Tulips, Alliums and thoughts about spring Bulbs

 Tulips, Alliums and thoughts about spring Bulbs

It’s nearly too late to order bulbs, but there is still a bit of time (do it now!). I am high on bulb-ordering and planting right now, and thought that I might share some new insights and ideas I have about my bulb planting schemes, and some from others that I recently discovered.

Ordering bulbs is one of those things that sometimes overwhelms me. I am experienced enough to know that in July I must order the rarest of the rare which often must be imported from overseas – Latvia or Lithuania (and as such, the cut-off date for these smaller European nurseries is before Aug. 1st – not to mention that things sell out quickly). Not that I order all that much anymore from Ruksans or that Lithuanian crocus nursery, but sometimes I try to remember, and if lucky, I get a few treasures. 

Bulb planting and curating is indeed an art, and a craft that good gardeners keep perfecting over their lifetime. The good news is that bulbs are rather fool-proof, so there is no bad time to begin, and fear of messing it up is rarely a threat. Still, when it all comes together and you discover the ideal combination of bulbs in the garden, the effect can be extraordinary. Far too often, especially in the US, we plant bulbs as an afterthought. We pick up a few – a dozen of these, 24 of those, some crocus for along the walk, maynbe a frittilaria or three and feel that we are doing the right thing. Most of us learn by seeing, and it seems every year we are pushing oursleves to try something new. One neight has an amazing display of giant allium and soon others invest in a dozen or six, to flank their walk or set in the border. But what else could you do?

I say…let’s raise the bar much higher. Plant complex matrixes in our perennial borders. Push ourselves to try colors that we wouldnt dare buy or combine. Plant something you’ve never grown before. Break the rules and try combining two, three, eight colors that make you feel uncomfortable. Blow your budget by investing in 100 bulbs of just one type – like giant frittilaria imperialis or F. persica and see what happens.

After that, I seem to get lazy. Or, maybe just dazed and confused with all of the choices offered in the main-stream imported Dutch bulb catalogs. This shouldn’t stall me. I have been growing bulbs since I was very young begging my mom to let me buy bulbs at a local discount store (Spag’s in Shrewsbury, MA) at around the same time I would be asking my dad to buy me Matchbox cars. Im sure that at young age, I would choose colors that I probably would never buy today, as experimenting in a garden is a right of passage for most gardeners. Plant fearlessly and learn.

Don’t get me wrong, I love color, and after 30 years as a graphic and product designers – I love to experiment and play with palettes – but back then, I was probably more likely to be moved by a fancy striped ‘Rembrant’ tulip than being as strategic as creating a palette and an integrated garden design. The funny thing is, I’ve never walked away from those streaked and striped ‘Rembrant’-type tulips, in fact, I am even more interested in sourcing the correct ‘Rembrant’ types – those that actually have the virus that causes the window-paneing and streaks – but sadly, they are hard if not impossible to find easily in the US anymore (and the very great ones, while available in the UK, are always sold out by the time I remember to order some),

Sergej Schmitt


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