Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Plant some bulbs

        Having lived on Locust Hill for close to fifty years, I've planted a great many bulbs on the property.   No gardener should let the fall slip by without planting a few bulbs so there will be something new and exciting to look forward to come spring. What other flower can you plant that is more rewarding than a daffodil , a few crocuses or those first harbingers of spring, the snowdrops pictured above?  They go on and on forever, free of diseases, increasing in size and beauty each year?
        Plant a single narcissus and in a few years it has turned into two or three.  In five years they can be dug up, separated and the results replanted.  This endless cycle can be endlessly repeated, provided you've marked the clumps that need dividing before their foliage disappears so they can be easily located when it's time to dig them up come fall.
Do you know the difference between a narcissus, a daffodil and a jonquil?  Not even the botanists do any more, using the terms indiscriminately.  Narcissus is actually a genus of the amaryllis family and includes both jonquils and daffodils.  Jonquils are a single species with rush-like leaves and sweet-smelling, short-cupped flowers in clusters.  There are many species of daffodils, all hardy and having trumpet flowers like those found in the handsome white Mt. Hood variety.
I have daffodils with pink trumpets in my perennial border,  a mix of white and yellow  in the sheep pasture, and although it took many year, I now have a cloud of golden daffodils up on the knoll.  Several years ago I had so many divided clumps of different daffodil varieties that I couldn’t think where to plant them. It was Hank who finally offered  the solution.  We have a large Carpathian walnut tree that we mow under so we can find the nuts each fall.  I planted a border of bulbs at the edge of the mowed grass circle.
Tulip bulbs are the one exception, a different story altogether.  Unfortunately tulips don't last for years and years. You’re lucky if they last more than one.  That’s because unlike narcissus bulbs, which are poisonous, tulip bulbs are edible, and field mice consider them a tasty treat. Many gardeners have the mistaken idea that moles are the culprits when they see tunnels bumping along under the soil and no tulips gracing the garden the following spring. But moles are carnivores.  They're only interested in bugs.  It's the vegetarian field mice who dine on tulip bulbs.  They use the mole tunnels to get underground.
        Because tulips rarely last for more than a season
or two, even when planted with moth balls or buried in
wire baskets, I stopped bothering to grow tulips many
years ago as it didn't seem to be worth the effort. The
one planting that turned out to be the exception was the
tulips daughter Bridget and I planted the fall before her
wedding.   That wedding was in the spring of 1987,
almost twenty years ago.
        The following year I planted that area with pach-
ysandra, not wanting to care for another flower bed. I
guess both mice and moles just aren't interested in tun-
neling through a vast maze of pachysandra roots.  The
tulips in today's photograph are some of those planted
for Bridget's wedding, still popping up each spring sev-
enteen years later.  I don't particularly want tulips in my
pachysandra beds, but I think I’ll try putting a few in the
bed of periwinkle up by the barn.