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

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Entries in Tulips (8)


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 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.


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.


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.