APLD CT DESIGNER FORUM -- September/October 2012

Spring Flowering Bulbs

It's time to start planning and planting for a colorful garden next spring. Admittedly, it can be hard to get excited about planting mass quantities of anything after months of watering, weeding, deadheading and pruning, but a little effort now will be rewarded for years to come.

Spring flowering bulbs should be planted after the ground cools but before it freezes. Rather than looking at the calendar for an exact date, your garden will give you a few cues that it's time to plant your bulbs. When there are more leaves on your lawn than in your trees, you see the squirrels working double-time to bury acorns or when you suddenly realize the crickets have stopped singing ... it's time to start planting your spring flowering bulbs.

Most bulbs require full sun and well-draining soil. Spring bulbs flower before most trees and shrubs leaf out, so don't be afraid to use bulbs in areas that will eventually be partially shaded. Typically, spring flowering bulbs should be planted two or three times as deep as the bulb is tall.

If you're planting in a small area, using bulbs of one color will have a greater impact and make the space feel larger than using bulbs with a variety of different colored flowers. In large areas, use several different colors that complement each other. When in doubt, separate strong colors with whites or pale yellows.

And remember to plant in multiples. Large bulbs, such as daffodils or tulips, should be planted in groups of at least a dozen. Smaller bulbs should be planted in much larger groups.

Here are two spring flowering bulbs that will make a colorful statement in your garden next spring.

Camassia

One of the most unique bulbs I have ever come across is Camassia . Native to the northwestern United States, and reportedly once an important food crop for Native Americans, this is one spring flowering bulb that doesn't mind a bit of moisture -- unlike most other bulbs.

Often called a wild hyacinth, Camassia sports upright spikes of star-shaped flowers with six petals that open from the bottom up. I'm particularly fond of C. quamash 'Blue Melody' which stands 15 inches tall and has spectacular dark blue flowers and yellow-edged foliage. They bloom in May or June and, best of all, deer and rodents don't like them!

'Blue Melody' and many other varieties of Camassia are available from Colorblends in Bridgeport.

Mary Ellen Pirozzoli is the principal designer of Verdesign LLC, in Ridgefield.

Narcissus

A favorite spring bulb of many gardeners, cheerful daffodils, also known as jonquils, are classified botanically in the genus Narcissus. In Greek mythology, Narcissus was a proud hunter who thought much of his appearance. So much so, in fact, that when tricked by Nemesis to look at his own image in a pool of water, Narcissus could not turn away and eventually died staring at his reflection. It's a perfect name for this beautiful flower.

If your idea of a daffodil is the simple, plain old yellow ones your grandmother used to grow, then you're in for a pleasant surprise. The blossoms can be single, double or miniature, and come in shades of white, yellow, pink and orange. With a little planning, you can have daffodils gracing your garden for months.

There are more than 50 species of Narcissus . They're great for naturalizing the woodland garden, excellent for pushing early blooms in pots, and providing a splash of color when used en masse , like these cheery yellow Trumpet Daffodils (pictured).

They vary in bloom time from early spring to late spring, are cold hardy, long lived, and are not bothered by deer, voles and other garden pests. If you're having trouble picking the right daffodil for your garden, you can't go wrong with one of the mixed collections offered by many mail order sources, including White Flower Farm in Litchfield.

And remember, if you plant them near a pool of water; keep a watchful eye, just in case.

Scott Hokunson is a garden writer, speaker and the principal of Blue Heron Landscape Design, LLC, in Granby. He is also the co-host of "The Ultimate Backyard Makeover" on WTIC Fox61 in Hartford.