Catalogs for fall-planted bulbs arrive in the spring giving us the opportunity to be the organized gardeners we swear we will be. As spring bulbs begin to bloom, this is the perfect time to make note of the ones we like and have performed well, and to make lists for additions to the garden in the fall. I know that we often order bulbs in a rush, and we impulsively pick the ones that are just too wonderful to pass up. While trying to remember the ones we liked so much in the spring, we wish we had made that list.
We buy bulbs thinking they should come up and multiply every year and are often disappointed when they do not. What did I do wrong? Where is that great double pink tulip that was there last spring? And what are these puny daffodil leaves with no flowers and these two large tulip leaves with no flower? They are the remains of the bulbs that you planted that do not rebloom and are just fading away.
A lot of these disappointments can be avoided by carefully reading a good bulb catalogue because all bulbs do not “perenialize.” I recommend Bret and Becky’s Bulbs. They have a huge number of varieties, familiar and unusual, and a wealth of information and enticing photographs. Don’t get lost in the photographs, however, the learning comes from reading all of the descriptions and other information.
Look for the words “repeat bloomer” or “perenializer” or “perenializes.” Usually, the fancier the flower, the less it reblooms. Years of hybridizing has weakened the potential for repeat blooms. No more are those tulips of my childhood that are were there year after year, with a fragrance that beckons from yards away.
The word “perennial” to a bulb company means, in some cases “for a few years.” I do have daffodils in my garden that were planted years ago and are now huge clumps…oh that I had made one of those lists with their names!
Repeat blooming is also related to soil, sun and watering conditions so plant carefully. In several clients’ gardens where I have deliberately planted daffodils chosen as perennials, after six years, they are doing well.
Darwin hybrid tulips, Kaufmanniana and some heirloom varieties, which are listed as the most reliable perennials have lasted for only a few years for me.
Several bulbs do repeat and grow larger clumps each year. Camassia, an indigenous bulb used for food by Native Americans, are too rarely used. Tiny, gloriously blue, twinkling chionodoxa are great rebloomers and clump formers, as are crocus. (If you have squirrels, plant the tommasinias variety, as they will dig up and eat the others. Squirrels replant one or two of mine in the middle of the lawn or driveway each year!) Muscari, of which there are more varieties than most of us know, do the same. A pale blue muscari with the chartreus lysmahcia groundcover is breath-taking and, to me, says “spring” like no other combination. Bellavalia pyantha is a blue-black muscari look alike and a very interesting addition tucked into other bulb plantings.
I have had success with hyacinth non-scripta English Bluebells and the huge alliums. Be sure to try allium schubertii for a real spring surprise. And nectaroscordum. If you have not made one of those lists, you will really wonder what you’ve planted.
For the bulb lovers, among us, a base planting of perennial daffodils, some supposed perennial tulips (knowing they will not be there forever) is a good idea. Daffodils are more reliable than tulips. (Gardeners often plant tulips as annuals, removing them each spring.) With this done, and THE LIST made, impulse buying is appropriate with the understanding that some other amazing ones will be needed next year!
Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener, landscaper and consultant. For gardening discussion you can call her at 631-434-5067. jeanellemyersfinegardening.com