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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

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Entries in Daffodils (7)


Flowerbeds that Sing in the Spring. 

My walkway garden in unusually cold weather.Did you plant enough spring flowering bulbs? Do you suppose that there was room in the beds for more, even though there was no room in your budget to buy them? I deal with the issue of cost by adding more spring-flowering bulbs to the beds every autumn, according to the amount of disposable gardening funds remaining.

On a warm day, it looked like this.For that reason, my display of spring flowering bulbs tends to be far more relaxed and unplanned than are my perennial plant compositions. I don’t mind the resulting haphazard design because it doesn’t take much to bring a smile to my face, or that of my wife’s, when the bulbs begin to bloom. All we do is step outdoors to take in the morning paper, and we are smitten.

After six months of dreary, white winter, we care more about the presence of color in our lives than we do about design. The captioned image above and the close-up below represent the early flowering display; an assortment of daffodils, narcissus, hyacinths, and early species tulips of varying heights and colors, planted over a span of 5 years. A different color story, composed with Darwin hybrid tulips, will bloom later.

Frigid temperature did not allow the bulbs to put on a show for their closeup.Through the eyes of a garden colorist, what is missing from the above composition is a row of dark blue hyacinths running the length of the bed, just behind the first row of rocks. That shade of blue, hardly visible in the bottom center of this second photo, will inject vibrancy to the color composition. I will attend to that matter that at the end of the upcoming gardening season.

A better showing when the weather turned warm.In late summer, as gardening activities starts to wind down, buying bulbs for the next spring seems like an expensive exercise. Yet, when those bulbs do flower, and the garden breaks out into song, regardless of how many I planted, the experience of watching spring flowering bulbs grow is so enjoyable, that I cannot remember why I held back and planted so few.

Planning the spring garden usually begins in July, when I study the contents of the mail order catalogs, write down the names of the bulbs that interest me, and take that list with me when I drive to a full-service nursery, several miles away from home. Yes, it is time consuming; I devote an entire morning to the trip.

The original intention was to do a price and selection comparison between nursery and mail order. The results were surprising. The nursery offered the identical in-depth assortment that I found in the catalogs, their prices were lower, no shipping charges to be added, and I was able to purchase the exact number of bulbs I wanted without having to deal with catalog pre-packs, that contained more or too little of what I needed.

The photo of the two yellow daffodils, whose name I did not record, nor do I remember, represents the largest bulb, in that family, that I could find at the nursery; and it blooms majestically. It is a reminder for me to stay away from mail order “value packs”.

A few years ago, I purchased one such “deal” from a respected mail order house. I had hoped that a large quantity of fifty assorted daffodil bulbs would fill up swaths of empty spaces in early spring flowerbeds. I was wrong! Fifteen percent of the bulbs arrived rotted, twenty percent never bloomed and those that did flower have been smaller by comparison to the ones that I select myself at the nursery.

However, not everyone lives in reasonable proximity to a full service nursery. For some, the inventory and pricing found at a big box store will be sufficient. For others, mail order is the only convenient source to purchase plant material, irrespective of price or value. Why, even I purchased my very first plants by post. For many years, the catalog served a text book for my introduction to gardening.


Bulb Planters Need to Be Modified

The catalogues for spring flowering bulbs arrived recently and they reminded me that some bulb planting tools are not wide enough for planting narcissus or daffodils and that none are sufficiently adequate for helping to convert tulip bulbs into perennials.

The most beautiful and eye catching tulips usually have a short life. Unlike short species such as Gregii or Fosteriana, that will rebloom for many years, most tulips last for about three years in the flowerbed before they begin to bloom scrawny or not at all. To increase their longevity, tulip experts suggest planting them 2 inches beyond the recommended depth. Therefore, if a tulip bulb is supposed to be planted 8 inches deep, converting that bulb from short- lived into a perennial requires a 10 inch cavity.This extra depth works best for the Darwin hybrids. Extending the life of other tall tulip varieties is, as yet, an unknown factor.

The challenge to the gardener is not only to find the right tool to create an 8 inch hole, but to find an even better one that will excavate to 10 inches. Sadly, such a tool does not exist. Regardless of price, all garden or bulb planting trowels are manufactured with a blade six inch long. Market forces being as powerful as they are, I suppose if it were ergonomically possible for the human hand to dig easily beyond 6 inches, manufacturers would have already created a longer planter. 

I have partially solved the challenge of the 8 and 10 inch hole by marking off an additional 2 inches on the handle of a six inch trowel. Based upon the color of the handle material, I will select red, black, or metallic silver marker for the task. This will allow me to create a longer measuring guide in order to dig to a depth of 8 inches.

Depending on the density of the soil, this extra depth will require more effort on my part and, of course, some hand fatigue will ensue, especially in situations when it is necessary to plant 50 or 100 bulbs. Furthermore, in order to create a hole 10 inches deep, I will first dig the 8 inch hole, remove the earth and set it aside and then dig anew to liberate another 2 inches of dirt. To reduce hand fatigue for both of these mini excavations, the gardener is advised to select a trowel with an ergonomically shaped, wider, or gel handle.

Another important consideration is the width of the trowel spade. Three sizes are on the market:- narrow, traditional, and wide. The narrow one is best suited for tiny bulbs such as chionodoxa or crocus. The traditional one is suitable for tulips and hyacinths, and the extra wide is best for daffodils and narcissus. Unlike the streamlined almost aerodynamic shape of a tulip bulb, these tend to be much wider because they are offered usually as two unseparated bulbs sold as one.

Of course, the gardener may purchase one trowel only and use it for all size bulbs. In that case, the widest trowel is the most versatile. Tools with spades that are too small will require twice as much digging. That's why I keep both the traditional and the wide spaded trowels in my garden tool bag.

It is easy to become confused by the many choices of planting trowels that are available. It is even easier to become overwhelmed when looking for them among the thousands of other garden tools offered online. Therefore, using as a convenient source, here is my selection of planting tools that I consider most useful. Click on the images for additional information.

Garden Works TT Assembly Tiger Trowel [Narrow Spade]

Fiskars 7023 Ergo Scratch Tool Garden Transplanter [narrow spade]


Radius garden 100 Ergo Trowel [traditional spade]
Oxo Good Grips Gel-e 16075 [traditional spade]
Ames True Temper High Carbon Steel 1990000 [traditional spade]

Fiskars 7073 Big Grip Trowel [wide spade]



A Nitty Gritty Detail About Planting Bulbs Late

 Assorted narcissus, one searches, the advice is the same: - spring flowering bulbs may be planted until the earth freezes over. In most locations in the northern hemisphere, that means up until the end of December. Ha!  Last year, in mid November, I planted a collection of daffodils and narcissus and this past spring all that I got where green shoots. I presumed that the bulbs had not been large enough or healthy enough. After a year of manufacturing energy in my garden, I expect they will surely pump out flowers by next season. Given how much I paid for the bulbs, that’s a lot of money spent to wait 2 years to see results.

As it turns out, the explanation above, for failure to flower, is not the reason the bulbs did not bloom. According to what I have discovered on line, they were delinquent because I had planted them too late. It seems, and I did not know this before, that narcissus and daffodil bulbs need a few weeks of temperate weather to grow roots in order to bloom the following spring. That prerequisite is not necessary for tulips. Prior to accidentally stumbling across this information, I had presumed, wrongly, that all spring flowering bulbs may be planted up until the earth freezes over. No one offered this advice with the caveat that gardeners who live in areas where winter arrives early, need to follow different instructions. Here in Montreal, Quebec, one must plant narcissus and daffodils no later than end October to ensure blooms the following spring. I wish that I might have discovered this information a month ago because only last week did I plant another batch of narcissus. Oh well, I suppose it’s not too bad to wait until spring 2012 to see the fruits of my labor. After all, we gardeners are such a patient lot!!!


On My Knees Again, Planting Bulbs for the Very Last Time This Season. 

Narcissus Ice FolliesPlanting bulbs is not a pleasant activity for older, arthritic, or rheumatic gardeners, especially where autumn is damp and chilly. Some of my colleagues even keep a small bottle of acetaminophen and a Thermos of hot tea in their tool buckets to help them endure through such a chore.





Giant Yellow Trumpet Daffodils

Nevertheless, the joy that spring flowering bulbs bring to gardeners is so overwhelming that I will agree to plant them if someone asks.







Darwin Tulip Red ImpressionOtherwise, I don’t automatically offer a bulb planting service. It is labor intensive, which translates into expensive. Many of my clients have been shocked by the estimate for such a project, especially when the price of gigantic Allium bulbs is factored in.





Darwin Tulip Ivory FloradaleOnce in a while, I will work with a homeowner who has allocated a comfortable budget for the garden and the story changes. An important client, who had commissioned a very large rose garden, asked that I return this autumn to plant bulbs.





For her raised flower bed, I chose an alternating combination of Narcissus Ice Follies and Giant Yellow Trumpet Daffodils, behind which I placed Darwin Tulips in alternating groupings of Red Emperor and Ivory Floradale.

Anemone blanda, assorted colorsUp against the stone lip of the flower bed, I planted Anemone blanda, in assorted colors. I am not a fan of this small flower only because I never had success with it. Given how tedious it is to plant, it does not deliver much bang for the buck, especially when viewed from a distance. However, the client had purchased a bag of 100 tiny bulbs at Costco and asked that I include them. Even though they did not blend well with the color scheme of the other bulbs, I could not refuse. We are so starved for flowers, by the time spring arrives, that blending colors is of little concern. However, I did warn the client that growing conditions in our area may not be hospitable to Anemone and that she might be disappointed. I hope that nature will prove me wrong; the client is a very sweet lady and I want her to be happy.


Unorthodox Opinions About Bulb Planting or a New Use for Ski Underwear.

Spring flowering bulbs are planted in autumn when being outdoors, in some parts of the Northern hemisphere, is not always pleasant. Gardeners that are prone to quickly getting chilled, and who feel dampness in their bones more readily than others, should consider wearing a layer of ski underwear [top and bottom] underneath their gardening clothes. It does make a difference - a very big difference. The old fashioned variety that has a bit of wool blended into its fibers is the best- if it is still available. The underwear traps natural body heat to keep the gardener warm.

The most important tool for planting bulbs is a flat kneeling pad made of foam. Do not purchase one that is a cheap promotional quality; a rigid, thick product is best. Its primary purpose is to cushion the knee caps during the planting process but it has another important benefit as well. When two such pads are placed side by side, the gardener can slide over from one work station to the next and from one knee pad to the other, without lifting the body. This helps to avoid the repetitive movement of standing up and kneeling down, an aerobic exercise that can tire out gardeners who are not in good shape. Progressing sideways  from one pad to another is similar to playing leap-frog:  For example, - after the gardener slides from left to right, i.e. from pad No 1 to pad No 2, pad No 1 is then lifted and placed to the right of pad No 2, thereby becoming pad No. 3.

Planting bulbs efficiently requires a set of trowels: - one with an oversized blade and the other, a narrower version of the first. In order to plant tulip or daffodil bulbs, a hole 8 to 10 inches deep must be dug. The larger trowel can only create a hole 6 inches deep on the first try. A second plunge with such a large trowel is unnecessary work. It is easier to switch over to a smaller trowel, whose narrow point can efficiently deepen the first hole by 2 or 4 inches.

Before planting, prepare the trowels so that they can also serve as measuring guides to determine the depth of the holes. Items needed for this task are a ruler, a red permanent marker and pre cut strips of metallic duct tap, cut ¼ inch wide. On the concave side of the blade of the larger trowel and beginning at its tapered point, measure off spots for 2, 3, 4, and 6 inch depths and identify them with the red marker. Each variety of spring flowering bulb needs to be planted at its specifically recommended depth and these markings make it easier to gauge those measurements while digging.

Then, continuing along the handle, mark off the 8 and 10 inch spots. Highlight these last two measurements by wrapping the duct tape strips around the handle at these two spots to create metallic bands. Repeat the handle markings on the narrow trowel as well; its blade portion may already be factory engraved with measurements, depending on the brand purchased.

The 8 inch markings help to gauge the depth of the planting hole for tulips, daffodils and narcissus. The 10 inch spot is used to convert Darwin tulips into perennial bulbs. By planting at 10 instead of the recommended 8 inch depth, the Darwin tulip will work harder to generate growth and that work encourages it to behave like a perennial. However, Species tulips, such as Greigeii, Kaufmanniana and Fosteriana, will perform as perennials when planted at their recommended depths.

Lastly, avoid purchasing tools that are sold as bulb planters, no matter how attractive or clever they appear. They are not user-friendly nor are they efficient. Many such tools are made with a tubular blade that creates a circular hole. However, compacted earth will get stuck inside the tube and removing it is time consuming and arduous work. In addition, avoid drilling holes with an auger bit. Some gardeners report disappointing results with this method.