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

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Entries in Spring Flowering Bulbs (10)


What Happened to my Blue Dutch Irises?

As someone who loves blue flowers, I cannot find the appropriate words to describe the joy I experience when I see the blue variety of Dutch Irises in bloom. Nor can I begin to express how desolate I felt when I realized that this bulb will bloom for only two seasons here in USDA Zone 4.

Although this flower is just as important to my wife as it is to me - she used it as an accent flower in the pink-yellow-blue centerpieces for our wedding reception, many years ago - we are about to banish it from our flower beds.

The gardener, who strives to create an easy-care garden, has little interest in replanting the same spring flowering bulb each fall, or even every other fall. This hobbyist  prefers to plant a bulb, knowing that the work is an investment that will reap dividends for several years to come. That is why I plant daffodils and narcissus, species tulips, crocus, and several varieties of the Darwin hybrid tulip. All seem to re bloom for many years, just like most perennials do.

If catalogs that sell spring flowering bulbs would inform us honestly that Dutch Irises need to be replaced regularly, perhaps fewer gardeners would consider buying them. I will no longer plant them because I consider them an unwise investment and a waste of precious time and energy.

One of the joys of gardening is the thrill of what will bloom next. Anticipating the experience of seeing a spring flowering bulb in bloom and then realizing that it has withered underground forever, is not what enjoyable gardening is all about.

The other day, I received an email from a client inquiring if I had actually planted the blue Dutch Irises she had asked for, over three years ago. She knows how eager I am to please my clients, and being certain that she did ask for them, was puzzled when they did not bloom this spring. Even I was puzzled, because I remember not only her request but also the time I spent planting them. After reading her message, I went into my garden to look for the ones that bloomed there last year. The spot where they once flowered so beautifully was now bare.

In the future, there will be no more blue Dutch Iris bulbs planted in my garden or that of my clients. If I want to enjoy this flower, I will visit the nearest florist shop where the supply is more reliable. There I will choose a bouquet of the taller variety, just like the ones my wife selected for our wedding centerpieces.


Pink is a Man’s Color? 

Fosteriana tulip Albert Heyn when the temperature is cool.Meet Albert Heyn. He is a pink Fosteriana species tulip growing in my garden. The bulb could have been named either The Heyn Tulip, or Albertina, or even Alberta. Nope! Someone decided that an attractive pink tulip - flowering in a color that used to be reserved for girls - needed a courageously masculine name. It is fascinating that my generation [yes, we are older] will consider this a cultural contradiction, while thankfully, such nonsense will go unnoticed by younger people. 

Albert Heyn drenched in hot sunI deliberately chose to work with species tulips because I had been taught that such early blooming bulbs perform just like perennial do; they will re appear for years to come. My sources must know what they write about because another species tulip, a red Kaufmaniana of unknown name, has been re blooming in my garden for almost 20 years.

Most species tulips tend to flower in warm-to hot-color families. For example, the awesome Gregii Casa Grande, blooms in a fiery scarlet. Fosteriana Albert Heyn is the first pink species tulip, I have ever seen.

A few surplus bulbs of Albert Heyn, hastily planted in late fall, as they appear at the end of a hot day in the sun. They would have been more attractive if planted in a round grouping instead of a straight line. Pink is the favorite color of my wife, my clients, and many gardeners. When it is included in flower compositions, it puts a smile on everyone's face. That is why, for years, I searched relentlessly for a pink species tulip to enhance the early spring flowerbed.

Albert Heyn, a medium height pink variety, was offered in my area for the first time, last fall. It popped out at me, from a mail order catalog page, where I was attracted to its pink petals, highlighted with a streak of violet. It practically had a client's name all over it, one who is very partial to plants in the lilac-pink family.

Last autumn, I planted this Fosteriana tulip for several clients' but did not reserve enough for myself. Now that I have observed the performance of only a few of these bulbs in my own garden - the peach overcast that appears on the petals in hot sun is a welcome surprise -  I intend to add more.

Next season, my test flowerbeds will benefit from the early punch of pink that this species tulip delivers. It will bring a smile to our faces; and no one will care that its given name is Albert.


Allium Alert: About Those Tall Purple Balls.

Allium Purple Sensation

 Price sticker shock is what happens when unsuspecting gardeners attempt to purchase the impressive Allium bulbs known as Gigantium or Globemaster. The cost per bulb is high. Now, there is an antidote for this trauma. It is the Allium bulb Purple Sensation, a better-priced, better-valued option.

Allium Purple Sensation in my garden I planted it in my flowerbeds last autumn and the effect in spring, when it came into bloom, was dazzling.

Purple Allium, of any size, flower in shades that are ideal for English-style flower gardens; they will also add depth and richness to hot colored flowerbeds, as one can see above on the cover of Sara Raven's book, The Bold and Brilliant Garden. circumference of A. Purple Sensation's flowering sphere [about the size of a tennis ball] is half the size of the larger varieties and its height of three feet places it mid way between A. Gigantium and A. Globemaster. With those technical specs, why pay about $8 to $14 for one giant bulb when 10 Purple Sensation bulbs cost only $10 and give the gardener equally exciting visuals? [Plant Purple Sensation in repeating groups of three or five, or in a serpentine row of five or seven bulbs]. When it flowers, its stately posture and long blooming globes are just as eye catching as their giant cousins.

This affordable variety combines elegant, vertical structure with substantial, rounded forms that, together with its rich coloration, bring exciting novelty to traditional flowerbeds., after the flowering ball has gone to seed, [image above] it continues to add interesting textural form to the garden until mid-summer, when it begins to look scraggly [an appropriate time to cut it down]. Planting Purple Sensation is akin to thinking outside the proverbial box. am not the only gardener that has stumbled across this marvelous substitute. In an attempt to purchase more Purple Sensation for my clients - because they are all clamoring for those purple balls - I discovered that two of the more prominent bulb sellers in Canada, Veseys and Botanus are now sold-out of this popular bulb. In addition, three significant nurseries in the greater Montreal area, as well as three major big box garden centers, are inventory-depleted of this Allium variety. Clearly, more gardeners - than anyone might have guessed - are discovering this very impressive bargain bulb.

Image:, by patiently scrolling through Google, I was able to find another online source here in Canada, called Campbell River Garden Centre, located on the west coast, in British Columbia. They are relatively new to online marketing and I contacted them by phone only because of a technical glitch at check - out. Nevertheless, they had the stock I needed and sent it by mail, only minutes after I called in my order. I am delighted that my three-day, anxious hunt for Purple Sensation has finally ended. I am even more relieved that I can now fill my clients flowerbeds with those tall purple balls at a price that will make them happy.


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 Baseball-Sized Tulip

If the size of a tulip flower may be compared to the size of an egg, then the size of the flower of the Casa Grande tulip should be similar to a baseball or a pomegranate. No kidding! Usually, I try not to plant fiery colored tulips because our favorite color schemes are in the cooler shades. However, I could not resist the photo of the Casa Grande when I first saw it in last season’s catalogue.

This tulip is definitely over the top, both in color and in size. While the image shows a predominantly scarlet flower, an up close observation of the bulb in bloom will reveal delicate flaming streaks of pale purple hidden inside the flesh of the outer petals. Each plant is a traffic stopping torch.

More importantly, what makes this a valuable addition to any garden is the fact that it is a species tulip, part of the Greigii family. Like most tulips in that category, it will behave like a perennial and re bloom for years to come. With time, it will naturalize in the garden as it slowly multiplies in number.

It may seem odd to some readers that I write about tulips not only after they have finished blooming but also so far in advance of the planting season. The reason for this untimely activity lies in the fact that the bulb catalogues for next falls planting have just been released. Botanus, where I purchased Casa Grande last season, is offering this unusual and electrifying tulip once again. Gardeners who love hot colors and enjoy the dramatic will not be disappointed. Now is a good time to plan the purchases of next season's spring flowering bulbs while the memory of this year's bloomings are still fresh in our minds.