

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And here are the next two, coming along right behind them. Spring bulbs in the dead of winter require a little planning. These were started Thanksgiving weekend (the last weekend of November for my non-United States readers).

Once I saw the above 2 coming along so nicely (the first photo), I started 2 more–roughly the last weekend in December as I recall. And as soon as these two bloomers finish up, I will start 2 more (I only have 6 forcing vases, so I kind of stagger the starting 2 at a time).

But this is the perfect time for all of these to start blooming. It’s when it’s the coldest here and when we are likely to have the most snow. It’s a full month before any of the flower shows start. It doesn’t get any better than this for me.

Oh, and did I mention hyacinths are fragrant? Ah, spring!

I’ve Been Had!

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Remember this amaryllis photo from Monday? Good. Notice it, and then I will go on to discuss the topic of this post.

I give a very popular lecture called “Trade Secrets: A Gardener’s Guide to Getting the Best Plants. ” In the lecture, I basically talk about 3 things–how plants are developed and marketed; why new and crazy cultivars aren’t necessarily always the best plants for the garden (particularly in the first year or two of release); and what to look for when selecting plants at the garden center.

One of my pieces of advice on that third topic is never–unless you need a plant in immediate bloom for a party or some event–buy a plant in full bloom.

I do suggest that you look for a hint of color so that you can be sure you’re getting the proper color you want because tags do get shuffled about, particularly in the craziness of spring buying.

But then there’s THIS problem:bulbs. This year I decided that I would buy only 1 amaryllis–a white one.

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As you can see from the flower, this isn’t white amaryllis. At best, if I am lucky, it will be red and white. Sigh. Right now, it seems to be coral and white. This isn’t a cultivar that I am familiar with. Perhaps somehow I got a new cross.

This isn’t the first bulb issue I have ever had in my life, and it’s even more disappointing when you plant the bulbs in the fall and wait 6-8 months, only to have something completely different come up in the spring.

Yes, in the grand scheme of things, this is no problem at all. All flowers are beautiful. And of course there are much bigger things to worry about in the country and the world.

So I will enjoy my amaryllis surprise and try for white again next year.

Winter Bulbs

Technically this post isn’t about true winter bulbs, which in my climate would be things like winter aconite and snowdrops. Rather, it’s about the indoor bulbs, both tender and hardy, that I force into bloom to get me through winter!

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You already saw these on New Year’s. These are paperwhite narcissus, often just called paperwhites. They are ridiculously easy to force:set the bulbs on some rocks or gravel and wait 4-6 weeks depending on your house temperature.

The thing about paperwhites is that they are very fragrant. You like them or you don’t. So if you have not had them before, don’t buy dozens until you know if you like the scent.

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The next typical indoor winter bulb is the amaryllis. These are often sold loose, or as kits, with soil, pots and bulbs together. I have even seen them sold just as a bulb with a waxy coating: no soil or pot needed. For me, who keeps hers from year to year, that’s not sustainable, because of course you can’t do that with the coated bulb.

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Finally here are some less traditional choices. In my case, these are hyacinth. I find they are really the only ones worth forcing all winter. I started these around Thanksgiving. And I have more coming behind them so that I should have hyacinths for the rest of the winter.

Why do I say these are the only ones worth forcing? Personal preference is part of it. But once they bloom, there is often a second bud as well so there’s an exceptional bloom time. And they’re fragrant. So it’s all good.

All of that adds up to a win for me!

Autumn Crocus?

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These bulbs, my photo from Wednesday, are a literal stopper every year. Runners stop, walkers stop, and this year, because of the weediness of the garden, I find that dogs are stopping and making use of the bulbs too. It doesn’t seem to be harming them.

The bulbs are commonly known as “autumn crocus” but there are actual crocus that come up in autumn so this is a case where common names can get very confusing.

These bulbs are colchicums. And unlike most other bulbs that I have planted in my heavy wet clay, these have thrived. They are not bothered by deer (or dogs, apparently), they are not bothered by town snowplows that pile snow on this garden all winter (along with whatever chemicals our town currently uses to treat the roads–I think it’s currently magnesium chloride) and they are not bothered by weeds that attempt to choke them out as this photo shows.

The only one that has not done well for me is a lovely double variety called ‘Waterlily.’ I planted it and it didn’t even survive the first year. Other than that, all the species I have planted have survived and come back.

One thing to note: as with all bulbs, you will have to deal with bulb foliage. This foliage comes up in the spring and lingers into June. I don’t particularly care because I have the roses here.

If this is something you care about, plant these bulbs were the foliage won’t bother you–in other words, where spring plants will distract from the foliage.

Out of Season

Here are just a few of the amaryllis currently blooming at my house. I am sure that our visitors get quite a shock when they drive up and see this. The row of pots with these in them are the first thing you see as you pull up my driveway.

Here are more of them. Obviously these are amaryllis that I have saved from prior years and just pulled out of my basement in May.

What I will do with all of these when they finish blooming is repot them to give them fresh soil. Then I will leave them just where they are, under my dogwood, getting morning sun.

At Labor Day (first Monday in September for my non-US readers) I turn the pots on their sides so that they can begin to dry out. If, for some reason that doesn’t do it, I will bring the pots into my garage for a week or so until the soil dries. Then I carry them back down to the basement–yes, even if they still have foliage–until one of 2 things happens.

Occasionally one of the amaryllis will begin sending up a flower stalk early. In that case, I bring it up into my house and begin watering it.

But if not, I will remove dead foliage as needed and they will remain there until next May, most likely, when they will come back outside and begin flowering all over again.

Bee Aware

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You may remember this clump of bulbs from a week or so ago. I love my “minor” bulbs as they are called (to distinguish them from the tulips, daffodils and hyacinths–which I also love but which aren’t nearly so reliable for me).

These lovely ones are called “Glory of the Snow”. Their botanical name is chionodoxa. They also come in pink and white but I love the blues in the garden.

On a very busy evening, I was rushing out of the house to a choir concert but I happened to notice that there were bees all over this clump of flowers. So the next day when I had more time, I sat down on the walkway to try to figure out what was happening.

I was delighted to see the same bees building nests in the ground right there all around this clump of bulbs.

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If you look just past the green cord in the photo, you can see the excavation where the bee has dug its tunnel. There were at least 6 or 8 of these tunnels all around the clump of bulbs.

I guess that I won’t be planting here this year.