Tuesday, September 20, 2011

An Adventure in Bulbs

One of my favorite garden writers is Louise Beebe Wilder because of thoughts like the one below. She was speaking about Fritillarias and how they can be difficult to grow:

I have at times thought that like some persons, they do not, themselves, know what they want. Just plain cussed, as our farmer friends would say.

I own a copy of Adventures with Hardy Bulbs, from which this quote comes from. It was written in 1936 by Mrs. Wilder, and illustrated by her husband Walter. Today I wanted to share a little bit from her book about naturalizing bulbs, plus a few of my own thoughts.

"...to naturalize bulbs means to merely plant them in an informal and unstudied manner in contradistinction to their use in formal beds."

"it means to broadcast them on a generous scale in woods, in meadows, by pond and streamside, along winding paths, on rough banks or about the outskirts of the garden, to suggest, as best we may, Nature's handicraft, not man's."

These bulbs tend to naturalize well: galanthus, scillas, crocuses, muscari, daffodils, most tulips, alliums, and anemones. One method to use for naturalizing is to pick a location then simply toss the bulbs out by the handful, starting with one to two dozen bulbs. Grab the kids and dig under where each bulb landed. Each bulb will have it's own depth listed on the package, but it's usually at least 2-3 times the length of the bulb itself. Don't worry about spacing. The whole point is to make the planting look "natural". This is what Mrs. Wilder has to say:

"...we must clear our minds of the idea of boundaries, forget the girdle of the garden hedge, get right away from the memory of straight lines or of beds."

One word of warning: you will NOT be able to mow the area until the foliage has browned after they bloom. This could take a month, sometimes longer, so bear this in mind when choosing a location. Consider the edge of a wooded area, or out of the way places that can be enjoyed when the blooms are out, but can be left alone for awhile afterwards.

The last thing to consider is the combination of bulbs you will use for naturalization. Choose bulbs that will compliment each other when it comes to color and size. Small daffodil varieties will mix well with other short bulbs, but will be overwhelmed if sharing a space with a tall, larger variety of bulbs. Here is one last bit of advice from Mrs. Wilder:

"It is losing a great opportunity not to give a floor of bulbous plants to such flowering trees and shrubs as Dogwoods, Almonds, Forsythias, Crab-Apples, Japanese and orchard Cherries, Witch Hazels, Magnolias, Peaches, Laburnums, Lilacs, Mock Oranges, Thorns and Azaleas. The shade of most of these is not too heavy for even the sun lovers to survive."

If you've never attempted to naturalize before, consider starting with a small out of the way area using inexpensive varieties of bulbs this fall. If it goes well, a larger area can naturalized the next year. Plan ahead, be creative and have fun!

On OFL we have a list of bulbs to plant for early spring bloom:


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