It’s Fall Bulb Planting Season!

Having a new garden to work with has driven my flowering bulb frenzy to a whole new level. At last count I have purchased 17 packages of bulbs and the planting season has only begun. There are lots of tantalizing bulb sales to happen upon yet, and plenty of time left in which to find space (somewhere) for “just one more.”

When we moved here late last fall, we made a last-minute $88 impulse bulb purchase even though we did not yet have a dug up patch of earth, or an inkling as to what we would be doing with the yard come spring. Propelled by the anticipation of springtime blooms, we haphazardly dug up some grass close to the house (where we would see them from the back window) and managed to get them into the soil the day before it snowed.

Despite their rocky start, the bulbs did bloom, and while we enjoyed seeing them, the overall look of a bunch of random bulbs coming up willy-nilly in an empty plot of earth was, for lack of a better term, some cheap-ass Gong Show shit.

Now, as we head into our first full fall with this garden, I can’t say that next spring is going to be much better. The garden looks lush and full and has grown into something more than I expected it to in five short months, but the entire east side is just one, long, slightly chaotic, landing strip. You know, the cottage garden look.

Total mayhem.

This first year was about digging the earth and building raised beds just in time to get the food plants going. When it came time to plant, the goal was to just get everything in the ground and worry about it later. I’d love to devote some time this fall to creating more structure by breaking the strip into smaller areas with narrow pathways in between that will make it easier to move among the plants next year. Unfortunately, I can’t do much until the annuals have done their thing. I hope to start doing some bulb planting this weekend, so it looks like chances are great that when the thaw rolls around next year, we will have flowers coming up in the middle of paths, and another spring of random colour littering the landscape.

Oh well. So I won’t win any garden design awards or wow the masses with cleverly plotted plant pairings. After a long, grey winter, a single bloom bursting up through thawing soil is such a thrilling, life-affirming experience, it hardly matters where that flower comes up or how harmonious the plantings are surrounding it. I’m just thankful to see any sign of life at all. Surely the list below added to last year’s plantings and the bulbs I have received from friends since will be a joyful sight regardless.

Tulipa humilis ‘Lilliput’ in my garden. I planted these fall 2010 and they came up in May 2011.

The Fall 2011 Bulb Purchases So Far:

  • Allium caeruleum: I have an allium problem. Must grow every allium, ever. Thankfully they are such diverse and forgiving plants. Don’t forget to plant lots of the most important allium: GARLIC!
  • Allium schubertii: This one looks like a gigantic sparkler! So fun!
  • Allium moly luteum (aka Golden Garlic): A tiny allium with pretty yellow flowers, and it is edible no less.
  • Nectaroscordum x siculum: Looks like an allium and used to be considered one. It has a really cool looking flowerhead. I plan to add these five bulbs to an area that I’ve designated as a dry bed.
  • Crocus minimus: I’ve become terribly picky about crocus so it was worth it to spend a few dollars more on a wilder type that i really love. These diminutive flowers should be some of the first to come up in the very early spring.
  • Crocus ‘Yalta’: Light on the outside with a dark violet on the inside, this is a stunning flower.
  • Crocus sativus: This is an autumn blooming variety that is famously used as a cooking spice. I have been rather unsuccessfully growing these at my community garden plot for the last few years. It is becoming increasingly shady and they don’t hold up well there. I am determined though, and decided to buy new, healthy bulbs to try here where the sun is bright and I can closely monitor their progress.
  • Colchicum ‘The Giant’: Another autumn bloomer and one that I have been growing at my community garden for years, this time with success. Still, I figured another couldn’t hurt. It’s a really fun plant and worth growing even if you don’t have garden space as it will bloom outside of soil, too.

Some seeds I ordered from the D. Landreth Seed Company arrived in the mail today along with their beautifully illustrated bulb catalogue. As you may have heard, Landreth Seed, America’s Oldest Seed House, is in serious trouble and could go under before the month is out. They have a very nice selection of hard-neck garlic varieties by-the-way.

  • Iris ‘Katharine Hodgkin’: An iris with a really soft and ethereal look.
  • Daffodil ‘Geranium’: We planted several daffs last year, and while I could go nuts, I decided not to go too nuts. Davin picked this one. It has a very small and shallow orange cup/throat and I hear it has a nice fragrance so that’s a bonus.
  • Miniature Daffodil ‘Jet Fire’: I have a special spot in my heart for the diminutive varieities. These are cute.
  • Tulipa ‘Orange Breeze’: I generally don’t go for the larger, hybrid tulip varieties, but it’s nice to have a few for cut flowers and I love orange, even though I’m at a loss as to where I will put these.
  • Tulipa ‘Canadian Liberator’: Your typical red tulip. I didn’t buy these. They came as a sample in the mail.
  • Fosteriana Tulip ‘Purissima’: I don’t remember selecting these, but it must have had something to do with their whiteness. I love the way spring sunlight shines through white petals. These are very elegant with a tinge of yellow.
  • Tulipa ‘Eyecatcher’: I really don’t know what I was thinking when I bought these. Chalk it up to early season bulb fever. These are a bit much and I worry that they will look sickly rather than striking, weird, or interesting even.
  • Tulipa bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’: This is more in line with the kid of tulips I typically go for: small, species varieties that naturalize (reproduce) easily.
  • Tulip praestans ‘Shogun’: Another small naturalizer, this time in orange. What can I say? I have an orange problem.

A bit crazy, right? We have a whole lot of planting ahead of us. Please send help.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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8 thoughts on “It’s Fall Bulb Planting Season!

  1. When I first wanted to grow something …anything, my grandma ( now 93) showed me her beautiful lush garden full of bulbs that multiplied every year……yes they were beautiful but I do have to agree with Gayla, They show up in places you forgot you planted in ….and they are kind of like a fire work show ” Here we are and there we go!”

  2. I need some Spring flowers in our garden. Last Spring it was quite sad that my little one ran around picking off the dead flower heads from last year. Your “problem:)” is my inspiration.
    Happy planting.

  3. I love seeing a few random crocus or daffs just pop up..not even remembering I planted them there….no rhyme or reason..just a spring perk:)

  4. “some cheap-ass Gong Show shit” made me snort with laughter, and shoot this morning’s coffee out my nose – thanks. I placed my biggest bulb order yet a few weeks ago when I was having a crap day and it proved the perfect remedy. Bulb catalogs are definitely, for me, the candy store of plant shopping.

  5. You’re growing saffron?? Wow, do share if you have success with that. I’m intent on trying that too. After all, the stuff is worth more than gold by weight :-)

  6. I ordered some Allium schubertii as well this year–can’t wait for them to come out next year! It is really easy to let a bulb order grow out of control a little. This happened to me too, and now they’ve arrived and the plans I had when I ordered them have changed already… they are sure to be popping up somewhere unexpected/less considered next year.

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