At the end of last fall, I knelt down in a strong November wind and dug the ground to plant daffodil bulbs. I was determined not to spend another spring deprived of their beauty. I missed too many autumns, throwing away withered bulbs that I didn’t have time to plant.
When life finds us on our knees, staring at the torn ground, planting something may be the only little thing we can do. It is an act of hope, to bury a light bulb and believe the quiet promise it contains. Beauty overcomes rugged terrain.
âThe overall strategy of a bulb is to come out when conditions are best for them. They are usually above the ground for only a few weeks, âexplained Marcia Tatroe, a gardener and well-known Aurora author. âBulbs are the most reliable group of plants. “
In our Colorado climate, this is encouraging news. âThe real reason we put bulbs in the ground in September is (to give them) time to develop strong roots,â Tatroe said.
Strong roots and inner resources are the secrets of resilience in dry climates. Bulbs such as crocus, grape hyacinth, and ornamental onion do well in xeric gardens. Tulips require dry conditions, originating not from Maritime Holland but from arid Central Asia.
Among Tatroe’s favorite xeric pairs are the snow iris Iris reticulata with cacti and succulents. âYou get silky iris with thorny plantsâ¦. It’s a bit like leather and lace, âshe smiles.
The bulbs extend the garden season beautifully. âThe two times I want flowers when the natives aren’t blooming is in early spring and late fall,â Tatroe said.
âI have bulbs that start in February, the crocus tulip and the snow iris. In March, I have thousands of flowering bulbs.
Tatroe’s garden is a pollinator habitat for the Xerces company. âThe first time a bulb blooms, I have a bee on it. If you’re the least bit worried about bees, they have nothing else to eat this time of year.
After the flowering cycle, the remaining green foliage is crucial for nourishing the bulb, so it can give back its gifts next year. âIf you want your bulbs to multiply, never remove the foliage,â Tatroe said.
Painting with plants
Early in his childhood in the Eastern Plains, Rob Proctor remembers seeing small spring tulips for the first time. A former director of horticulture at the Denver Botanical Gardens, Proctor is cultivating a garden masterpiece at home, starting with a palette of spring-flowering bulbs. Living in your garden is like stepping into a painting.
For those who love tulips, Proctor suggests Darwin Hybrid Tulips, Emperor Tulips, and Resilient Species Tulips.
âTulipa tarda is one that everyone should have,â said Proctor, describing its star-shaped yellow and white flowers. It multiplies over time, naturalizing in the garden.
If deer frequent the area, Proctor advises forgoing tulips and planting daffodils and hyacinths instead. While daffodils are native to mountainous regions of Europe and need more humidity to thrive in Colorado, wildlife tends to leave them alone.
The real gems of the garden are perhaps the small bulbs that unfurl their ephemeral petals when spring is still just a dream. Snow crocus, snow glory, Siberian scilla, grape hyacinth, and snow iris are all tiny beauties.
âThey grow well with short ground covers, like woolly thyme,â said Proctor, suggesting a dandelion digger create a small hole for these tiny bulbs to plant. âThey are of great value to pollinators. Crocuses are an absolute favorite.
For larger bulbs, Proctor’s planting technique is simple: “Take a shovel and dig a hole!” “
In a hole 6 inches deep and 8 inches wide, Proctor plants a clump of five tulip bulbs rather than scattering a single bulb here or there. âDon’t line them up like you’re a park,â he laughed, âunless you’re actually a park! “
Renowned for its spectacular seasonal containers, Proctor also plants 30 to 40 pots of blue flowers with tulips, daffodils and hyacinths that it overwinters in a root cellar.
âThese bulbs coming from a cold climate need a winter chill,â he said, stressing the importance of dark winter storage conditions that hover around 35 degrees. For those with limited space, this method of forcing spring blooms can be its own little miracle.
Choose a palette
Whether planting fall bulbs in containers or flower beds, Trisha Nungester of Tagawa Gardens suggests choosing a color palette. Nungester has ordered over 200 varieties of fall bulbs for the garden center this year.
âIt’s almost like hope and happiness in your backyard when those sunny faces show up,â Nungester smirked. âDaffodils are one of my favoritesâ¦ and last a long time as a cut flower. “
Daffodils and Scilla siberica are a combination of yellow and blue that Nungester adores. âScilla is not a familiar bulb to most people, but it is beautiful. “
âThat’s why it’s good to plant (fall bulbs) because you know where your perennials are. If you have catnip that blooms in the spring, bring in daffodils.
Burying the bulbs to a planting depth of 2.5 times the size of the bulb is a good guide. If you are working in heavy clay, Nungester suggests amending the soil for better drainage. Bulbs are best planted when daytime temperatures drop in the 60s, but shallow irises should be planted now to establish roots before the cold.
Connect the generations
âMy mom and grandmother grew irises like most moms and grandmothers do,â said Amanda Deerr-Miller, comfortably walking her Front Range iris garden with a cup of coffee. .
Silver plant markers meticulously note the names of over 400 varieties of irises in Deerr-Miller’s Denver Garden. Carousel of dreams. The Orion Gate. Sky dancer.
âWhen they lose their name, they lose their identity. I want to know its heritage and its history, âshe said. Deerr-Miller dedicates an entire bed to more than 150 varieties of historic irises, which are part of the Historic Iris Preservation Society.
âWhatever bloom you saw this year, it was last year,â she explained, pointing to the remaining green-brown stems that feed the underground rhizome. After the flowering cycle, July and August tend to be the best time to divide and share the iris.
Deerr-Miller’s passion for planting and hybridizing irises is now something she shares with her eldest daughter. âIt’s one thing she can do just with me. It’s a way of being together.
For anyone starting out, Deerr-Miller considers this a chance to learn by doing. âSo many people are suffocated with fear. I’m just saying try. If you don’t invest, you rob yourself of the experience, the joy, and the process.
If one is patient enough to work a garden long enough, an unexpected joy will surely emerge.
To the daffodils planted late last year, I’ll add snow crocus, Tulipa tarda, Iris reticulata, Puschkinia libanotica and allium. In your own garden, bring what you know. Bring what you don’t know. Plant a few bulbs in the soil you own. You might find yourself filled with hope of what is blooming.
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