I am a great fan of British gardens. Their culture is steeped so deeply in ‘gardening’ that a Canadian cannot help but learn by just paying a visit.
It was just such an experience that changed my mind about how to use spring flowering bulbs in my own garden. A chance visit to St. James Park in the heart of London in the second week of March exposed me to a sea of yellow blossoms that left me inspired to go home and do the same thing in my own garden. That was several years ago and since then I plant 2, 000 narcissus on my country property every fall.
Naturalize your Bulbs.
‘Naturalizing’ is a term used loosely that refers to bulbs that grow and improve each year and NEVER recede. In time we will pass away and our naturalized garden will keep on going. The concept is about as enduring as a permanent garden can get.
Where to start?
Begin with a vision of what your lawn and garden could look like covered in blue bells or narcissus come spring. Then back up and decide how many bulbs you can afford to plant each year. This is a project that will take time and an annual investment in the bulbs that are specifically suited to naturalizing.
Approach your bulb naturalizing project one step at a time. Begin in a corner of the yard where you will plant bulbs in random clumps. ‘Random’ is a key word here and I find it difficult to dig holes in my lawn or garden without some kind of pattern developing. To overcome this I toss a handful of bulbs in the air, over my shoulder backwards. Where the bulbs land is where I plant several at one time, in the case of narcissus I will plant three here, five there, eleven over there. Think of the natural look that occurs when you leave Mother Nature in control…..that is what you are trying to achieve in your bulb planting scheme. Remember: random.
What bulbs work?
My #1 pick are narcissus. They give the best show:
- They bloom from early spring, when temperatures are cool, for up to 4 weeks.
- Many varieties are fragrant.
- Pests do not like them, including squirrels.
- Tolerant of most soils: though, best to avoid heavy clay or low spots as they will rot, especially in their first year.
- Grow well under the canopy of deciduous trees.
- They are great cut and brought indoors to put in the vase.
To maximize the length of the spring show plant several varieties of narcissus of varying bloom times (early season/mid/late). Plant some that are fragrant (to cut), and for an interesting look try some bulbs featuring different coloured trumpets.
Some of my favourite Narcissus varieties for naturalizing include:
- Carlton. Butter yellow, large flowering, early season.
- Barrett-Browning. Orange trumpet, fragrant, mid size, early flowering.
- Ice Follies. Large cup, great for cutting.
Blue bells are also very popular for naturalizing. I recommend that you plant your English Bluebells (Scilla non-scripta) about 2 to 3 cm apart. There is no need to worry about them appearing to be random as they will grow together into a massive drift of colour in just a few short years.
This is the time of year to plant all spring flowering bulbs including tulips, hyacinths, crocus and the like. Many are suitable for naturalizing, besides narcissus and scilla. Just look on the package or the bulb display box for the words ‘suitable for naturalizing’.
If it all sounds like a bit too much work or if the idea of using your lawn and garden as a canvas for spring time colour does not appeal to you, why not buy some spring flowering bulbs and give them to your neighbour. At least you will be able to enjoy the show from your own yard for years to come.