12 November 2010

Tulips and Narcissus and Alliums, oh my! More Burblings on Bulbs


With a long-awaited improvement in the weather, it's time to return to talking about plants instead of other matters. Not that the other matters aren't important, of course--just that with a name like Bloomingwriter, one would expect that most of the discussion here would be about plants.

This time we're looking at larger flowered spring bulbs, the ones that tend to make a big splash of colour: tulips, narcissus/daffodils, and alliums. There's still plenty of time to plant bulbs, and you can still order from some companies, although the best selection is already sold. If you bought your bulbs already and it hasn't been fit to plant, remember to store them in a cool dry place but away from ripening fruit, which can kill bulb flower embryos.

You'll notice quite a few white-flowered varieties in this post, for several reasons. One, despite the fact that these plants flower after winter is past, I actually relish the sight of pure white or white-mixed flowers against a backdrop of gradually greening landscape. The White Hood daffodils in the preceding photo are one of my favourites, and multiply like crazy year after year. Likewise, the poeticus narcissus (pheasants eye) in the second photo from the top is a late blooming favourite, highly fragrant and unusual to look at.


Additionally, the good people at the International Flower Bulb Centre provide garden writers with a box of bulbs every autumn, and for two years in a row we received a host of white-flowering bulbs, including the miniature, doubled Sir Winston Churchill daffodil.

This means that I can usually remember the name of the bulb, if it was planted in the last couple of years, because I've made notes and kept them all in one place. With some of the other bulb varieties, like this pinkishsalmon and yellow bicolour daffodil, I don't remember the names, sadly.If you do, please feel free to suggest in the comments!

When growers make reference to pink daffodils, this is what they mean; usually a white or soft yellow ring of petals surrounding a cup of pinkish, salmon, or pale rose. I THINK this is Pink Charm, but I've had it from years and it suffers from LostLabel (LOLA) syndrome. It's a beauty, freshly different from the standard yellows, yellow and white or yellow and orange options.

Daffodils and alliums share something in common: both are quite deer resistant, because either the bulbs are toxic (in the case of daffodils) or highly distasteful to eat (in the case of alliums). Both are an excellent alternative, along with the fritillaria we mentioned last time, if you are plagued with deer or other animal problems. This is one of my favourite alliums, 'Caeruleum', which means blue. And it certainly is blue. Many alliums will self seed and multiply over the years, and this one does, but never invasively.

For something amusing and unusual, look for 'Hair' allium. The green tendrils emerge first, and can be quite attractive especially if planted with something that provides a strong, large textured foliage as a backdrop.

Star of Persia (Allium Christophii) is amazing for its late blooming, round balls of starry flowers, which later become excellent seedheads for later season interest.

And now, the tulips. There are so many different species, divisions, and colours of tulips, we can't draw attention to them all here. But there are a couple of things to know. One, deer love them. Two, many tulips, to bring the best bloom, like this Apricot Parrot above and the Flame Parrot at the top of this post, need to be treated as annuals and planted yearly. The main exceptions are the Triumphs, the Darwins, the Fosterianas, and the species tulips.

Species tulips tend to be small, low growing, and less showy than their flamboyant cousins, making them ideal for front of border or in rock garden plantings. This is Tulipa turkestanica, which produces clusters of small, white flowered flowers with yellow centres. Species tulips will often colonize if they're happy, although they are slower to spread than other bulbs.


This is a happy spring mixture including some parrot tulips (with the ruffled, flounced petals) some pheasants eye narcissus, and in the centre, one viridiflora tulip, possibly Deirdre, which is a green on green variety.

These are called lily-flowered tulips, easily identifiable with their vaselike shape. This variety is 'Marilyn', planted in honour of my late mother in law.

The slowly opening 'White Parrot' is a later blooming variety that looks something like a white peony as it opens.

The insides of tulips are often gorgeous, as you can see with Tulipa hageri 'Little Beauty'. This darling grows only 4-6 inches tall, with shimmering violet petals that flex open in sunlight, then close up with the onset of evening or cool weather. They work well in amongst crocus, snowdrops, and dwarf iris.

Finally, a couple more white-flowered tulips: the double white Mt. Tacoma, which looks even more like a peony with all its ruffled petals; and the clean green and white lines of 'Spring Green', a viridiflora that has been quite robust for me. My personal favourites are the viridifloras, the parrots, and the tiny, demure species.

One more thing. If you're heading out to plant bulbs this weekend, please promise me that you will plant them in groups of 5, 7, 9...not in straight rows like little soldiers? And try doing one or two colours at the most ina grouping, rather than a jumble of colours. You'll get more bang for your bulb that way.


16 comments:

  1. Very good advice Jodi. I love bulbs but always find I run out of time to get them planted. I usually put some in pots but something, possibly a mouse, eat them last year!

    I often visit gardens in May when a lot of tulips are out and see gardens were thousands are planted scattered amongst the emerging perennials. But the best display I ever saw was groups of red tulips, about 7 in each group and 10 or 12 groups, they just shone on a grey day against the green perennials. Nothing else was in flower. Less than 100 bulbs were much more effective than a thousand if planted well.

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

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  2. Your burbling reminds me that I have some bulbs to finish planting. Seeing these lovely photos makes me want to plant even more bulbs.

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  3. Jodi, They are all beautiful and I am wishing I ordered more of everything! Love the blue allium, must add that to the 2011 order list~It's unavailable now! The rule~Order early and then order again! gail

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  4. Yippee...two sunny days in a row! All bulbs are in but now that you posted even more beauties, I have a hank'rin to get some more! Sigh...beautiful photos and great advice. Thanks Jodi))

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  5. My favorites are all the different types of daffodils. So pretty!

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  6. Your pictures have brought Spring that little bit closer. I am hopeless at getting bulbs into the garden at the right time. I have to plant them in pots until I get myself organised.

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  7. I was certain that my bulb planting was done until I read your post. I wish that I had more to plant.

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  8. I still have quite a few to plant, although I hope to get them in this weekend. In between editing the book manuscript, writing the Canning Gazette, and a few other things...

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  9. Mt. Tacoma always makes me smile, jodi. No worry about planting like soldiers in my garden! Wall to wall sleeping perennials and hidden past bulbs in my many gardens (having no clue to where any are in fall) always offer me a huge surprise come spring! Old as dirt, as is my garden, I have yet to find the perfect method of fall bulb planting in my sleeping garden/gardens. Happily, I love surprises!

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  10. Jodi,
    thank you!
    You reminded me to plant my fall bulbs.
    Forgetting names of bulbs?
    I takes pictures add later their names and store in my PC garden database. Aren't computers are great.
    Thank you for your visit and comment about my wreath, I love to create.
    - Cheers Gisela.

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  11. So glad to read this! I plant daffs in memory of my dad every year but this year I have been late and was worried that they would not take. I will get to it this weekend with a sigh of relief and knowledge that they should do just fine:)
    I have friends in Canning, Fred and Gordia MacDonald. Love it there.

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  12. I used to be enamored of white daffodils, but then noticed that they don't stand out in the garden as well as the yellow. I'm now in love with lemony yellow and chartreuse daffodils, which can be spotted easily through the window and show up if it snows. (Sorry for using the "S" word.) I'm not crazy about the "pink" cupped daffodils. I have 'La Vie En Rose' and it's just not a good color match for the rest of the garden.

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  13. Wonderful, wonderful dear Jodi. Looks like spring is early on the page.

    I am addicted to alliums. They are such show offs and I love their peppy heads.

    Sending love from my California garden,

    Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

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  14. I fell in love with the old-fashioned plain yellow trumpet daffodils, called 'jonquils' by the old-timers in this area, so many years ago, and I can't imagine switching my allegiance. Still, those peachy ones with LOLA syndrome are so pretty!

    Do tulips return every year for you? Down South, that's quite an investment to make for only a couple of years of color before they peter out. Your photos are so lovely, though, I'd almost be willing to spend lavishly on a few of those peony-type blossoms. :)

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  15. It is late spring in my garden (northern Australia) and my allium is in bloom. At least I assume it is an allium because it certainly behaves like one. It is a real treasure, not seen in garden centres, bit in many gardens in the older parts of town. I'll pop a picture on my blog.

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  16. Very nice blooms! I would like to try some lily-flowered tulips for next time, they are very pretty

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