Written by Ingrid Hoff
It sounds cliché but I really do love this time of year. Not just for the fall feels but also because I get to start thinking ahead and dreaming of spring as I plan and plant my spring blooming bulbs. Which inevitably gets me thinking. This year I’ve been pondering the idea of hope in the spring, is a common theme. I get it, all the little leaves are unfurling, and dainty looking flowers are poking their heads through the snow. It’s a time of year people feel hopeful for the warm summer days of plenty. But personally, I think hope happens a lot in the fall. Many gardeners plant their bulbs and then just hope for the best next spring. Fall planting can be a bit of a “leap of faith” for some. But if you take a bit more time and approach your bulb selection more mindfully then you can live less in hope and more in confidence of a colourful spring bounty.
My first recommendation for success is that quality really counts. I see bulbs for sale everywhere in the fall but not all bulbs are created equal. If we dip into the realm of horticulture for a bit, bulbs are amazing plant storage devices. Within some bulbs is everything needed to produce a strong healthy plant and stunning flower display already formed and ready to go. All that is need is the right environmental conditions to start the show. But what that means to you is that your spring display is often more dependent on how that bulb was grown the year before that anything you’ve done to grow it in the coming seasons. The flowers and health of your spring plant is directly related to how that bulb was grown, transported and stored. These things really matter, if you start off with quality you will get quality.
But let's not kid ourselves what we do with our bulbs does matter and it leads me into my next tip has which is all about selecting the right bulb for where and how you want them to grow.
Personally, I often think of spring bulbs in two main categories based on how I’m going to be using/enjoying them. There is what I call the “here for a good time, not a long time” type and then what I call the “naturalizing” types. The first being all about the amazing show with not a lot of thought about longevity past one year. Similar to an annual display, I want these bulbs to stop people in their tracks and if they happen to come back next year well, then… bonus. The “naturalizing” types are the bulbs I want to plant and then have them act more like annuals. I want them to settle in and act more like perennials.
One thing that is surprisingly overlooked when talking about spring bulbs is to find the right bulb for the right space. For some unknown reason we often get this wrong and just think we can pop any bulb in any spot (that works a bit better for the “here for a good time” bulbs). A wet, boggy, shady corner of the garden in not the best place for tulips. We wouldn’t dream of doing that with perennials or shrubs. No self-respecting gardener would dream of planting a heat-loving lavender in boggy shade, nor a shade loving fern in the blazing sun. So, don’t do it to your bulbs either. Luckily for us, bulbs grow everywhere in the world from the forest understory to the hot dry plains. With such a huge variety available, there is a beautiful bulb for every gardening situation. There are bulbs that thrive in dry conditions (tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, alliums, scilla and chionodoxa), moist conditions (camas, and snake fritillary), shady spots (snowdrops, cyclamen, fritilaria, and erythroniums), and sunny locations (tulips, daffodils, alliums, iris, ranunculus, anemones).
This wealth of variety is incidentally another reason for getting your bulbs from where they experts shop, you get the good selection. Don’t get me wrong a love a classic ‘King Alfred’ daffodil but there is more to enjoy out there. Don’t believe me, check out the dainty nodding chocolate and gold bells of Fritillaria michailovskyi, the pure blush pink of a peony-style ‘Angelique’ tulip, the colour saturation of De Caen poppy anemones, or the garden fireworks of a ’Globemaster’ allium.
The thing I love the most about planting spring bulbs is it is so accessible. You get to peruse the displays and look at all the glossy photos of what you can have, start to dream of what it would look like, and all the information you need to be successful is right there on the packaging. Where to plant it, how deep to plant it, how tall it will grow, when it will flower. It’s one of the least stressful ways to garden and perfect for the hesitant beginner. So, head down to your local GARDENWORKS and get out of the rain, (oh don’t worry it’s coming) and you can shop in the warm and dry, then dream of spring, without having to resort to hope alone.
What’s does a “ooey gooey” cheesy Italian pasta dish have to do with spring bulbs? Nothing and everything. When you head down in store to get your bulbs look for instructions (or ask one of the knowledgeable experts) how to make a “Lasagna Planter.” It’s all about layering. Did you know that you can have multiple layers of different bulbs in one container? Instead of cheesy goodness you get much healthier for your mind and body, spring colour and joy.