Spring bulb show goes on five months
Posted: Tuesday, March 31, 2009 8:01 pm
By: By JIMMY WILLIAMS Special to The Messenger
Just 18 years ago, I wrote in this column of the attraction of early spring bloom in our “orchard,” so called. At that time the orchard consisted of a yellow and a red delicious apple, a Kieffer pear, a peach and a nectarine.
The bloom I talked about wasn’t of the trees; that would come later. Instead, I discussed the blooming bulbs there, carpeting the floor of the orchard. It had been flowering for a month or more, and had months yet to go, what with a varied selection of bulbs.
Well, the orchard is virtually no more. It’s down to the pear (do they ever die?) and the worthless red delicious apple. The bulb bloom, meanwhile, has burgeoned and gone from strength to strength, partly because of additional planting but more, perhaps, to natural increase.
The show starts in January most years, with snowdrops and a few species crocuses, Crocus tommasinianius. The latter, often called Tommie crocuses, are the most reliable and fastest increasing crocuses I know of. From an initial planting of maybe 500 back then, there are now thousands scattered thither and yon (from seeding and transplanting) over our place.
The crocuses peak in February and early March. A few weeks ago I “guesstimated” we had more than 10,000 flowers from the numerous clumps in the orchard and in flower borders. Yes, I said 10,000, and that is probably conservative. I came to that figure by counting out 100 flowers in a block, then multiplying the size of the block over the area of almost solid bloom.
The snowdrops and crocuses, along with a few winter aconites, are followed by daffodils. First of those to open is Tete-a-tete, so named because there are two flowers on each six-inch stem. (Tete-a-tete: literally, head-on.) This is one of the best miniature daffs. I prefer the smaller ones for naturalizing; they hold up better in bad weather and are closer in appearance to the original species.
Then come hybrid crocuses, of which there are only a few. They aren’t nearly so permanent as the tommies, not reproducing fast enough to stay ahead of depredating voles.
By about now a few later daffs are showing, but the native (I think) spring beauties, seen in every waste place and in lawns all over, are flirting their prolific but tiny white or pinkish flowers.
Along with them is a vigorous stand of Iphieon uniflorum, or starflower. The blooms indeed resemble stars, and are a pale blue in the straight species. I have also a few of the named variety Rolf Felder, a more telling blue but more expensive too.
Iphieon is incredibly easy. A few bulbs will increase to hundreds over a few years. I came by my original ones from a nice lady on West Wood Street, whose front lawn was (and is) a sheet of blue every spring. They have stayed with me and multiplied prodigiously, until now I have my own blue sheet.
Then, in April, there are Spanish bluebells, in white and blue (pink, too, if you should want them). By then grass is growing up around them and it takes their foot-tall stalks to display the flowers above the grass stems below.
Pheasant’s eye narcissus, too, in April. They also are tall, and the height again is needed in the grass. The chalky white petals surround a tiny center of yellow rimmed in red. Also during May there is a stand of our naturalized narcissus with similar white petals but with a solid yellow eye. These are as easy as “buttercups,” which are about two months earlier.
It’s not all bulbs. Ox-eye daisies, gathered from the wild as young plants or seeds, show up in May, having their ups and downs, some years being almost nonexistent and others providing a lot of bloom. I lay it to drought, or lack of it, in the year previous to bloom.
Other unnamed wildflowers cover the area. Some are little daisy forms of fleabane, in white and pink, along with purple vetch, some small yellow daisies and numerous other natives that might need close eyeing to appreciate.
All this comes crashing down in late May, by which time the area is a jungle of weeds and grass and is mowed to the ground, finishing off the five-month show but scattering seeds for another round only seven months hence.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 3.31.09
Jimmy Williams, The Garden Path