Published November 21, 2012
Have an idea for unusual spring flowers? We have the bulb
It’s getting cold, but it’s not too cold to get out to the garden. Winter will button things up soon, but so long as the ground is still not frozen solid, gardeners still can transplant roses and move deciduous shrubs that have lost their leaves. Here’s something all gardeners can do right now – add spring blooming bulbs that are now heavily discounted at gardening centers. Why not go for a whole new look this spring and plant some unusual bulbs now for novelty blooms in a few months? Here’s my vote for bulbs with personality that do well in Western Washington: MOUNT HOOD DAFFODILS Who could resist a daffodil named after a mountain in Washington state? The snow on top of Mount Hood inspired the naming of this delightful daffodil that blooms with a pale yellow trumpet that soon turns to glistening, snow white as the flower matures. What I really like about Mount Hood daffodils is that the white blooms last longer than traditional yellow daffodils. ALLIUM OR FLOWERING ONION This is not the blooming onion you’ll be served at a restaurant – but these onions are a treat for the eyes. Alliums look like something from outer space when in bloom, which explains why a gardener once asked where to find “alien bulbs” with the big round spheres for blooms. Tall and dramatic when they flower in May and June, the starry blooms dry and persist most of the summer on tall stems. It has become quite fashionable in some English gardens to use spray paint to add some color to the faded blooms of alliums – bright silver the color of choice in one show garden we toured. Plant the big alliums 6 to 8 inches deep in a spot where they will get full sun. If you have bulbs that disappear from rodents and deer, give alliums a try – the onion scent is a great pest repellent. FRITILLARY Another deer and rodent resistant bulb with unusual blooms on tall stems, fritillaries comes in many varieties – all a bit weird and wonderful looking. The crown imperial fritillary has up to ten clustered flowers hanging from a center whorl like umbrellas turned upside down. A smaller variety, Fritillaria meleagris is called the checkered lily or guinea hen flower because the bell-shaped blooms are bi-colored in a pattern that resembles a chess board – or the chest of a guinea hen if you happen to be familiar with chickens. This is a bulb you’ll want to enjoy as a cut flower, up close and personal. ROCK GARDEN TULIPS These short stemmed tulips are more properly called species tulips and they are originally from the Mediterranean so they prefer a spot where the soil will be warm and dry in the summer – in our climate, that means plant them in a raised bed rock garden. Species tulips such as tulip kaufmanniana ‘Ice Stick” and tulip clusiana ‘Lady Jane” come with two-toned petals that appear as if bold stripes of pink or red paint had been applied to the creamy white flowers. “Pinocchio” with a long pointed nose – I mean bud – blooms in yellow and red. Tsar Peter has fabulous blooms that are yellow at the base, feathering to cream, pink and red – really a royal flower fit for a king, or Russian Tsar. You can find all of these unusual bulbs at local nurseries just sitting in open bins, waiting for you to bag up and take home. There is still time to order bulbs from mail order houses or online bulb growers but don’t wait much longer. Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. For gardening questions, write to her at P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, WA 98022. Send a self-addressed stamped envelope for a personal reply. She also can be reached at binettigarden.com.