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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)


A Special Species Tulip

During the spring season, garden bloggers rarely write about planting tulip bulbs. That topic is reserved for late summer and early fall to coincide with the upcoming autumn, when such bulbs are planted. In the spring, those that grow tulips usually restrict their activities to posting images of bulbs in bloom. This season, I must make an exception to these unwritten rules. A species tulip has just bloomed in my garden and I need to share information about it while it is still inspiring.

The frustration of having to replace spent tulip bulbs after several years of boom, had sent me back to the books to investigate varieties that naturalize i.e. that will grow back year after year, just as reliable perennial plants do. There is a consensus among experienced bulb gardeners and botanists to plant species tulips that return annually to re bloom with reliability.

One of the species tulips that I found in a mail order catalogue is called Praestans Unicum. It bloomed this past week and caused quite a sensation in spite of the fact that the picture in the catalogue had not been very impressive. It showed a short scarlet tulip with a white margined green leaf. Because scarlet is one of my least favorite colors, I was not immediately drawn to this bulb. Unfortunately, it was the only species tulip in this merchant’s catalogue, and I had no other choice but to order it. I asked for one packet of 6 bulbs. Big mistake!  Now that I see it in bloom, I wish that I had ordered several packages, that’s how impressed I am with its performance in my garden.

The tulip is only 12 inches in height but since it blooms before taller tulips do, its size is not an issue. It is quite prominent in my flower bed in early spring when very few other bulbs are in bloom. However, what impresses me most is its color. One cannot exactly call it one shade or another as it is a mélange of red, orange, scarlet and cayenne, all depending on the nature of the daylight. When it is back lit by the afternoon sun, as it is in my garden, the almost translucent flower petals are luminous with a fiery, intense, neon quality as if they were light bulbs screwed into a marquee.

The most appreciated aspect about growing Praestans Unicum is that it will grow exponentially over time. Every early spring, for years and years to come, before most of my daffodils and narcissus have bloomed, each of the six solitary tulips now growing in my garden will transform itself into a glowing clump of red/scarlet tulips.

It’s never too early to add this bulb to the autumn shopping list. Planning next year’s spring flowering bulb garden should begin now while bulbs are still in bloom. This is the time to identify bare spots and omissions in the flower beds, to find appropriate locations for planting additional varieties of bulbs, and to determine the quantity of bulbs needed for next season. Few gardeners will be able to remember, by next August, what pleased or disappointed them the previous April and May unless they keep records. This sort of “book keeping” is an integral part of successful garden design because spring flowering bulbs are a welcome kick - start to the color display of our flower beds.

P.S. Michael King, who blogs at, is a tulip specialist who suggested that Tulipa praestans Fusilier is a more robust variety to grow. I am indebted to Michael for fine tuning this piece. Please click on to comments below to read his full opinion.


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.


Spring Flowering Bulbs

Photo courtesy of Home and Garden Webshots, Photo 1295486587I received a catalogue for spring flowering bulbs that are planted in autumn and it reminded me how important it is to include tulips and daffodils in the perennial garden composition. These bulbs jump start the color display of the perennial garden. Spring flowering bulbs are a colorful overture to the upcoming season.

Bulbs may be purchased on line, or at retail garden centers that sell bulbs either from open stock or in prepackaged quantities. When shopping for open stock bulbs, don't leave home without a shopping list. It helps avoid confusion when one is confronted with selections that appear overwhelming. However, be forewarned. Buying from open stock is hard work. Customers are required to fill their own bags on which they must write the kind of bulb, its name, the quantity purchased and the unit price. This is tiresome work because it detracts from what should be a pleasant shopping experience. Garden centers that carry large assortments in open stock may have everything one is looking for but finding the desired items can be frustrating.

Pre-packaged bulbs come with an easily scanned bar code so there is no work to do at the point of sale. Often, these packages are attractively priced. However, garden centers that sell only prep-packaged bulbs may not have that one specific variety the purchaser really wants. Also, one might land up with more bulbs than needed. And yet, I will continue to buy prepackaged bulbs because it saves time and money. Besides, the extra bulbs make a nice hospitality gift when cleverly packaged. Better still; plant the extra bulbs in the garden of a friend.

Mail order is the easiest way to shop, especially with a hard copy of an actual mail order color catalogue on hand. Most catalogue houses have idiot-proof on-line ordering services that save many hours of personal shopping. The shipping charges are a worthwhile trade-off to spending too much time at the store.


The Irony of the Crocus

This photograph demonstrates the beginnings of the beautiful veining we saw when the crocus petals had fully extended themselves. This image is previewed from the site "". Click on the crocus to enjoy and purchase beautiful photographs of nature.How sad that the first flower to bloom in the spring is so short that we are unable to appreciate its beauty unless we kneel close to the ground to admire its petals and stamens.

I regraded my back lawn last fall and rolled out fresh sod over the new earth. A few weeks ago, as soon as the snow melted, crocus buds began to appear in the grass. The bulbs must have found their way into the sod at the grass farm because I certainly didn’t plant them there.

This past weekend, our grandchildren came to visit us in Montreal. While playing in our back yard, they discovered the crocus buds. Knowing that these flowers were out of place, they asked permission to harvest them. They were so joyful to bring them indoors and asked that I place them in water. Well, you and I know that the crocus is not a flower for cutting, but these are kids and to humor them, I placed the buds in a tiny baby food jar that was low enough to support the cupped petals. This mini-vase was then placed in the center of the kitchen table.

By the next day, the crocus buds had opened to display the most intricately designed petals with beautiful purple-blue veins on a white ground, accented by the intense goldenrod color of the stamen. The more that the petals extended themselves outward, the more interesting the designs became. Those of us sitting around the kitchen table agreed that we had never been so close to a crocus petal before. It took the innocent enthusiasm of children to help us discover a beauty in nature that is sometimes hidden from view.

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