Rosemary adds a dramatic aspect to the garden.



In The Garden - September 2010

Published on Fri, Aug 27, 2010 by By Jody Hackleman

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No, all the work in the garden is not finished with the arrival of fall.

There’s produce to harvest, flowers to deadhead, much to prune and still much to weed, thanks to our mild west coast marine climate. In between these delights and chores (depending on one’s point of view), I like to pause a moment to plan for early spring, when most gardeners crave some color and excitement in the landscape.

September is the time to buy spring bulbs to be stashed away for November planting. Our local nurseries in B.C. and Washington have fine selections of bulbs for sale but I enjoy perusing bulb specialist catalogs at my leisure and choosing from the vast selections they offer.

Also, having an order shipped to my home here on the Point eliminates any border issues regarding bulb importation. This fall my noseprints are all over my favorite bulb catalogs, especially “Beauty from Bulbs” from John Scheepers, Inc. of Bantam, Connecticut.

As much as I dearly love my existing plantings of tried and true tulips, narcissus and daffodils, I’m yearning for some new varieties to rev up the spring display. Thanks to bulb catalogs I’ve discovered botanical tulips – wild species and the selections derived from them, brought to Holland over 400 years ago to become the parents of today’s familiar hybrid tulips. Native to the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor, many are miniature versions of the classic tulip shape. Others are more exotic, with clusters of delicate, star shaped blooms and thin, grassy leaves.

This year there’s a new white and very low picket fence in my front yard and its streetside planting can’t accommodate classic tulips, tall and top-heavy as they are. Here’s where species tulips will shine, as their average height is eight inches.

But be wary of these little charmers. Many do not have common names and their botanical names can be tongue twisters. Also beware of a dazzling array from which to choose (more than 150 species have been recorded). I’m opting for a relatively modest selection of late March/early April bloomers, with a second wave in mid-April/May.

Multiflowering Tulipa biflora and Tulipa turkestanica are creamy white, early bloomers with prominent golden eyes. Biflora has the added attraction of dainty straps of leaves edged in red. To attempt a magic carpet effect, I’ll blend them in the streetside planting with Tulipa batalinii Red Gem, a gleaming vermillion-pink and Tulipa humilis Magenta Queen, lilac-purple with green flames and a yellow base.

For early spring in the cottage garden, Tulipa humilis Persian Pearl (magenta-rose petals centered by a golden star) pairs well with Tulipa saxatilis (soft lilac with a canary yellow base). For a ribbon of color they will be placed under the forsythia amongst existing plantings of miniature daffodils and narcissus.

Scented Tulipa species Little Beauty, deep cherry red with a blue-purple center, flowers mid-April to May. Combining it with Tulipa bakereri Lilac Wonder interplanted with blue grape hyacinth might create a candy-colored rainbow of blooms. Dreaming up bulb combinations is fun, but also a bit of a gamble. Mother Nature laughs at me and many times what pops up in the spring garden is not exactly what I envisioned at planting time.

Species tulips like small spaces, so container gardening is the perfect way to showcase a special beauty like the blue-eyed tulip (Tulipa humilis Alba coerula oculata). I warned you about the tongue twisters!

As elegant as its botanical name, the blue-eyed tulip is a pure white, star-shaped flower with a steely blue eye. Rare and a little costly, it deserves a place of honor in its own special pot.

To view photos of these botanical gems, Google “species tulips” or visit the Scheepers website ( If you decide on mail ordering bulbs, your carefully packed shipment will arrive in October. Bulbs should be stored in a cool place until planting time in early to mid-November.

For those unfamiliar with fall bulb planting for a spring display, it’s easy and rewarding, as each little bulb already contains a perfectly formed flower. Just plant them five inches deep and about six inches apart, adding a dollop of bone meal in each planting hole. Ideal for rock gardens or the front of the border, they look their best planted in groups of seven. Keep in mind that species tulips prefer rich, well-draining soil and full sun.

So consider venturing off the highway of typical spring bulb displays to try “the road less traveled.” There you’re sure to find a whole new world of extraordinary little bulbs from the old world, just waiting to spice up your garden next spring.

(Jody Hackleman is vice president of the Point Roberts Garden Club. She can usually be found at any time of the year tending her little cottage garden and planning for more color in the flower and vegetable beds.)


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